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2023 Outstanding PhD and PsyD Dissertation Awards

Palo Alto University (PAU) presented two graduating students with prestigious awards at the 2023 Commencement ceremony, in recognition of their outstanding dissertations.

The Cheryl Koopman Outstanding Dissertation Award is bestowed upon a doctoral candidate in the PGSP-Stanford Psy.D. Consortium, while the Murray Tondow Outstanding Dissertation Award is bestowed upon a doctoral candidate in the PhD in Clinical Psychology program.

Kenzie Bohnsack

Murray Tondow Outstanding Dissertation Award

The Tondow Award is presented to a student in the PhD program and is given in honor of Dr. Murray Tondow, a revered psychologist, former PAU faculty member, and the visionary behind several psychological assessment and technology companies. Dr. Tondow was a pioneer in leveraging technology in education, psychology, and counseling.

The 2023 Tondow Outstanding Dissertation Award was given to Kenzie Bohnsack for her dissertation titled "How the Support of a Caring Adult and Substance Use Impact Offending Over Time in a Sample of Serious Adolescent Offenders."

“I was very surprised and in disbelief,” Bohnsack said.

Her dissertation stems from personal and professional experiences, including the role modeling her parents provided.

“When I was growing up, my parents became licensed foster parents,” she said. “I observed at-risk youth who had experienced trauma and other negative life stressors, and through my parents' generosity and kindness, I learned that the foundation for any change was an authentic and empathic relationship. This early experience in my life influenced my clinical and research interests in supportive relationships and risk factors associated with negative outcomes for youth. My interests continued to evolve as I became interested in factors that may contribute to the development of offending behaviors in adolescents. I became motivated to continue work within the juvenile justice system, particularly to decrease risk factors and enhance protective factors and strengths in at-risk youth. Through my personal and professional experiences, I noticed the impact of a caring, supportive adult relationship on youth and wanted to further research the impact of a caring adult, specifically with substance use and adolescents who engaged in offending behavior because those two behaviors are so closely linked. My hope is that research continues to identify factors that may help adolescents with desistance from offending and improve their overall life trajectories.”

After Commencement, Bohnsack will start a forensic post-doctoral fellowship with the Fourth Judicial District in Minneapolis, MN. “My career goal is to be a board-certified forensic psychologist,” she said.

Megan Chavez Tomlinson

Cheryl Koopman Outstanding Dissertation Award

The Koopman Award is bestowed upon a student in the PsyD program and is named in honor of Dr. Cheryl Koopman. Dr. Koopman was a cherished teacher and mentor, who made significant contributions to the understanding of stress and health in the social and political context. Her dedication as a dissertation mentor and her impact on countless students and trainees are commemorated through this award.

The 2023 Koopman Outstanding Dissertation Award was given to Megan Chavez Tomlinson for her dissertation titled "Mediating Influence of Moral Injury and PTSD on the Association Between Trauma Exposure and Suicide Attempts."

“I remember initially feeling shocked, then excitement and pride,” Chavez Tomlinson said.

Chavez Tomlinson’s dissertation was influenced by family history and, eventually, a research lab. “My interest in my dissertation topic initially came from both of my grandfathers, who were veterans of WW2 and experienced symptoms consistent with what we now call PTSD and moral injury,” Chavez Tomlinson said. I was later influenced by my time working with Dr. Rebecca Bernert in her Suicide Prevention Research Lab, where I worked with chronically suicidal patients and became interested in identifying different factors that exacerbated suicide attempts, to help inform clinical interventions to reduce suicidal behaviors.

After Commencement, Chavez Tomlinson said she has accepted a Staff Psychologist position at the Colorado Springs VA. “I am very excited to continue my work with veterans there and hope to take part in program development initiatives to increase access to mental health care for veterans.”