Meet Juan Segovia, MSW ’22

Juan Segovia formal headshot. He has short, curly brown hair, a shadow of a mustache and beard and is wearing black-rimmed glasses. He has on a brown zip-neck sweater over a grey t-shirt.Juan Segovia has worked full-time as a Research Coordinator at the Kessler Foundation while pursuing his MSW degree. He has dual passions for research and clinical practice, and during his two years at NYU Silver, he has been able to hone his skills in both. 

“I’ve been interested in research basically since undergrad,” said Juan, who graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2017 with a BA in Psychology. “There was a board at college listing all the individuals doing a senior honors thesis and when I saw that as a first-year, I said to myself, ‘that’s going to be me someday.’ I ended up working on a senior honors thesis and a couple of independent research projects.”

Soon after he graduated with his BA, Juan began working at the Kessler Foundation as a Research Assistant on the spinal cord injury research team. In 2020, he was promoted to Research Coordinator. Juan explained it was always his plan to be both a researcher and a clinician. As an immigrant from Ecuador, he had seen many people from similar backgrounds who didn’t receive support that would have been useful to them. “Since that day in undergrad,” he said, “I’ve been driven by the strong desire to be a researcher with the ability to positively impact individuals in a wider range, and a clinician, where I can do more direct work with people who are struggling with their mental health and other vulnerabilities.”

Juan said he chose NYU Silver for his MSW because of the School’s clinical strength. “I knew I was going to receive the best possible education to be a clinician in the U.S.,” he said. “On top of that,” he added, “I put myself forward to get research experience.” Before his first semester, Juan emailed certain professors at Silver as well as in NYU’s Psychology Department to see if they would be interested in having him volunteer in their lab. He had a couple of interviews that didn’t work out for one reason or another, but the one that did was with the person he was most interested in working with: Silver Associate Professor Doris F. Chang. He currently volunteers in her Culture and Mental Health Research Lab and worked on an independent research project with her last semester that he hopes to continue with once he graduates. “I’m very interested in mindfulness,” said Juan, “and Dr. Chang is a leading scientist in that area. It’s been really great getting to work with her and learn from her. She’s provided me with the opportunity to contribute to several projects that members of her research team are working on and gain experience in that way.”

It was also because of the letters that Juan sent out that he learned about the Substance Abuse Research Education and Training (SARET) program, an interprofessional collaboration between NYU Silver, NYU School of Medicine, and NYU’s Colleges of Nursing, Dentistry, and Global Public Health. NYU Silver Associate Professor Jennifer Manuel, who is a co-investigator on the project, responded to his inquiry and suggested he apply for the SARET Summer Research Fellowship, which offers trainees selected from those five schools a paid summer internship and seminars to learn about a variety of addiction-related topics as well as the core concepts of clinical research. 

Juan was among the applicants selected for last summer’s SARET Fellowship. During the eight-week, full-time program, which was held virtually due to COVID, he attended lectures and seminars, did virtual site visits with multidisciplinary peers, and conducted intensive, mentored substance use research at NYU Langone’s Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy (COEP). The project he worked on utilized electronic health records from a large hospital system in Denver, Colorado to examine trends and characteristics of youth emergency department visits and hospitalizations for psychosis before and after changes in the widespread availability of medical and recreational cannabis in the state.

Juan said he came away from SARET with a better understanding of the relationships people have with substances, biological components related to addiction, how substance use impacts people, and as well as certain research methodologies. For example, Juan said, “It was new to me that marijuana has an association with symptoms of psychosis. I thought I knew a lot about substance use but SARET showed me that I didn’t. I also learned a lot more about how to conduct literature reviews, which are such an important form of research, as well as other research methodologies related to the work our lab was doing.” He also noted that he learned about various programs that are available for people who have struggled with substance use or addiction to substances and sat in on an AA meeting. “It is really humbling to hear people in real time discussing their triumphs and challenges with substances. It was also valuable to be able to learn about what this population is going through.”

Juan hopes to eventually open his own clinical practice supporting individuals who have maladaptive relationships with substances among other challenges while continuing to do research. He is getting hands-on experience and strong supervision to help him in those pursuits through his current Field placement at Rios and Associates Therapeutic Solutions, a private practice agency where he works with clients from different age groups with a variety of mental and behavioral health issues, including history of substance use. He is supervised by the owner of the agency, Dr. Juan Rios, who is also the program director of the Masters of Social Work program at Seton Hall. “He is the head clinician and also a researcher, which is what I want to do,” said Juan. “It has been a really great experience learning under his mentorship.”

With graduation on the horizon, Juan plans to continue working in his current position at the Kessler Foundation and volunteering in Dr. Chang’s lab. Through the lab, he hopes to be able to pursue his own research related to mindfulness before he begins to look for a clinical social work position. “It gives me joy to be able to contribute to these research labs, and research that I think is really important to focus on.”