Postdoctoral Fellows

Click here for past and present NPC visiting scholars.

NPC Postdoctoral Fellows
Supported by the Research and Training Program on Poverty and Policy


Alexandra K. Murphy
Alexandra K. Murphy received her PhD in Sociology from Princeton University in 2012, where she was also a fellow in the Joint Degree Program in Sociology and Social Policy. Her primary research interests include urban sociology, organizations, ethnographic methods, microsociology and social interaction, poverty and inequality, race, and culture. Her dissertation is an extended ethnographic study of suburban poverty. For three and a half years Murphy lived in a poor Pittsburgh suburb studying the everyday lives of residents and the organizational and political life of the suburban context in which they live. This work has been featured in The New York Times, Atlantic Cities, and Pittsburgh Tribune Review. It has been generously supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, HUD, NSF, The Allegheny County Department of Human Services, and the Center for AfricanAmerican Urban Studies and the Economy, and the Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies. While at Michigan, she will draw on this fieldwork to develop several scholarly articles and turn her dissertation into a book manuscript.


Katrinell M. Davis
Katrinell M. Davis received her PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. She is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, where she teaches Race and Ethnic Relations courses, as well as courses exploring the intersections between race, gender, and work trends within the American labor market. Her research interests concentrate on links between social stratification, the actions of state and labor market institutions, and the changing expressions of racialization within American society. Her recent work explores the institutional features of the postindustrial era U.S. labor market and how these factors affect the employment opportunities available to low-skilled African American women workers.

While at Michigan, Davis will work on this topic by developing a manuscript that explores the structure of job opportunities available to high school educated African American women employed as transit operators in the San Francisco Bay area.  With this case study research, Davis uncovers how their progress in the workplace over the past two decades has been affected by changes in the job they work, as well as normative shifts in administrative practices like drug tests and background assessments that are used to scrutinize their ability to perform the work.

Liliana M. Garces
Liliana M. Garces received her doctorate in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011.  Her work bridges the fields of law and social science research to inform policies that may assist educators address socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities across K-12 and postsecondary education.  Her dissertation research, supported by a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, analyzes the causal impact that affirmative action bans have had on student of color enrollment in graduate studies.  During her graduate studies, she served as counsel of record on an amicus brief submitted by 553 social scientists in support of the respondents in the voluntary school desegregation cases, Parents v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education.  Prior to pursuing her doctorate in Education, she served as a law clerk for the Honorable John C. Coughenour, United States District Court, Western District of Washington, and worked as a public interest attorney in the areas of immigrants’ and low-income women’s rights.

While at Michigan, she will develop her dissertation into journal articles and begin new research projects in her areas of interest.

Jacob Avery
Jacob Avery received his PhD in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010.  His primary research interests include urban poverty and inequality, social service provision, culture, social interaction, and fieldwork methods.   His dissertation research is an immersed ethnographic account of street life in Atlantic City, NJ.  Specifically, he examines how a network of chronically homeless and chemically addicted individuals experience their precarious condition on a daily basis; and how/why they subsist without regular aid from formal systems of support.  While at Michigan, he will develop his dissertation research into a book manuscript.  At the same time, he will conduct fieldwork that explores the organizational and interpersonal dynamics of service provision for the newly homeless.


Patrick Wightman
Patrick Wightman received his PhD in Public Policy from the University of Chicago in 2009. During his fellowship, he will conduct research on the transition to adulthood, focusing on the educational, professional and social opportunities open to young adults, their parents' ability and willingness to support them, and the attitudes and expectations of both parents and children. Wightman's fellowship is funded by the MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood.

Young adults are taking longer to reach the markers commonly associated with adulthood. They are waiting longer to leave home, complete school and get married. Stable employment, once a hallmark of adulthood, is becoming more elusive as average job tenure is shorter and employment transitions, both voluntary and involuntary, occur more frequently. As a result, young adults are also taking longer to find steady health insurance. The relationship between parenthood and marriage is becoming increasingly tenuous as more children are born to single parents and cohabiting and married couples are waiting longer to have children. Moreover, these transitions to adulthood are at least partially associated with an increase in parental support given to many young adults as they make their way into the adult world. This latter trend is especially important in the light of the widening socio-economic gap between low and high income families that has occurred over the past thirty years. If successful transitions to adulthood depend on access to parental assistance, efforts to reduce economic inequality among young adults will be hamstrung by low-income parents' inability--or unwillingness--to provide this support.

