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Student Scholars
Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics

The Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics supports wide-ranging research by the Saks Institute Student Scholars. The institute educates these future legal, medical and public policy leaders to employ cutting-edge research methodology and to serve the larger cause of social justice. The Scholars conduct research on the institute's topic of the year and present work that is published in academic journals. To date, 25 student papers have been published in three journals.

  • Michael Ashfield Michael Ashfield

    Michael Ashfield is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in USC Dornsife's School of Philosophy, where he focuses on the intersections of epistemology, normative ethics, and political philosophy. Before USC, he received his B.A. in philosophy and great books from St. Thomas University, M.A. in theology from Acadia University, and M.A. in philosophy from Northern Illinois University. Ashfield's work is currently focused on making the best epistemological sense of political liberalism's commitment to the so-called "fact of reasonable pluralism." He is also interested in the so-called "duty of civility." He is especially concerned with how this principle may be extended outside the context of highly idealized political theorizing, and beyond public political life to other kinds of relationships.

  • CJ BaconCJ Bacon

    CJ Bacon is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of law. He graduated from Brigham Young University, where he majored in psychology and had the opportunity to volunteer at a residential mental health hospital. At the hospital, Bacon gained direct exposure to the complex decision-making process for multiple mentally ill individuals, and he is pleased to research the topic as a Saks Scholar.

  • Shana EmileShana Emile

    Shana Emile is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She earned a B.A. in Political Science and her B.S. in Psychology at the UC San Diego. Before attending law school Emile worked in Sandra Brown's Clinical Psychology Lab analyzing behavioral genetics data as well as programming clinical assessments to analyze the effects of alcohol on brain development. In law school she has worked in prisons to help rehabilitate inmates and improve prison conditions. As a Saks Scholar, Emile hopes to explore the intersection of mental health and the criminal justice system.

  • Chris FischerChris Fischer

    Chris Fischer is a second-year Child and Adolescent Psychiatry fellow at USC. He completed his General Psychiatry residency training at the UCLA. He received his M.D. from the UC San Diego. Prior to medical school, Dr. Fischer received a B.S. in Integrative Biology from the UC Berkeley and a M.S. in Financial Analysis from the University of San Francisco. He has published articles on juvenile adjudicative competence, juveniles as defendants, factitious disorder, malingering, and deception detection. He is an active member of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law where he serves on the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Law, Human Rights and National Security, and the Liaison with Forensic Sciences committees. After completion of his Child and Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship, Dr. Fischer will start his Forensic Psychiatry fellowship training at the UC Davis. Dr. Fischer is especially interested in studying the intersection between child mental health and policy.

  • Lizbeth GaonaLizbeth Gaona

    Lizbeth Gaona is a second-year social work Ph.D. student at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, where she is a member of the Serious Mental Illness research lab. She received her B.A. in psychology from UCLA and a master's in Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles. Lizbeth practiced community mental health clinical social work at Harbor UCLA Medical Center for seven years before returning to academia to pursue a doctorate. Lizbeth is a bilingual certified prolonged exposure therapist through the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania and a Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Lizbeth's professional and research interests include community mental health outcomes, evidenced based treatment outcomes across cultures, culturally adapted interventions for Latino/as, religion, mindfulness, and trauma. As a Saks Scholar, Lizbeth is interested in researching Supported Decision-Making and intersectionality for Latinos with a serious mental illness.

  • Brian LeungBrian Leung

    Brian Leung is currently a fifth-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student in USC's Neuroscience Graduate Program. He graduated from Drexel University with a B.S. in Chemistry and a minor in Biology. He has been awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award and the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship. He studies how an unregulated immune system can enter the central nervous system to alter homeostasis, which leads to neurological disorders. As a Saks Scholar, he is excited to incorporate basic neuroscience research with mental health law and policy.

  • Nicholas MuñozNicholas Muñoz

    Nicholas Muñoz is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. He received his undergraduate degree in Philosophy from California State University, Fresno. Prior to entering law school, he worked in immigration law and volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (C.A.S.A), where he advocated for abused and neglected children. Nicolas recently completed a summer fellowship with Public Counsel, which provided him with greater insight into the mental health issues associated with poverty. As a Saks Scholar, Nicolas is interested in examining how increasing autonomy for those with mental illness can help alleviate the stigma associated with those living with mental illness.

  • Serena PatelSerena Patel

    Serena Patel is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She is from Palm Springs, California and received her B.A. degree in Economics and Political Science from UCLA. At USC, Patel has held leadership roles in the Women's Law Association and South Asian Law Students Association and currently serves as a Senior Editor for the Southern California Law Review. Patel hopes to become more involved with programs advocating for mental health reform and is excited to work with the Saks Institute this year.

  • Jackson ScaliaJackson Scalia

    Jackson Scalia is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. Before coming to USC, he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in US History and Political Science with a focus on American Politics at UC San Diego. While an undergraduate, he was active in local politics. Over the past summer, he worked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. As a Saks Scholar, Scalia is interested in de-stigmatizing mental health issues and promoting policy to grant greater autonomy to persons receiving mental health treatment.

  • Sarah StoycosSarah Stoycos

    Sarah Stoycos is a third year Psychology Ph.D. student in USC's Clinical Science program. Prior to USC, Stoycos worked with Dr. Abigail Marsh at Georgetown University, studying helping and harming behavior with special populations and with Dr. Jude Cassidy at the University of Maryland, studying attachment and adolescence. Stoycos' research focused on the neural correlates of emotion regulation in the presence of implicit emotional stimuli in adolescents. Currently, Stoycos is studying implicit facial emotion processing in males transitioning to fatherhood, investigating whether known neural and hormonal changes associated with the transition to parenthood are also affecting a males' propensity to engage in approach or avoidance related behaviors in response to emotional stimuli. As a Saks Scholar, she plans to apply her current research interests on the effect of implicit emotion processing on decision making to look at individual differences that may be affecting persons involved in Supported Decision-Making with people with mental illness.

  • Sylvanna VargasSylvanna Vargas

    Sylvanna Vargas is a third-year PhD/ MPH student in the clinical science (Psychology) program. She received her bachelor's from McGill University where she studied Psychology and English Literature. Prior to graduate school, she worked in research at the Culture and Emotions Lab at Georgetown University, and then at the Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence at the New York State Psychiatric Institute/ Columbia University Medical Center. Her research focuses on disparities in mental healthcare, particularly on the role of cultural explanatory frameworks in treatment engagement.

  • Stacey VillagomezStacey Villagomez

    Stacey Villagomez is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. At USC, she is a board member of the Hale Moot Court Honors Program, a certified law student working in the Mediation Clinic, and will be receiving her certificate in alternative dispute resolution. She has also held leadership positions in the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association Villagomez received her B.A. in English with a minor in Asian American Studies at UCLA. Prior to entering law school, Villagomez worked as a paralegal at a law firm in Orange County where she had the opportunity to help clients with mental health disorders. As a Saks Scholar, Villagomez is interested in examining the theoretical treatment of Supported Decision-Making as a viable alternative to guardianship.

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