My name is Melissa Villodas and I am a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Social Work. I received my Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in 2015 from New York University (NYU), and Bachelors of Arts in English writing from Nyack College in 2012.

As a research assistant, I currently work under P.I. Dr. Amy Blank Wilson on a novel NIMH-funded R34 project evaluating an intervention for justice involved individuals with serious mental illness and on a demonstration project developing a Tiny Homes Village for individuals living with mental illness. I also work under P.I. Dr. Trenette Clark Goings in the InSPiRED Lab on two federally funded projects related to substance use and health outcomes of biracial youth.

Before arriving to The University of North Carolina to pursue my PhD, I worked as a project director for the Youth and Young Adult Mental Health Group (YYAMH-G) at New York University. YYAMH-G is a research group dedicated to the mental health needs of youth and young adults during their transition to adulthood. On this study team, I managed two NIMH-funded studies under Principal Investigator Dr. Michelle Munson.

I am also a licensed MSW in the state of New York and have clinical training in trauma informed evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults facing mental health challenges. After graduating from NYU, I worked as a clinical therapist for a treatment family foster care program in NYC serving youth placed in care through the Administration for Children Services. I also spent time working as a clinician within a community-based integrated health care setting in East Harlem, NYC.

I conduct research aimed at using a variety of methods to identify mental health disparities that exist within marginalized communities of youth and young adults. Specifically, my research interests are on understanding how the places people live impact mental health outcomes and the role of community connectedness on the health and wellness of marginalized groups.


When I am not engaged in research activities, I enjoy dancing. I have been dancing to Afro-Latin music for 5 years. I have a special affinity for salsa dancing (New York Style on 2) and cha-cha. Since moving to North Carolina I have been training under the direction of James and Peiwei Cobo at the Cobo Brothers Dance Company. I also enjoy blending the values of the social work profession with my interest in dancing through the Mix(ed)tape Podcast, a project aimed at building awareness of the ways racist behaviors and ideas manifest in the Afro-Latin dance scene and to educate dancers on how they can take action to change this in their local dance communities.