Wightman will investigate these issues by combining the high-quality income and employment data available in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) with data on young adults' attitudes, expectations and behaviors in the 2005 and 2007 Transition to Adulthood Supplements to the PSID (PSID-TA). He will compare 2005 and 2007 patterns of parental assistance with 1988 levels, describe how the level and types of parental assistance vary by family structure, race and socio-economic status, describe the association between parental assistance and young adult attitudes, expectations, behaviors and evaluate the association between parental assistance and later adult outcomes.


LaShawnDa Pittman-Gay
LaShawnDa Pittman-Gay received her doctorate in Sociology from Northwestern University and recently completed a Predoctoral Fellowship at Hiram College.  Her dissertation research examines how low-income, urban, African-American caregiving grandmothers’ coping strategies are affected by their perceived stress, individual and child-rearing goals, availability and use of formal and informal resources, and laws and policies that influence their experience.  Her primary research interests include intergenerational families, urban poverty, carework, and coping strategies. While at Michigan, she will develop journal articles and book chapters for publication based on her dissertation research.


Marci Ybarra
Marci Ybarra received her PhD in Social Welfare from the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009. Ybarra's fellowship is funded by the Research and Training Program on Poverty and Public Policy. Her research interests broadly include public program evaluation, racial disparities in social policy outcomes, social service delivery, and front-line worker and claimant decision-making in poverty-related public programs. During her fellowship, Ybarra will conduct a research project entitled, "Evaluating the Role of Caseworker Training in Welfare Application Outcomes."

Her project considers the role of training for front-line social service workers and related welfare program outcomes. More specifically, she is interested in whether investments in training, and different types of training, shape desired program and client outcomes. She will also consider the specific role of worker diversity training in disparate welfare program outcomes across racial groups. The limited scholarship on worker training has relied on self-reports by workers regarding training effectiveness and client reports of worker effectiveness post-training, but has been slow to link training to actual client outcomes. Ybarra's project will contribute to understanding the potential role of worker-training in poverty-related public programs outcomes, building on her dissertation research and a related evaluation of the State of Wisconsin's12-day extended welfare application process, the Wisconsin Works (W-2) Applicant Project study. Ybarra's research will rely on merging new and extensive data on worker-training with existing administrative data on the welfare application process and outcomes in the state of Wisconsin.


Fernando Lozano
Fernando Lozano received his PhD in Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is currently Assistant Professor in Economics at Pomona College, in Claremont, California. Fernando Lozano is a member of the faculty of the American Economic Association Summer Program, and a mentor in the American Economic Association Pipeline Program, both sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession. He is also a member of the American Society of Hispanic Economists.

His PhD dissertation explored the relationship between high school leadership participation and future education attainment among Hispanic students. Three of his current working papers explore the labor market outcomes of immigrants in the United States: in one article he explores the labor supply of male immigrants from Mexico; in a second article he explores the labor market return to obtaining a green card, as a part of a massive amnesty program, to live in the United States; and in a third paper he explores whether more stringent border patrol policing affects the selection of immigrant women from Mexico, and in turn their labor market outcomes.

During his stay at the National Poverty Center he will work on two new projects that analyze the relationship between religious participation and poverty among Hispanics in the United States. The first project will analyze whether religious participation helps acquire human capital and improve labor market attachment of Hispanic workers. The second project will analyze the role that religious participation has on the educational attainment of three cohorts of Hispanic students.

His research has been published in the Journal of Labor Economics and the Economics of Education Review, and has been founded by the National Cooperative of Postsecondary Education, the UCMEXUS Institute and the UC Language Research Institute.


Isaac McFarlin Jr.
Isaac McFarlin Jr. received his Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern University. He also holds a bachelors degree from Boston University. He is a labor economist who uses large-scale administrative databases to investigate the systemic impacts of education policy on student wellbeing. His research interests include evaluations of policies that help shape college access and student retention as well as labor market success.

While in residence at the Ford School of Public Policy, he will conduct a multi-state evaluation of college remediation also known as developmental education in promoting college success among academically underprepared students. The research employs regression-discontinuity methods to examine the extent to which remediation impacts college attainment and labor market performance.

