Three faculty members who maintained high levels of research excellence and creative works during the past year of the pandemic earned the 2021-22 UCF Women of Distinction Awards from Faculty Excellence.

The winners each receive a $1,000 professional development stipend from the Office of the President and are invited to a celebration in their honor with President Alexander N. Cartwright.

Here are this year’s Women of Distinction Awards honorees.

Sejal Mehta Barden, counselor education and school psychology

In a year of unprecedented challenges for families, Barden explored ways to improve the quality of relationships for society’s most vulnerable people. As a faculty member and executive director of UCF’s Marriage and Family Research Institute (MFRI), her scholarship focuses on outcome-based research and services for economically-disadvantaged couples and families and preparing counselors.

In the past year, she published nine scholarly works in acclaimed national journals. She also co-authored a refereed textbook that focused on her area of expertise: couples counseling. Barden’s teaching and research are enhanced by her clinical expertise as a marriage and family therapist and mental health counselor in diverse settings, linking clinical experience with outcome-based research.

Barden continues to broaden an impressive research portfolio that spans her decade at UCF. In 2020, she received a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the federal Office of Family Assistance to compare the benefits of in-person and online interventions for low-income couples. This year, she and an interdisciplinary team earned another $2.7 million federally sponsored grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Institute over three years. The grant will allow for the cultural adaption of an online couples intervention program to help Latina breast cancer survivors and their intimate partners. To date, Barden has secured more than $20 million as lead or co-investigator on research to improve outcomes for couples facing their darkest times.

The impact of her research and work is far-reaching, both within and beyond the UCF community. This year, the MFRI earned a national award from the American Counseling Association “for making a significant contribution in the counseling field in support of families and family members.” Mentoring students is another high priority for Barden. She has led her doctoral and master’s students to publish dozens of articles in national refereed journals and to receive national and regional recognition.

Joanna Mishtal, anthropology

Mishtal has earned international recognition during her 13 years at UCF, and the impact of her work has grown during the pandemic. As a medical anthropologist, her research focuses on women’s health and gender governance, with an emphasis on reproductive rights and policies in Europe.

In 2020-21, she successfully led an 18-month research project funded by the World Health Organization (WHO) that involved 10 international researchers from Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The analysis addressed the implementation of reproductive health policy in Ireland. The WHO results led to the opportunity to present findings to the Irish Parliament and top government policy makers.

As part of that project, Mishtal created procedures to ensure face-to-face interviews met the required guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and the Irish government. Her intensive new strategies assured the maintaining of productivity and ethical protocols without compromising the quality of data gathered.

During the pandemic, Mishtal published eight peer-reviewed articles and two others addressing COVID-19 impacts on women’s health, including one in the distinguished Medical Anthropology Quarterly. Four other articles are under review, including two involving the WHO project. She also presented her research at five international conferences, including at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

Lindsay Taliaferro, population health sciences

Taliaferro has established herself as an expert in the health of sexual and gender minority youth since joining the UCF faculty in 2016. Her research focuses on promoting healthy youth development and preventing suicidal behavior and non-suicidal self-injury among adolescents and young adults.

In the past year, her research has drawn external funding from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, along with internal funding from the UCF Office of Research and the College of Medicine. Her extensive scholarship in 2020-2021 spanned nine articles published or accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals, another manuscript currently under review and two peer-reviewed co-authored book chapters, including one involving The Trevor Project, the leading national organization engaged in suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth.

Most research in this field has focused more on treatment than prevention. Taliaferro’s work has filled gaps in the literature about protective factors that may reduce risk of self-harm among adolescents, while advancing understanding about mental health, risk behavior and healthcare disparities among some underrepresented groups. Rather than restating risks, her work underscores factors that promote healthy youth development and protect against suicide risk. For instance, her externally funded grants will highlight identity-specific protective factors that moderate suicide risk among LGBTQ+ youth.

She is increasingly sought nationally and internationally for her expertise in the field of youth suicide and non-suicidal self-injury prevention. Meanwhile, her passion and commitment to supporting students are also reflected through those she mentors in research, with four presenting at five different national conferences this year.