First graduates of Health Psychology Program receive doctorates

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The first cohort of Ph.D. students in the Health Psychology Program of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences has received, or will soon receive, their doctorates, marking a major milestone for the program, which emphasizes understanding how biological, psychological, behavioral, cultural and social contextual factors influence health and illness.

Jasmine Abrams, Ph.D.
Jasmine Abrams, Ph.D.

Jasmine Abrams, Ph.D., began her journey in psychology as an undergraduate at Virginia State University where she graduated magna cum laude. She entered the doctoral program at VCU in 2010 with Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., as her adviser and recently successfully defended her dissertation, “The Heart of Strength: The Strong Black Woman Schema and Cardiovascular Disease Risk.”

Abrams describes graduate school as being more difficult than she expected with classes being the least of her worries. “In the program, there has been a heavy emphasis on making students competitive for the next stages. That was the most difficult part for me — becoming competitive and training to become a legitimate researcher,” said Abrams.

Abrams is truly impressed at the shape the program has taken during her time here. She is appreciative of the great faculty and the freedom to craft her educational experience to her interests. Having recently been on the job market, Abrams feels prepared for what lies ahead. “I know there will be a learning curve but I believe this program and my experiences at VCU allowed me to gain the skills I need to be successful.”

According to Abrams, it is an “unreal but humbling and exciting feeling” to be one of the first graduates of the Health Psychology Program. “I loved my experience at VCU. I feel blessed to have had such a phenomenal mentor, great program director, great department chair and awesome faculty.”

“I loved my experience at VCU. I feel blessed to have had such a phenomenal mentor, great program director, great department chair and awesome faculty.” - Jasmine Abrams, Ph.D.

Abrams will start her new job as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County in August where she will focus on community interventions and prevention science. She will also be running her new business, Consumer and Community Connection LLC, which she co-founded with fellow health psychology graduate, Michell Pope, Ph.D. This business offers research assistance, program evaluation and training services to academic professionals, nonprofits and government agencies.

Michell Pope, Ph.D.
Michell Pope, Ph.D.

Pope is originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, and graduated from VCU with her bachelor’s degree in 2009. Under the mentorship of Rosalie Corona, Ph.D., Pope successfully defended her dissertation, “Let’s Talk Tobacco: An Examination of Urban African American Parent-Adolescent Communication about Tobacco Use Within the Context of Parental Smoking.”

For Pope, it is exciting and rewarding to be in the first cohort of health psychology students to graduate. She is happy to have had the opportunity to develop relationships with members of her program, as well as faculty who have provided their unyielding support and guidance.

Though her expectations around workload when she began were realistic, it was initially challenging to balance competing priorities. However, she quickly learned the importance of organizing and prioritizing goals, of not being afraid to ask for help and the art of saying “no.”

“I was surprised by the level of support and encouragement I received from my colleagues and the VCU community,” said Pope. “Their willingness to assist me when needed has contributed to my success in the program.”  

According to Pope, the program has undergone a number of changes since her arrival. For example, new courses have been added to the curriculum and the program has successfully recruited several new faculty members. These factors, she says, give current students more course options and more access to faculty with a diverse set of research interests. This has helped contribute to an excellent learning experience and more exposure to collaborative research options. She also notes her appreciation for program faculty who have given students the opportunity to contribute to and shape the development of the program.

Pope plans to continue her work with the Consumer and Community Connection firm, saying, “I am currently working to meet the needs of several of my clients and collaborating with VCU’s Innovation Gateway to further develop this business venture.”

In fact, her participation in the VCU Innovation Gateway pre-accelerator program was a component of her acceptance into Go For It!, a program in the College of Humanities and Sciences that aims to help student entrepreneurs develop business plans and get their companies or products off the ground. (Read more about the Go For It! program.)

Joshua Brevard, Ph.D.
Joshua Brevard, Ph.D.

Joshua Brevard, Ph.D., earned his bachelor’s in psychology at VCU and enrolled in the health doctoral program in 2011, also under the tutelage of Belgrave. In May he successfully defended his dissertation, “An Evaluation of the Raise 5 Project: Preventing HIV and Substance Abuse Among African American College Students.”

Before being admitted to the program, he admits a bit of naiveté about the kind of workload he was taking on. “[Eventually] I learned to balance taking classes while working on research projects, trying to publish and mentoring undergraduate students,” said Brevard. “It took some time.”

Brevard described the impressive growth of the health program since its beginnings. “I can remember when the health program only had three students and now there are more than I can count. The program has become a very diverse group, full of talented students with a vast array of research interests. It has been really exciting to see the health program grow and begin to thrive.”

The program has become a very diverse group, full of talented students with a vast array of research interests. It has been really exciting to see the health program grow and begin to thrive. - Joshua Brevard, Ph.D.

For Brevard, it feels “surreal” to be one of the first Ph.D.’s to graduate from the program. Thinking back to the journey he started as a freshman at VCU in 2007, it’s hard for him to fathom how far he’s come. He feels honored for the opportunity that was provided to him and is appreciative of everyone who has helped him reach this milestone.

Brevard will be working as a research analyst with the U.S. Marine Corps, evaluating the effectiveness of several programs for Marines and their families. The results will be used to determine areas in which programs across Marine installations nationwide can improve.


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