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The Start of Something New: The RIOS Lab  

juan rios standing with student alyssa ghans

MSW Student Allyssa Ghans and Dr. Juan Rios

As the future of social work is ever-evolving, so does the future of Seton Hall University's Master of Social Work (MSW) program. New and exciting additions to the program have been added throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, thanks to effort by MSW Program Director and Assistant Professor of Social Work Juan Rios, Ph.D.

One such addition that started in January 2022 is The Reflexive, Innovative, Objective research for Social Justice Lab, also referred to as The RIOS Lab. Created by Rios, The RIOS Lab is the very first social work research lab associated with the MSW program. A current student in the MSW program, Allyssa Ghans shared her firsthand experience of working with The RIOS Lab and the research it has accomplished thus far.

Before coming to Seton Hall, Allyssa Ghans completed her undergraduate studies at Radford University in Virginia, graduating with a B.S. in Anthropological Sciences. Ghans enrolled in the Master of Social Work program at Seton Hall driven by her passion to help others and her enjoyment (and hopes) of working with children. Ghans has completed her first-year fieldwork internship – a requirement of the MSW program – with EmpowerU, a company with a focus on behavioral assistance. Her second year of fieldwork, lined up for Fall 2022, will also be focused on behavioral assistance, this time being completed at Family Empowerment Associates where Ghans is currently employed.

rios presentationKeeping on top of schoolwork and a job can be quite the balance act, but when Allyssa Ghans received an email to apply for a position within The RIOS Lab, she did not hesitate to apply. Being offered a stipend and a unique experience of being part of the start of something new, Ghans entered the interview process to become a research assistant with ten other applicants. Nothing short of exciting, Allyssa Ghans successfully became the first — and right now, only — Seton Hall student research assistant within The RIOS Lab, having started in March 2022.

One of the first tasks assigned to Ghans was to create a website so people all over the world could gain knowledge on the endeavors of The RIOS Lab. The RIOS Lab website offers information on its latest projects and publications, as well as a chance to contact the group. Staff members are also listed, as is their code of ethics and various community engagements the Lab has partaken in. The core values of The RIOS Lab can be found on the website, describing their mission as being one to:

"Create a space where students, community practitioners, and scholars can engage in empirical research to eliminate social inequities, address ethical implications of emerging technology and cultivate self-reflexive multidisciplinary projects that support social justice for all."

With the website up and running, the next project Allyssa Ghans participated in was preparing a presentation for 2022 The Petersheim Academic Exposition, the University's annual celebration of scholastic accomplishments following the theme of "Share, Honor, and Unite".. Ghans presented as part of The Community Research and Engagement in Action event.

Student-faculty coordination is celebrated during Petersheim, which allowed Rios and Ghans to collaborate on an oral presentation highlighting their poster titled, "The RIOS Lab: Inspiring minds and researchers to address the Grand Challenges of Social Work." The Grand Challenges stated here were described as, "a call to the profession to strategize solutions on societies 'wicked' problems,". In their presentation, Rios and Ghans explained to on-lookers how The RIOS Lab is brainstorming various tactics to help overpower such challenges and how this knowledge should be shared throughout the social work world.

As one project concludes, so another begins. Next up, Ghans will assist The RIOS Lab with a literary review on mental health of high school students post pandemic. The research and data that can come out of this study will be valuable to social workers, as well as other mental health workers, as implications from the pandemic will only continue to come into light, affecting more people than may be imagined.

In addition to studying the mental health of high school students post pandemic, The RIOS Lab has a line-up of research projects for the future. One project Ghans highlighted was a Guaranteed Education Project that will begin this summer. The Guaranteed Education Project is geared towards sponsoring the education of 40 students living in Newark, New Jersey to attend St. Elizabeth University under the majors of education, social work, nursing or psychology.

Ghans plans to continue to work within the lab and help to contribute to the research conducted there. Ghans noted, "The experience of being a research assistant in such an up-and-coming lab is one of a kind, as the possibilities of The RIOS Lab is open-ended. Innovation and creative thinking is more than welcomed here."

If you or someone you know is interested in working within The RIOS Lab, feel free to contact: Juan Rios, Ph.D., Lab Director, at (973) 275-4823 or or Allyssa Ghans, Research Assistant, at

Categories: Education

For more information, please contact:

  • Ally Vernaglia
  • (908) 528-6756