Also during his visit, Dr. McFarlin will conduct an evaluation on how well tuition subsidies influence college-going behavior and labor market success. Using quasi-experimental methods and statewide administrative education data, he exploits the fact that in Texas (and other states), those residing in community college taxing districts receive larger tuition subsidies than their non-resident neighbors. His analysis will pay special attention to those living in high-poverty regions. The study's findings will help inform a growing literature on the "geography of opportunity."

Dr. McFarlin's research is supported by several organizations, including the Spencer and Smith Richardson Foundations, and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.


Daphne Hernandez, Ph.D.
Daphne Hernandez received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Boston College. She also holds a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelors degree from Princeton University.  Her research interests include father involvement, adolescent delinquency and risk-taking behaviors, and the effects of welfare and antipoverty policies on children.

Dr. Hernandez is currently conducting a qualitative study on incarcerated fathers and the mothers of their children. The study examines the processes by which childhood experiences help develop beliefs surrounding fatherhood and criminal involvement. The study also focuses on father’s employment opportunities and ability to pay child support, and the father’s relationship with his children and the mother of his children. The results from the study could inform survey data, along with policies and programs surrounding father involvement and family well-being, such as child support policies and work-incentive programs. Her dissertation, Predictors of adolescent delinquent trajectories: Family processes and neighborhood factors examined through longitudinal growth modeling, investigated adolescent risky and delinquent behaviors.  Dr. Hernandez is interested in gender and race differences in risky behaviors as delinquency theory, and most research in this ar ea has been on white males. She is building on her dissertation research and using semiparametric mixture modeling to investigate trajectories of substance use involvement among female and male adolescents using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 data set.  

Using the Fragile Families data set and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort Dr. Hernandez is studying how antipoverty policies influence child and family well-being.  She is exploring how family structure and changes in income effect participation in food assistance programs, as well as how these programs influence children’s health. Food assistance program participation has not been examined in these datasets and these projects present a unique opportunity to draw on the wealth of the data collected and the strengths of each dataset in informing the discussion on programmatic impacts on children.

Janice Johnson Ph.D.
Janice Johnson received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Temple
University in fall 2004. Her dissertation focused on the contribution of welfare job-training programs to recipients' employment outcomes. It was titled, "Separating Policy Hopes from Policy Realities: A Look at the Inner Workings of Welfare-to Work Training Programs and their Impact on Recipients' Employment Outcomes."

During her postdoctoral position, Dr. Johnson will build on her dissertation research to investigate the street level practices of unpaid community work experience programs (CWEs.) The welfare reform legislation of 1996 placed increased emphasis on CWEs, which are unpaid job placements designed to increase the employability of welfare recipients by providing them with job experiences, skills, and training. Her research will assess how these programs shape welfare recipients' welfare experiences and the contribution of these programs to recipients' employment outcomes.

Dr. Johnson's previous research experience includes positions with the Philadelphia Survey of Child Care and Work at Temple University, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, and the School District of Philadelphia. She earned a BA in Sociology from Brandeis University in 1994.


Nicole P. Gardner Ph.D.
Dr. Gardner, a developmental psychologist specializing in work socialization, received a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan in the spring of 2004. Her dissertation was titled, "Linking Parental Work Experiences to Adolescents' Future Orientation".

Dr. Gardner plans two studies for her time as a postdoctoral fellow in the Program on Poverty and Public Policy. Her research will use quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the work experiences of single mothers in relation to adolescents' well-being. The studies will investigate links between maternal job conditions and adolescents' own employment expectations and attitudes and values toward education.

These studies should provide evidence to inform policies targeted at addressing the pejorative effects of poverty on children and families.

Gardner earned a B.S. in Psychology from Brown University in 1997.


Zulema Valdez, Ph.D.
Dr. Valdez was most recently a visiting research fellow (joint) at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and the US-Mexican Studies Center at the University of California, San Diego. She received her Ph.D. from the UCLA Department of Sociology in the summer of 2002 for her dissertation, What is 'Ethnic' About Ethnic Entrepreneurship? The Economic Advantage of Ethnicity in Self-Employment Opportunities.

Dr. Valdez' research interests include economic sociology, international migration, race and ethnicity, and social inequality; she has been the recipient of grants from SSRC, the Ford Foundation, and UC MEXUS.

During her two-year postdoctoral position, Dr. Valdez will complete her book manuscript entitled, Economic Strategies of Survival and Mobility: Ethnic Entrepreneurship in the United States.