Two Ph.D. candidates balance full-time work with a rigorous course of study.

by Ela Schwartz

Damyn Kelly ’83, J.D., and Kristina Monti, M.S.W., are two very different Ph.D. candidates. Ms. Monti took a straight path from undergraduate studies to graduate school to professional social worker. Mr. Kelly traveled a more circuitous route, going from law to politics to human services. They decided to pursue social work’s highest academic degree—not to add prestigious letters after their names, but out of a passion for knowledge and the desire to improve lives and advance the field of social work. They both found a home in Adelphi’s Ph.D. program, which allows them to balance their full-time jobs and personal lives with a rigorous course of study.

Kristina Monti: From M.S.W. to Ph.D.

Kristina Monti, M.S.W.

Kristina Monti, M.S.W.

“I feel like I was always on track to become a social worker,” Ms. Monti said, explaining that since childhood she has possessed an “inherent curiosity about human behavior and the desire to help people.” After graduating in 2000 with a B.S. in Anthropology, she was encouraged to continue on to her M.S.W., which she obtained in 2002.

Ms. Monti then spent the next 12 years at institutions such as Beth Israel Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, working with clients who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, an experience she characterizes as one that can be “demanding but also rewarding.” She is currently a program and quality improvement manager for Continuum Health Home Network at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center.

“After having practiced in the field, I became interested in research and how it influences policy and the way we practice,” she continued. Getting her Ph.D. in Social Work, she said, “offers the ability to advocate for change in terms of services delivered to clients.”

She decided to attend Adelphi after hearing about the program’s “supportive, friendly environment.” She said she now agrees with the assessment, finding the faculty to be “very supportive. They encourage me to continue to challenge myself, think critically and explore my ideas. I am benefiting from the enormous amount of wisdom I’ve received from my professors. They’re so knowledgeable—I’m in awe of all the work they’ve already done.”

Ms. Monti was able to join their ranks as an adjunct professor. When the School of Social Work was looking for an instructor for its graduate-level course, Social Work Practice in the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, “I said, that’s what I do every day! I was happy to give back to Adelphi and feel it’s a win-win situation, like I’m contributing to the field in some way.”

Damyn Kelly: A Nontraditional Social Work Student

Damyn Kelly ’83, J.D.

Damyn Kelly ’83, J.D.

Enrolling in the Ph.D. program was a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Kelly. He attended Adelphi as an undergraduate, describing himself as a “resident student very engaged in campus life.” After graduating with a B.B.A. from Adelphi, he continued to law school and went from working as Bronx assistant district attorney during what he calls the “height of the crack-cocaine wars in the late ’80s,” to becoming deputy chief of staff for Bronx Congressman Eliot Engel.

“I was intrigued by the revolving cycle of people caught in the criminal justice system,” Mr. Kelly said. His passion for social justice prompted a move to social services. He has held positions with various organizations and is currently executive director of Newark Emergency Services for Families. He describes his role at this multi-service organization as one of providing the “overall vision, writing grants, developing relationships with government and private enterprise and serving as staff psychologist.”

Working in law, politics and social services piqued his interest in “the role of human services in eradicating poverty and inequality,” he said. Studying in a doctoral program would provide him with the opportunity to explore such issues.

He credits Adelphi with looking beyond the fact that he didn’t have a master’s in social work and seeing the value in his juris doctorate and years of human-services experience. Mr. Kelly said he is grateful to his professors for explaining social-work terminology and suggesting extra readings. He describes the faculty as “open to discuss dissertation topics as well as the hopes and struggles you’re facing, and providing solutions. There’s a sense they’re not just here to teach you; they’re here to work with you and help you accomplish your goals.

“Adelphi has given me a lot,” said this Adelphi alumnus, now a current student. He mentions how the University has changed over the past 30 years, with new facilities and, most important, a much more diverse faculty and student body. “The diversity on campus is a beautiful thing,” he said. “It brings a diversity of thought, opinions and ideologies to the campus.”

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