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Meet New Staff Member Elizabeth Benninger
Meet Post-Doctoral Scholar Elizabeth Benninger
Tell me a bit about your work before you joined the PRCHN. Where did you work and what did you do?
Before joining the PRCHN I was in South Africa completing my PhD in psychology with research focused on the quality of life for children with high levels of violence exposure. I additionally was the director of a non-profit organization there focused on community-based mental health interventions which utilized surfing as a tool for behavior change. I arrived back in the US two years ago and taught a variety of psychology courses at Cleveland State University before finding this position.

Tell me about your education. Where and what did you study? Is your work here radically different than what you studied in college? In other words, has your career path made any unusual changes?
My career path is full of unusual changes. I started off studying biomedical sciences on a premed track at the University of Tampa and ended up in South Africa where I completed my degree in Development Studies focused on social justice issues related to both grassroots community and international development. In South Africa I worked for a nonprofit, RAPCAN (Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect), which sparked my interest in research while I also developed a side program for children who were living and working on the streets as well as for children from several of the low-resourced schools that I worked with in Cape Town. Not feeling equipped to deal with the behavioral challenges of the children, I moved back to the United States and completed my Master’s in clinical and community psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles. I eagerly moved back to South Africa to continue to develop the children’s program (which is now a thriving nonprofit) and to also focus on a PhD related to children’s quality of life, hoping it could help me tackle the challenges faced by marginalized children and communities from various levels (academic/policy and grassroots).

What aspects of your new position are most intriguing to you? What are you looking forward to?
I am most intrigued about being a part of a study that is looking critically and creatively at the complexity of community health challenges. I have spent a lot of time on the ground watching expensive interventions fail because so many key factors were not taken into account. I hope this research can help with this. I specifically hope that my engagement in the qualitative aspect of the study can help shed light on the voices of those who are the most marginalized by our current socio-historical-economic system and who are often excluded from decision-making processes.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
I love surfing! No waves in Cleveland so I settle with paddle boarding. I spend most of my free time with my two-year-old son at Edgewater beach.

Where did you grow up and where have you settled in Cleveland?
I grew up just South of Cleveland in Medina, and I now live in Tremont.

Is there anything else that you'd like to share with the PRCHN and its stakeholders?
I am really looking forward to collaborating with all of you on research and interventions that will hopefully influence a positive change on our local communities.
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