SCSD Doctoral Student Selected for Fellowship Program

Selected for the “Start with Equity” (SwE) Fellowship Program in Washington D.C., SCSD Doctoral Student, Diana Abarca will be transforming her research into policy. Under the guidance of SCSD Assistant Professor, Mollie Romano, Abarca’s research specifically focuses on providing culturally responsive early childhood intervention services. Early intervention includes the support and services that are provided to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families.

“I have had the pleasure to be mentored by Mollie as I have developed a line of inquiry on the use of various equity-based frameworks within our investigations of culturally responsive and sustaining practices within the field of early intervention,” Abarca said.

To examine the culturally responsive practices of service providers, Abarca and Romano interviewed Latina mothers about their experiences in early intervention. Currently, Abarca is in the process of interviewing early interventionists on their experiences working with Black and Latino families to investigate their knowledge of cultural responsiveness. The goal of Abarca’s research and this interview project is to support service providers’ use of culturally responsive practices when working with marginalized families. Often service providers are working with families from cultures other than their own, making it critical for early interventionists to practice cultural responsiveness.

“We aim to support the effectiveness of early intervention services for historically marginalized families by facilitating the use of more equitable practices within early intervention,” Abarca said.

Although Abarca will be the one in Washington, D.C., she credits her advisor, Romano, for her support throughout the exploration of her research in early childhood intervention. Abarca cited multiple opportunities Romano has included her that have helped her refine her skills as a researcher: writing research manuscripts, implementing intervention strategies, and working on a team for a state-wide grant, among many more.

“Mollie has been so supportive of my exploration of theoretical frameworks and has brainstormed alongside me to determine how we can put these theories of cultural responsiveness and sustainment into practice,” Abarca said.

The 1-Year Fellowship Program focuses on equity research that is applicable to the field of early childhood education. The program’s mission is “to prepare the next generation of changemakers in early childhood policy and research.” Abarca will be working with The Children’s Equity Project (CEP) network members in Washington, DC to develop a policy document on her specific research. Started by the Sanford School, The CEP is led in partnership with The Center for Racial Equity and Excellence and scholars from prestigious universities, such as Yale University, Georgetown University, and Vanderbilt University, including many others.

“Throughout my doctoral training, I have learned about and been a bit discouraged by the many complications within the academic and research world that oftentimes dampen the effect that important research has on society,” Abarca said. “The SwE program opens up a new type of path for me that I am excited to explore.”

While creating her policy document during the program, Abarca will be mentored by researchers and policymakers who have direct experience in policy work. Not only will Abarca be learning from these policymakers, but she will also have the opportunity to complete an internship with a government agency, such as the Department of Education. Through the internship, Abarca will see how policies are passed through agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education, and how research can impact these policies.

“My ultimate career goal is clear: to contribute towards the development and implementation of equitable practices within early intervention programs nationwide,” Abarca said. “I anticipate that I will develop ideas and skills to accomplish this ultimate goal through research and policy efforts throughout my experiences in the SwE program.”

CCI is so proud of you Diana! Read more about Abarca and her research in our previous CCI article here.