A Community Connection
PhD grad Karen Menendez Coller brings her vision of hope to Latino immigrants.
As the child of hardworking El Salvadoran parents who immigrated to Los Angeles, Karen Menendez Coller believed in a future filled with promise.
But hope can often be elusive for recent immigrants who struggle with isolation, stress and economic uncertainty, says Coller, a 2009 PhD graduate in Population, Family and Reproductive Health.
Now, as executive director of Centro Hispano Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin, Coller’s priority is promoting family stability. The nonprofit collaborates with local agencies to provide social services, education, job training and other assistance to the area’s growing Hispanic community.
“The idea is to get families, as they come into the area, in the pipeline with adult services,” she says, “and then connect them with a lot of youth services that we have.”
Appropriate support can help immigrant families to head off problems down the road. “We see a lot of kids who drop out, join gangs and become involved in risky, violent behavior,” says Coller, who has directed community-based research at UCLA on high-achieving Latino youth and led projects on unplanned pregnancy and teen mental health in Hispanic communities.
Menendez credits the Bloomberg School with giving her top-notch research tools. Her training, she says, has allowed her to better understand the reasons behind risky behaviors in Latino populations and develop effective community-based interventions.
“The foundation of research methods that the Bloomberg School provides is not comparable to anywhere else,” she says.