Research project solidifies postgraduation plans
Although there is an abundance of research about affordable housing and an equal abundance of research about aging adults, there is surprisingly little data connecting the two topics.
So St. Olaf College student Amanda Vergara ‘17 teamed up with Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Lisa Moore to investigate multigenerational families living under one roof in affordable housing.
Vergara had an internship in the truancy intervention department at the Centro Tyrone Guzman, and she and Moore explored the connection between the topics of affordable housing and aging adults. The research, conducted through the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars Program, focused on analyzing current affordable housing policies, interviewing housing professionals, and conducting fieldwork to map the assets of each target area.
As the first students to assist with this project, Vergara and Natalia Soler ‘17 looked into background information on the topic. This research consisted of many interviews, archival research, and learning about specific neighborhoods.
While there is still work to be done, after this section of the project they found that affordable housing policies do not overtly support intergenerational caretaking, partly stemming from difficulties with the availability of resources and coordination of social services.
Through her time with Centro Tyrone Guzman, Vergara saw the demand for bilingual social workers, a career that she now plans to pursue. After graduating, she plans to earn her Master in Social Work degree.
For Vergara, at the beginning of her college career she — like many students — was not thinking about graduate school. St. Olaf Professor of Social Work Mary Carlsen ’79 identified Vergara as a strong applicant for the McNair Scholars Program her sophomore year. “It was touching that someone was looking out for me,” says Vergara, who recently received St. Olaf’s Amanda Kimer Award for Excellence in Social Work.
The TRIO McNair Program aims to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who participate in undergraduate research, graduate with a B.A., and encourage them to pursue graduate studies and Ph.D.s.
In addition to a summer of conducting student/faculty research, Vergara spent a semester in Mexico with a study abroad program specifically for social work majors. The program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, aims to develop cross-culturally competent, ethical social work professionals with a global perspective by providing a semester of transformative, experiential learning focused on social and economic justice.
“I would like to return to Mexico someday and am interested in working in Spanish-speaking countries,” says Vergara.
This year Vergara also lives in the Diversity Awareness House, which aims to support multicultural students in order to promote and foster unity for students of diverse heritage and backgrounds. The group has monthly events on campus with the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement (CMIE).
“Through all of these experiences at St. Olaf, I really feel like I’ve found myself,” Vergara says. “I came here really not knowing what I wanted to do, but it’s been a transformative experience.”