My Summer: Doctoral Candidate Celia GomezBy Jill Anderson
Before doctoral candidate Celia Gomez arrived at the Ed School, she knew of Professors Catherine Snow and Hiro Yoshikawa’s work on Un Buen Comienzo (UBC), a collaborative project in Santiago, Chile, aimed to improve early childhood education through teacher professional development.
Calling it fate, Gomez came to HGSE eager to work on UBC, even though the former preschool teaching assistant and teacher’s aide had little knowledge about international preschool programs. Within her first year on campus, she found herself working on research related to UBC as part of Yoshikawa’s course, Early Childhood Settings: Understanding, Observing, and Studying Quality, in part due to her interest in intervention programs as means to counteract disparities.
This summer as part of Dean’s Summer Fellowship, Gomez continued researching UBC, with guidance from faculty adviser Yoshikawa, as she explored the cognitive impact of the 2010 Chilean earthquake on preschool students.
According to Gomez, current research indicates that the trauma of an earthquake can have an effect on young children’s emotional health, sometimes causing behaviors symptomatic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Despite the evidence that experiencing trauma may also impact children’s cognitive outcomes, the majority of research exploring how a natural disaster might affect children is limited to outcomes related to PTSD symptoms, she says. In addition, the methodology of such studies rarely supports causal inference about the impact of the disaster.
She worked with data on children aged 3–5 at the start of their preschool year prior to the earthquake, including cognitive outcomes such as literacy skills, problem solving, and executive functioning. A second group of young children were tested three to eight weeks following the quake. While Gomez is still working on her findings, she noted the importance of understanding how earthquakes and other natural disasters can impact child development and how that knowledge may help influence disaster relief efforts and interventions.
“This summer has continued to help me think about the ways children and families cope in stressful situations,” she says.
This is not the first time Gomez has worked with UBC. Last summer, she had the opportunity to travel to Santiago to conduct an ethnographic sub-study with other students on eating behaviors of young children at UBC. The firsthand experience in the country has continued to impact her research to the present.
“When you do quantitative work sometimes you forget that the data comes from people,” she says. “And, the people are important. These are not just numbers on a sheet.”