PhD Student Rachel Ludeke Awarded Scholarships to Three Competitive Summer Training Programs

PhD student Rachel Ludeke

Third-year PhD student Rachel Ludeke has been awarded scholarships to attend three competitive training programs during summer 2019 which will further her dissertation research as well as her professional development as a child welfare scholar.

The three programs Ludeke received funding to attend are the Summer Social Work Graduate Student Mentoring Workshop on African American and Latinx Research at the University of Michigan School of Social Work; the ICPSR Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research; and the Kempe Interdisciplinary Summer Institute at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The first program emphasizes training in publication and grant writing as well as ethical conduct of research, successful mentoring, collaborative relationships, and navigating the academy. The second provides rigorous hands-on training in statistical techniques, research methodologies, and data analysis. The third provides focused training and mentoring on child abuse and neglect prevention research and evaluation.

“It is unusual for a student to be accepted to all three of these prestigious programs let alone to be awarded scholarships to attend them,” said Ludeke’s mentor, Associate Professor Darcey Merritt. “It speaks to Rachel’s tremendous talent and potential in the field.”

Ludeke, who has completed her PhD coursework and recently submitted her qualifying exam, expects to emerge from the distinct but complementary training programs well positioned to begin her dissertation research, and with skills and relationships she can draw upon throughout her career. While her dissertation topic has not yet been set, she hopes to address foster youth and the impact their social networks have on their transition to adulthood. Lukeke explained, “I want to do an analysis of how many and what types of people foster youth who have graduated high school have in their networks, whom they consider important and are supported by, and how that relates to their academic, career, and life outcomes.”

Ludeke said she pursued NYU Silver’s PhD program in part because so many faculty are leaders in child welfare or have connections in the area. Before she enrolled in the program, Ludeke coordinated a project at Rutgers University that provided academic and career coaching and other supportive services to students exiting foster care or in the transition from foster care into adulthood.

“What I found in my work,” Ludeke said, “is that the students who were able to come through the system and be successful were the ones who had different types of people on their team whom they could count on. I want to see if that is consistent across all foster youth within the given population and compare them with young people in similar situations who are at risk but not in the child welfare system.”

Ultimately, Ludeke hopes to establish an evidence base to promote more robust social networks among young people in the foster care system and more supportive programs like the one she ran at Rutgers, not only for youth aging out of the system but also for those entering it. “Many programs that start at the post-secondary level are great for the young people who make it there, but fewer than 20% of foster youth go to college and some estimates put that figure as low as 3%,” she said. “We need to help foster kids early enough to get more of them into college if they want to go, and make sure they have social supports in place once they leave the system so they can take their next steps and succeed on their own.”

Ludeke expressed gratitude to Dr. Merritt for encouraging her to apply to the summer training programs and seek the scholarships that will enable her to advance her research. “I would not have applied for these nationally competitive opportunities if it were not for Dr. Merritt,” Ludeke said. “She could see more than I could how important they would be for my development and that I had a high likelihood of being accepted.”