Providing research on topics with a large and relevant scope is one of the reasons that graduate students at The University of Texas stand out. Jodi Berger, a recipient of the Charles Laughton Endowed Presidential Scholarship by the School of Social Work and multiple fellowships from the Graduate School, is one of those students whose sincere devotion to her studies brings attention to a topic that is important to her field of social work, as well as to the state of Texas. Her doctoral studies at UT enable her to continue her work through valuable, unmatched research in the field.
Her dissertation focuses on the health and well-being of children of Latino immigrants. As this specific population represents the largest percentage of young children in the U.S., Jodi’s work focuses on their developmental needs, which will better their lives and their future.
Berger found her inspiration for this field when she was stationed in an impoverished area of Ecuador through her work with Peace Corps. She learned the Spanish language on site in Santo Domingo, Ecuador, and was committed to bettering the educational resources for children who would otherwise not have access. This transformative opportunity led Berger to Columbia University for social work training with Latino immigrant families.
This work focused on the effects of migration and assimilation for Latinos. After completing her masters degree in social work, she gained experience in Houston with a school-based mental health clinic for at-risk youth. As the only Spanish speaking mental health therapist for six clinics, she was inspired to find solutions for the challenges in helping Latino families. Issues such as immigration policy, which limits social services access to immigrants, have led Berger to pursue her doctoral degree in social work.
Berger’s pursuit of her Ph.D. in Social Work has led to the completion of two years of course work, which have consisted of theory building, professional development, data analysis, and research methodology. Her dissertation proposal “will examine the developmental needs of Latino children of immigrants who experience maltreatment,” stated Berger.
“Children who come to the attention of the public child welfare system are vulnerable for poor developmental outcomes because of their experiences of maltreatment. Children with immigrant parents may be especially vulnerable because they have higher rates of poverty and less access to social services to alleviate the stress of poverty on the family system,” said Berger.
Because working with these children and their families is an “integral part” of her professional career, Berger understands the significance of this population. “The population of Latinos in the United States is expected to rise from 14.3% to 21.0% in the next forty years,” she said. Therefore, it is evident that Berger’s research will lead to a better understanding of these families, and their needs, so that social workers and social welfare policies can adapt to their needs.
Berger’s doctoral research at UT has been useful for two important reasons: Texas has the fourth largest population of children with immigrant parents in the U.S., and UT “has premier researchers in the fields of health demography and child development,” said Berger. She has been able to work with professors such as Dr. Yolanda Padilla in the School of Social Work and Dr. Robert Hummer in the Department of Sociology. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded their research, which examined “health outcomes amoung Mexican American children from birth to age five.”
Berger has enjoyed the interdisciplinary approach that is encouraged in the School of Social Work. And is currently participating in a project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) that investigated the health trajectories of Mexican American children from birth to age five. She is part of a research team that is preparing a new grant proposal to follow these same children from middle childhood through adolescence.