[UTA Magazine]


Not bound by borders
Dual social work doctorate with Monterrey university is Mexico’s only such offering

map of Dallas-Fort Worth MetroplexNot long from now, graduate student Kristen Ferguson will have “Ph.D.” after her name.

Along with lofty academic credentials—not one doctorate but two—she’ll also possess an above-average quantity of true street smarts.

map of Monterrey, MexicoFerguson is one of 15 students enrolled in a one-of-a-kind dual doctoral program in social work between UTA and the 100,000-student Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey, Mexico. The former Peace Corps Latin America specialist spends much of her time these days in the Genaro Vázquez neighborhood near Monterrey researching “los niños de la calle,” the children of the street.

“This specialization gives us a better understanding of
how social workers can impact social problems and policy making. It will take social work a step further in Mexico.”
– doctoral student Antonio Mejia

Her research, funded with the help of a fellowship from the prestigious Organization of American States, focuses on a critical problem of Latin America today, children working on the streets, where they are often exposed to drugs, violence, labor exploitation, severe health problems and worse.

Genaro Vázquez has the highest percentage of los niños de la calle in the three million-population Monterrey area.

“I’m interviewing both families with street-working children and families with children who do not work to determine in what ways intrafamilial and family community relationships and interactions—family social capital and community social capital—can either precipitate or prevent the movement of children into the streets to work,” the Spanish-fluent Ferguson said.

Her findings will be reflected in her doctoral dissertation, which she hopes will influence a child labor phenomenon that perpetuates a cycle of poverty.

If that’s the outcome, UTA program coordinator Héctor Luis Díaz, an assistant professor of social work, won’t be surprised. “Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León is the only Mexican university offering a doctorate in social work,” he explains. UTA and the Monterrey university created a dual degree program seven years ago.

Students from Mexico must spend a year on the UTA campus, while UTA students invest a year in Mexico. The students must demonstrate fluency in Spanish and English and pass entrance exams from both universities, one in English and the other in Spanish.

“It’s tough,” Díaz acknowledges. “We’re looking for some fairly unique and specialized doctoral students. Though there are about 80 social work doctoral programs across the country, this is the only one of its kind.”

Virtually all of the current Mexican students are already faculty members at universities there in disciplines ranging from economics and psychology to social work. Dissertation topics have run the gamut from investigating the morale of social research workers in Mexico to ministering to handicapped Latin American children.

“This specialization gives us a better understanding of how social workers can impact social problems and policy making,” said Antonio Mejia, a doctoral student from Mexico. “It will take social work a step further in Mexico.”

Those who successfully complete the program do not receive a joint degree but dual degrees—a Ph.D. from UTA and a separate doctorate from UANL.

“These academic credentials will definitely open doors in any English- or Spanish-speaking countries,” Díaz said. “Social policy is common to all kinds of disciplines—issues of social justice, wealth, educational services and more. There are a lot more opportunities available for these graduates than there are graduates available for the opportunities.”

Díaz now simply wants the program to become better known and to grow.

“It’s obviously a highly specialized program, but also a unique one. We’re both recruiting students and trying to secure external funding in the form of fellowships, scholarships and the like.

“One of the biggest challenges students from this country or Mexico have is that they must have enough funds to survive here or in Mexico for a year. Our hope is that as we grow the program and recognition of its value increases, more outside funding and scholarships will result.”

And more difference-making research like Kristen Ferguson’s will follow.

– O.K. Carter


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