Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fellowship Reception Speech


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Good evening, my name is Alejandra Acuña.  I’m a PhD candidate in the social welfare doctoral program.  

I’d like to share a few words about my personal background, professional journey and the impact that receiving a fellowship has had on my future goals.

My parents were immigrants from Northern Mexico. I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, the fourth child of five - and the first (and only) in my family to graduate from college. 

After several years of working in public health programs, I went back to school to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley in 1996.  Since then, I have been a professional social worker practicing in child welfare, mental health, and public schools.  I have also done a lot of teaching as a Field Instructor for MSW interns and as a Lecturer at Cal State LA.

In the fall of 2009, at age 41 and the mother of an 8 year-old daughter, I began the PhD program at UCLA.  With the assistance of various fellowships, including the Meyer and Rene Luskin fellowship, I was able to pay for tuition and fees.  This meant I had library privileges for my research and health insurance.

It is said that in the Spring we reap what we sow.  I am scheduled to defend my dissertation in a few weeks (May 23).  It is entitled: Family Storytelling and Adolescent Post-Traumatic Resilience.

My research examines the relationship between open family communication and post-traumatic resilience among adolescents, primarily low-income urban youth.  I found a positive relationship between open family communication and post-traumatic resilience, however a high number of lifetime stressful events and a high degree of problem family communication overpowers the positive effects of open family communication. 

Developing interventions to improve the mental health of urban families through social marketing campaigns that promote the benefits and skills of storytelling, as well as reduce the prevalence of problem family communication, is my next professional and research task.

I came back to school because I wanted to learn how to do research.  Growing up and working in urban communities inspires my research questions, particularly about interventions that improve the mental health and well being of urban youth and their families. 

I am the wildflower that broke through the concrete jungle of East Los Angeles and for the rest of my life I wanna take a jackhammer to the cement so that other wildflowers can bloom.

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