Focusing on Families for Solutions

Fifteen years after graduating from New York University with his Master of Social Work degree, Professor Vincent Guilamo-Ramos returned in a different role but with the same unwavering focus: empirically proven, family-based interventions with adolescents.

Guilamo-Ramos, MSW '95, originally chose to come to the NYU Silver School of Social Work for his master's degree because of the School's commitment to direct practice. As a city employee at Bellevue Hospital, Guilamo-Ramos had the opportunity to receive free tuition at other institutions, but decided it was worth the extra financial burden to study at NYU. "The campus was exciting and vibrant," he said. "The materials conveyed a direct practice focus."

Unique to NYU was the concentration on the relationship between the social worker and client and the expectation that each student would engage in critical reflection on why they were pursuing an MSW. This focus, in addition to the experiential aspect of many social work courses, was the cause for not only intellectual learning but also personal change for Guilamo-Ramos as a student.

Having spent a large part of his life growing up in the Bronx, Guilamo-Ramos often felt a disconnect between his academic career at NYU and his personal life. Often working on group projects at colleagues' homes, Guilamo-Ramos did not feel that he could host these events. "My life seemed too different than the other students'," he said. "I didn't feel like I could invite them to my home or community."

Unfortunately, the student body was not visibly inclusive of people with differing life experiences. "This was particularly apparent in regards to socio-economic status, ethnicity, and race." This missing piece is one that Guilamo-Ramos has defined as an ongoing challenge for NYU, and one on which he feels the community can still build.

Upon graduation, Guilamo-Ramos returned to direct practice but realized that he wanted to also explore macro-level social issues and how those affected his clients. To this end, he pursued a Master of Science in non-profit management from NYU Wagner to broaden his focus beyond the individual client. He completed his Wagner degree in 1997, and then pursued a doctoral degree at SUNY Albany. In 2000, with his new PhD, Guilamo-Ramos began teaching at Columbia University -- where he was the first U.S. born Latino to receive tenure -- and remained there until coming to the Silver School in 2010 as a full professor.

Guilamo-Ramos' scholarship has centered on developing research-based interventions with and for Latino families and their adolescent children. In particular, Guilamo-Ramos aims to integrate an empirical perspective to shape the outcomes that are important to families and communities. He has studied families' communication styles and processes as well as teenage "problem behavior" and decision-making. In learning about these families' cultures and processes, Guilamo-Ramos works to create interventions that are truly embedded in a family-centered philosophy.

Most of Guilamo-Ramos' innovative work is housed in the new Center for Latino and Adolescent Family Health. This research center was founded to address Latino family health, with a priority on building a family culture to lower teen risk behavior. The Center has two locations -- New York and Sosua, Dominican Republic. This satellite office conducts research with Dominican families in a rural setting, concentrating on the role of tourism in family life and adolescent problem behaviors. The site in the Dominican Republic will host a class for social work students over the summer session.

Guilamo-Ramos is also the Latino Initiative vice chair of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a Washington, DC-based group creating evidence-based programs and policies to reduce teen pregnancy nationally. In this role, Guilamo-Ramos has written guidelines for practitioners to inform their interventions with Latino families.

This development of research-informed intervention is what Guilamo-Ramos thinks should be taught in MSW programs. "Social work used to be seen as a 'do-gooder' activity and not a true profession," he said. "Social work is now challenged to demonstrate that what we do actually makes a difference in people's lives."

This relatively new requirement of integrating research into direct practice is one change Guilamo-Ramos has seen since his student days at NYU. He has also noticed more of a macro or policy inclusion in the MSW program, the balance he sought when obtaining a Wagner degree. This broadening focus, as evidenced by projects such as the McSilver Poverty Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, was an inviting change for Guilamo-Ramos. He said, "It was the right time to come back to NYU, and to bring in faculty who represent what is needed in the school [to develop applied research]." This shift, along with the new dean and the dynamic and global nature of the University, is what brought Guilamo-Ramos back to NYU.

"At NYU, I feel the possibility of having a true impact through the type of work that I do."