Katie Casstevens is graduating this May with a dual master’s degree in social work and public affairs, and a Portfolio in Nonprofit Studies from the RGK Center. She recently finished a year of fieldwork and study in Brazil funded by a David L. Boren Fellowship award.

“It was a culturally-rich and fulfilling adventure, as well as an invaluable capstone experience that enabled me to grow both personally and professionally during my final year at The University of Texas at Austin,” Casstevens said.

She spent the summer of 2014 in the Brazilian city of Salvador studying Portuguese. During the fall semester, she studied international economics and social movements at the Fundacão Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo. These courses prepared Casstevens for her spring 2015 research internship in Jardim Ângela, an area in São Paulo known for poverty, failing infrastructure, favela (slum) communities, and a traditionally high crime rate. She was part of a Fundacão Getúlio Vargas research project that examined relationships between public and private sector entities in the area to determine their efficacy in addressing these systemic issues.

“Katie exemplifies the best of graduate education,” said RGK Center Director and social work professor David W. Springer, who served as Casstevens’s faculty liaison. “Understanding and fostering enhanced cross-sector collaboration is exactly the type of work that will advance solutions to poverty and other global, pervasive issues. I was able to observe first-hand the impact that Katie has made through her work in São Paulo, and she has served as an amazing ambassador for UT.”

Casstevens at Jardim Angela
Casstevens at Jardim Angela

One of Casstevens’s roles in the research project was to engage with an existing community development program in Jardim Ângela to better understand its connection to the municipality of São Paulo and the public policies that govern nonprofit service providers in that community. The program, funded by World Vision Australia, serves school-aged children by monitoring their health and development via quarterly in-home checkups, and serves as a community center by offering programming such as music lessons that provides at-risk youth with alternative social outlets in an area that lacks them.

Through her participation, Casstevens identified methods to increase funding and staff capacity, and used her English and Portuguese language skills to connect the program with local and international grants. This is a crucial task, as World Vision Australia has implemented a graduated schedule for the program to become financially self-sustaining by 2023. Casstevens also advanced community development efforts through neighborhood engagement events, art workshops, youth advocacy groups, promotional videos, and community forums. In order to respond to the recent influx of immigrants in the area, she taught weekly English lessons to healthcare workers who need to be able to communicate with the linguistically diverse population.

Casstevens’s experience in Brazil was an ideal starting point for the career in international development that she wants to pursue. As part of her Boren Fellowship requirements, she will begin looking for federal employment opportunities, and is primarily interested in positions within the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State. She plans to maintain contact with her colleagues in Jardim Ângela, who inspire her to remain dedicated to improving quality of life for children and families around the world.

By Melissa Galusky. Posted May 21, 2015.