Social Work PhD Student Named Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Scholar

PhD; Social Work; Students

Brown School social work PhD student Woodjerry Louis has been selected to participate in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s prestigious Health Policy Research Scholars (HPRS) program. Louis is the only student from Missouri in his cohort of 40 students from across the country.

“I am grateful to have been selected for this program. It’s a great opportunity,” Louis said. “Being an HPRS fellow will provide me with the financial support, policy, and leadership training in becoming a youth researcher whose primary goal is to increase knowledge and affect change that will support the holistic well-being and development of Black youth.”

The four-year national leadership development program is designed to support full-time doctoral students entering their second year of study from historically marginalized populations underrepresented in doctoral disciplines. The program trains students to apply their research to enact policy changes that build healthier, more equitable communities and includes financial assistance, development training, dissertation support, and mentoring.

Louis’s research examines how oppression, marginalization, structural racism, and intersectionality identities shape the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in Black adolescents. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, rates of suicide among Black youth have risen faster than any other racial/ethnic group in the past two decades.

Originally from Haiti, Louis moved to Miami, Florida, when he was 16. After college, he completed a one-year AmeriCorps program at his former high school in Miami, where he supported students’ development, growth, and success. He completed his MSW from the Brown School of Social Work in 2017. From there, he moved to New York, where he continued working on positive youth development by implementing mental health services in systematically under-resourced schools.

“I learned a lot about mental health issues and youth development during my time there. It was my first introduction to suicidology because I was, unfortunately, providing schools with support related to postvention,” he said. “That experience triggered my interest in pursuing a PhD with the goal of studying the developmental mechanisms by which life stressors influence suicidal behaviors and psychological distress for Black youth. And I want to develop and implement culturally competent interventions to decrease the incidence of suicide attempts in at-risk Black youth.

Louis’ PhD advisor, Sean Joe, the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at the Brown School and a national expert on Black American suicide, praised Louis’ selection. “Woodjerry is a promising emerging scholar whose work has the potential to impact both health policy and services for youth in schools.”

Louis’ overall goal is to develop and implement school-level approaches to Black youth mental health disparities and suicide prevention through capacity building, policy changes, and psychosocial interventions.

To learn more about Health Policy Research Scholars and RWJF’s other leadership programs, and to meet other participants, visit