Ph.D. with a concentration in Humanities and Culture, 2012
Sussman Award Recipient, 2013
New York, New York
When I encountered the complex issues that transnational families confront as an educational consultant in Ecuador and a program director for Early Head Start and Head Start programs in Queens, New York, I made a personal and professional commitment to pursue a doctoral degree to help me understand migration-based family separation. After looking at other doctoral programs, I found that Union Institute & University’s Cohort Ph.D. Program’s approach—the scholar-practitioner model—would be the right path for me. I came to Union with twenty years of experience in human services, specifically community mental health counseling and early childhood and elementary education. I am a certified teacher in New York and a licensed counselor in Ohio and New York, with graduate degrees in both of these fields. I needed a doctoral program that would help me pull together my prior professional background and take my academic and professional training to the next level.
As a student in the Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies program, I strengthened my interdisciplinary foundation through the coursework and my scholarly interactions with other doctoral students and faculty at the academic residencies and conference days. The Humanities and Culture concentration was a good fit for me with its emphasis on narrative and cultural studies scholarship, along with Union’s integrated ethics and social justice focus. Listening to family member stories in Mexico and New York and trying to understand what they communicate about transnational family identity processes, agency, and family stress and resiliency was paramount to my professional goal of using my research to inform education and social service program policies. With this policy-based end in mind, I partnered with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association for my dissertation research. Ultimately, my doctoral experience at Union helped me cultivate and strengthen my voice as an emerging leader in my fields and as an advocate for migrant and immigrant families and their young children.
Since my dissertation study and the completion of my degree, I have presented at the Head Start 10th National Research Conference, the Office of Head Start’s First National Birth to Five Leadership Institute, and the 40th National Head Start Conference. I have taken on more senior-level management responsibilities in my position as a program director for the University Settlement Society of New York. I coach other early care and education leaders at the Settlement and represent the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers (IFS) as a member of the NGO Committee on Migration at the United Nations. This past summer I began consulting for Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services in Washington, D.C. as they develop training and technical assistance materials to strengthen collaborations between Refugee Resettlement agencies and Head Start programs across the country. Lastly, I am an international volunteer with Restoring Family Links (RFL) at the American Red Cross of Greater New York, helping reconnect family members across borders and informing their new migration initiative that is evaluating how we can use RFL services to reunite family members separated at the Mexico-US border. In many ways, graduating from Union Institute & University feels like the beginning of a new era. Post-degree I am better prepared to embark upon my life’s work and I appreciate the new community of colleagues—nationally and internationally—I have gained throughout this process.
Dr. Kezia Carpenter is the first woman on the maternal side of her family to earn a college degree and she is the proud great-granddaughter of a woman who migrated to Cincinnati during the Great Depression to give her young daughter and future family a better life. Dr. Carpenter's dissertation Family in the Borderlands/la Frontera: Transnational Narratives of Mexican Migrant Parents and their Young Children recently earned the coveted Sussman Award based on excellence in all criteria – originality, interdisciplinarity, social meaning, quality of writing, and overall presentation.
Dr. Carpenter graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Miami University in 1988. As she embarked on her community mental health career in Cincinnati during the early nineties, she simultaneously pursued a Master of Education in Agency and Community Counseling at Xavier University (1992) and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Counseling at the University of Cincinnati (1996). Mid-career she decided to focus on serving young children and families. She moved to New York City where she attended Bank Street College of Education and earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood and Elementary Education in 2000. Kezia is a certified teacher in New York and a licensed counselor in Ohio and New York. She is a member of the National Council on Family Relations and a member of the International Society of the Study of Narrative.
Learn more about Union Institute & University’s Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies program.
Read more National Commencement graduate stories:
Annette Aron, Ed.D.
Linda S. Hon, Ed.D.