CHHS Summer Standouts: Social work student seeks to enhance lives in specific communities through dedicated research

Many students who study social work, such as Colorado State University student Amelia Malone, are drawn in by the discipline’s ability to address wicked problems in the world – issues that require complex solutions. 

Amelia Malone
Amelia Malone

Often the best way to determine how to successfully work with various populations is by trying out different interventions through research. 

Malone spent the summer working on multiple research projects involving the human-animal bond, as well as finishing up her senior thesis delving into the varying opinions and attitudes towards the sex work industry. 

Social work stresses helping solve entrenched problems such as inequity and poverty that don’t have one simple solution. Devoted individuals like Malone work to not only understand specific communities, but to also work with them and infuse their experiences into research projects with the aim of enhancing their lives.

Research projects

Malone, a senior set to graduate from the CSU’s School of Social Work this fall, worked as a research assistant with faculty members Jen Currin-McCulloch from the School of Social Work and Lori Kogan from the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences over the past eight months.

Malone is standing outside next to a man by a waterfall
Malone posing next to a waterfall with her father

Their various research projects revolve around the human-animal bond and the lives of women with breast cancer and breast cancer survivors.

The genesis of Malone’s research skills comes from her work with Currin-McCulloch and Kogan. “I have developed a strong understanding of how to communicate with our research participants and provide recommendations for alterations to our studies to make them more inclusive,” Malone said. 

This summer, Malone continued her work on several research projects including studies on the impact of music on heart rate in pet owners and their dogs and compiling pet resources in Northern Colorado for breast cancer survivors and other individuals with chronic illnesses. She has also documented the challenges that breast cancer survivors face when trying to take care of their own needs while simultaneously taking care of their animals.

“We hope to help many individuals with physical challenges experience less stress while going through treatment, surgery, recovery, or plan for their passing,” Malone said. 

Malone works with her research mentors to aid these communities by listening and creating viable options to enhance their lives.

Making the community safer

In addition, Malone has worked this summer on her senior thesis titled “Criminalization vs. Legalization: A Comparative Look at Professional Attitudes and Potential Impacts of Prostitution in the United States.” 

She is conducting research on the lives of sex workers, their community, and the juxtaposition of what is legal and what is not. Malone interviewed individuals who interact with sex workers, such as brothel managers, to compartmentalize their opinions and experience with the legal models and ramifications of prostitution. 

Malone is sitting next to her friends next to a body of water next to trees
Malone sitting by the water with her friends

Malone’s research is predicated on an understanding of this community’s struggles and the stigma that surrounds it. Looking to find solutions to implement a sense of safety in this community, Malone found that “sex workers with criminal records are often excluded from rehabilitation programs.” 

The juxtaposition of treatment for sex workers and other individuals with criminal records are among the highest points of interest for Malone. Many members of this community have experienced sexual assault, violence, and harassment, and she looked at finding feasible options to increase their safety. She also looked at the four main legal models of prostitution implemented in the U.S. and abroad: full criminalization, partial decriminalization, full decriminalization, and full legalization.  

Through her research, Malone said that she tried to “determine which legal model professionals would ideally implement in the U.S. to maximize the health, safety, human rights, and well-being of the sex work community.”

Influence now and in the future

Malone attributed much of the inspiration for her work and knowledge she has gained to her courses at CSU.  

“The introductory social science research course was helpful by providing a foundation for how to approach my research study, develop my research plan, and write my paper,” Malone said. “The policy course was also helpful by teaching me about policy analysis at the local, state, and national levels, which assisted with my exploration of different legal models of prostitution implemented in the U.S. and abroad.” 

Malone will continue to develop as a researcher this semester, continuing her research assistantships with the School of Social Work and Clinical Sciences Department. Following her graduation this fall, Malone said, “I’ll likely begin an advanced standing Master of Social Work program in the summer of 2023 but am also strongly considering pursuing a combined MSW/Ph.D. program after graduation.” 

Malone’s hope is to “implement and expand judgement-free programs and services for all types of sex workers, both voluntary and involuntary, to aid with their physical, mental, emotional, social, and economic well-being and provide resources to leave the industry if they wish,” she said.

Through research and devotion to others, Malone has created a solid foundation for her career as a social worker, striving to empower communities to cope with the struggles in their lives, one step and one solution at a time.  

The School of Social Work is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.