Department of Psychiatry
Penn Behavioral Health

Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research

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Academic and Community Partners


James Connell, PhD, BCBA, NASP James Connell, PhD, BCBA, NASP
Associate Professor, College of Education
Drexel University
Research Fellow and Director of Clinical Core
AJ Drexel Autism Institute 

Dr. Connell has his doctorate in school psychology, is a nationally certified school psychologist, and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Dr. Connell has previously worked with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine with a secondary appointment in The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Center for Autism Research (CAR). Prior to his Penn appointment, he was an assistant professor at Temple University. While his research interests are varied, one main theme has emerged over the years: Identifying the variables that influence adult behavior change in community settings. To this end, he has researched and extensively studied models of community-based consultation and their relative effectiveness on program implementation. He continued this theme at Penn and CHOP with research projects focused on the widespread dissemination of evidence-based interventions in schools and community settings. Many autism support educational programs share core components in their curricular design while diverging on staff competency, training, and support. His goal is to add to the dissemination and implementation literature of efficacious programs for individuals diagnosed with autism by evaluating and reporting those core components and their relative effects on individual outcomes. Dr. Connell is now Associate Professor in the College of Education at Drexel University, and Research Fellow and Director of the Clinical Core in the AJ Drexel Autism Institute.

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Matthew Hurford, M.D.
Medical Director of the Hall-Mercer Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center of Pennsylvania Hospital
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania

Matthew Hurford Dr. Hurford performs mental health services research with particular emphasis on medical comorbidities in individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) and psychoeducational efforts to promote recovery/resiliency among the SMI population.  He received his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College and his medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine where hew was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society.  Dr. Hurford completed his residency in Psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he also served as Chief Resident.  Prior to joing the faculty at Penn, Dr. Hurford was a medical officer with the Indian Health Service on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Eastern Arizona.

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Lindsay Lawer, MS
Senior Manager
A.J. Drexel Institute:

Lindsay Lawer is a 3rd-year DrPH candidate in the Drexel University Health Policy and Social Justice program.  Her dissertation research focuses on the healthcare experience of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders as they age into adulthood in public insurance.  Currently Lindsay serves as Senior Manager of a new A.J. Drexel Institute focused on autism spectrum disorders. As a native of the Philadelphia area, Lindsay was able to integrate work and study while previously employed with the Center for Mental Health Policy & Services Research of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

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Jennifer Plumb, DSW, LSW
Social Worker
Division of Child Development, Rehabilitation, and Metabolic Disease
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Regional Autism Center

Dr. Plumb received her bachelor’s of social work from Temple University in 2002, a master’s of social work from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 and a Doctorate of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. She is the Social Worker in the Division of Child Development, Rehabilitation, and Metabolic Disease at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s in the Regional Autism Center. She has been working with the Regional Autism Center since 2003 where she co-facilitates social skills groups, organizes parent educational groups and provides ongoing support and resource coordination to families of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other special health care needs.  Dr. Plumb serves as faculty in the Leadership Education and Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program and is a member of an interdisciplinary autism diagnostic team and an early autism screening clinic. Jennifer’s research interests include the impact of social support and parental stress on family resilience in families impacted by ASD.

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Sara Ann Steber, PhD
Director, Technical Assistance and Education Center

Dr. Steber is a former policy and program development specialist for the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and a consultant for state and local mental health, substance abuse, and aging programs. She is experienced in planning, program development and evaluation activities related to the improvement of community-based services through system change. Dr. Steber conducts management and system change training for mental health and substance abuse professionals and has been principal investigator on several federally and foundation funded research grants focussed on substance abuse and HIVprevention and treatment and CJ involvement.

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