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Spotlight on Tova Walsh
December 11, 2017


Dr. Tova Walsh joined the School of Social Work as an assistant professor and a faculty affiliate of the Institute for Digital Innovation in Social Work. Previously, she was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on understanding and improving health and well-being in multi-stressed families, with an emphasis on pregnancy and early parenting in contexts of risk. She examines the parenting support needs of under- served groups including new fathers and military-connected parents, and collaborates to develop and test parenting interventions to meet their needs. In her intervention work, she seeks to capitalize on existing technology or create new technology to more effectively reach the target population and address their specific needs.

In her current research, Walsh aims to identify effective strategies to support emerging competencies in early parenthood and promote nurturing parent-child relationships among parents who face barriers to initiating or main- taining positive involvement with their children. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Doris Duke Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and National Institutes of Health.

We asked her to identify five meaningful objects in her office.


Calabash Mask 
As an undergraduate, I worked with Dr. Dessima Williams, then a professor at Brandeis University as well as the Director of a non-governmental organization that she had founded in her home country of Grenada. I got this mask, carved from the hard shell of a calabash, on my first trip to Grenada with Dr. Williams to work with the Grenada Education and Development Project (GRENED). My experience working with GRENED sparked lasting interest in efforts to help children thrive in the context of caring families and communities.


Colorful hearts painting 
This painting was made by an eight year old girl that I got to know when I led a federally funded after-school program at a high poverty school. Her family had experienced substantial hardship in the country they left months before, and they encountered many challenges in the U.S., including social isolation, struggling to pursue education and employment in a new language, separation from loved ones, a tenuous living situation and scarce financial resources. I developed a relationship with the child and her family over several years in which she and her siblings participated in the after-school program. I witnessed their engagement, sometimes voluntary and sometimes involuntary, with services intended to support families in crisis.


MI-AIH wheels
The Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH) created these BabyStages,PreschoolStages, and Rolling intoFatherhoodwheels for parents/caregivers as “a quick and easy tool to help you see the world from your baby’s perspective—and how to nurture and respond to her as she grows.” As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Board of MI-AIMH. This allowed me to augment my direct service experience with en- gagement in policy advocacy. Both experiences continue to inform my teaching and my research focus on identifying effective strategies to support emerging competencies in early parenthood and promote nurturing parent-child rela- tionships. In my current research, I am examining the parenting support needs of new fathers and military-connected parents and collaborating to develop and test parenting interventions for these underserved groups.


Painting by Maya 
This painting was made by my daughter Maya at age 2.5. She loves art and I love seeing how she explores her ideas and understandings through her creative process. I study early child development, parenting, and parent-child relationships, and I’m also living it as the mother of an infant and a preschooler, so I spend a lot of time reflecting on what young children and those who care for them need to thrive.


When I completed my postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the directors of my program gave me this gift, a miniature of a plaque that has a central place on the university campus. The words on the plaque date back to 1894, and call for “continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.” I value this historic and yet contemporary message about the importance of academic freedom, and the right and responsibility of faculty to pursue truth in service to the public. Here at Rutgers, I’m excited to engage with challenges and issues facing the state of New Jersey, and to do scholarship that matters in the lives of people and communities in this state and beyond. In addition to its substantive message, the plaque reminds me of some of the wonderful people I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn from.

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