Research Q&A with Arlene Bjugstad: Engagement in Latino students

Read more about Bjugstad’s work here.

Arlene Bjugstad, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the
College of Public Service

1. How would you describe the main idea or main takeaway from your most recent research or creative work to someone outside your field?

Latino students are the fastest growing student population in the U.S. and they often experience disparities in educational outcomes. This study found that specific experiences were associated with how students were engaged in school. First generation immigrants had higher levels of engagement while students who experienced trauma and discrimination had lower levels of engagement in school regardless of generation status. Educators and school officials should focus on relational strategies to engaging Latino students in school.

2. What is the key paper or author/performer who has most inspired your recent research/creative work?

The Latinx immigrant students I’ve worked with and met as a result of my years working as a school social worker and researcher. They are amazing, strong, and capable of so much. They deserve and will thrive given the right educational environment.

3. How do you see this research/creative piece contributing to new insights in the field/sparking conversation?

Public schools systems in the U.S. are seeing their lowest levels of enrollment. Simultaneously, our school systems are seeing a major increase in the number of Latino and immigrant students in schools. This article lends insights into factors that impact how Latino immigrant students engage in school. This study highlights the importance of relational approaches to engaging Latino immigrant students in school.

4. Can you describe the contributions of co-authors or collaborators who were essential to the success of this project?    

My mentor and dissertation chair, Dr. Jodi Berger Cardoso has been instrumental not only in the development of this study and article but also my professional development as a researcher. Dr. Berger Cardoso and Dr. Kalina Brabeck worked with the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) to collect these data from youth in schools in Harris County, TX and Rhode Island. They allowed me to access and explore these important data, providing guidance and mentorship throughout the process. Dr. Ann Chen served as the statistician on this project and I was fortunate to learn a great deal from her. Finally, Dr. Sharon Borja helped me reimagine the statistical technique used to improve the rigor of the analytic strategy. I am grateful to have such amazing, women collaborators and mentors!

5. What impact do you hope this work makes?

I hope that this work helps us recognize the strengths that exist within Latino immigrant youth, such as their valuing of school and desire to be successful in school. I also hope that professionals recognize the need to engage students relationally, particularly for students from backgrounds that have historically been disadvantaged in the U.S. education system.

6. What is on deck for you as you get started on your next project?

I am currently working on the planning and development of a virtual case management/mentoring program for unaccompanied immigrant children in the U.S. This work is being done in collaboration with immigrant community partners, my social work colleague, Dr. Johanna Creswell-Báez and is supported by the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience!

7. Where and when do you feel you are the most productive/creative/inspired?

I feel most inspired when interacting with immigrant children and families in the community. Seeing their strength and resilience reminds me of how important it is to do this work and for all of us to welcome our immigrant neighbors with dignity and humanity. I feel most productive at random times during the night. I am a true night owl. Please forgive me if you get an email at 3 a.m.!

Read more about Bjugstad’s work here.