Congratulations to PhD Graduates

Congratulations to three students graduating this spring and summer with a PhD in Social Welfare. Doctoral programs are a unique, often challenging journey that deserve their own celebration. Congratulations to these soon-to-be PhD graduates!

Marissa Abbott
Dissertation: The Interplay Between Adverse and Positive Childhood Experiences: An Exploration of Risk and Resilience

The most personally significant accomplishment from my time in the program relates to completing my preliminary examination. I worked throughout the winter of 2020 to write my first prelim draft. After submitting the draft to my committee in mid-February, I received revision requests right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first month of the pandemic, I was essentially alone in my apartment, working on the revisions. I struggled to find the motivation to work, given the uncertainty of everything related to the pandemic at the time. Luckily, I was able to submit my revisions by the deadline in mid-April and passed my prelim defense. So, while this may not seem like a major accomplishment to some, it was a great test of my perseverance in the face of uncertainty, and for that reason, it is significant to me. I never thought I would be writing my prelim, dissertation proposal, and my dissertation itself from my living room.


Julie Yixia Cai
Dissertation: Employment Instability and Child Wellbeing in the United States: Mitigating Effects of the Social Safety Net 

Reflecting on my time here, I have been so fortunate and grateful for the opportunities to interact with many wonderful professors from different disciplines, both within and outside of our department. I cannot stress enough the tremendous support I have received from many. Special thanks go to Lonnie Berger and Kristen Slack for their generous guidance and patience. Without them, I could not have gotten to where I am now. They introduced me to the world of child welfare research. The countless conversations I had with them really sparked my interest in bridging research on preventing child maltreatment with the social policy arena and in understanding further how economic (in)stability plays a role in understanding family and child wellbeing. This is also one of the key areas in which I will continue to work in the next chapter of my life. With their guidance, I was able to utilize state administrative data to understand how earnings instability affects child welfare involvement differently with or without sufficient social benefits. This has become one chapter of my dissertation project about which I am very grateful and proud.


Luke Muentner
Dissertation: Reentry and Family Reunification: Essays Examining Children’s Well-being after Incarcerated Parents are Released from Prison

My proudest academic accomplishment during my time in the program was leading an interdisciplinary project examining how children witnessing their fathers’ arrest may be associated with fluctuations in their physiological stress levels (measuring cortisol and cortisone in hair samples). The paper is the first study that documents how traumatic experiences around parental incarceration may “get under the skin” of young children whose parents are in jail. While the project fills a significant gap in the scholarly field, it has also gotten significant traction in the public sphere. For instance, the findings have gotten covered on Wisconsin Public Radio, highlighted in a university press release, and spotlighted on other area talk shows. In a year of significant civic unrest around historical and ongoing police brutality and racial injustice, the project provided scientific evidence of just how traumatic these events can be. This experience underscored for me how rigorous research on social problems can have meaningful implications for historically marginalized and vulnerable groups and motivates me to continue to use science to challenge and fight against injustice.