International PhD Student Builds Perspectives Across Borders

Ana Maria Vazquez Rodriguez (photo courtesy of ITESO)

Ana Maria Vazquez Rodriguez (photo courtesy of ITESO)

Ana Maria Vazquez Rodriguez is a member of the inaugural cohort of BC Social Work’s International PhD Program in Social Welfare, a unique collaboration between BCSSW and several Jesuit universities in Mexico and Chile. 

In the first year of the program, Vazquez and her colleagues remained in their home countries for classwork, while also taking classes at BCSSW through an online learning management system. In the second and third academic year of the program, they were in residence at Boston College. Cohort members will then continue to alternate between their home country and BC until they complete their dissertation.

Vazquez recently returned to her work at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO) in Guadalajara, Mexico following completion of her third year, spent in Chestnut Hill. In this conversation with Innovate@BCSW, she discusses the PhD program, her research interest, and her hopes for the future, once she’s finished her degree.

Why did you first decide to pursue the International PhD in Social Welfare?

I was very interested in the program when I first heard of it. The fact that a school with Boston College’s reputation was collaborating with my home university allowed me to combine the strengths of each school into one amazing degree program. Thanks to BC I have been able to approach my research interests from a social welfare perspective, and work in the margins between social problems, social policy, and social theory.

The way in which the program is designed has also allowed me to connect my research interests with my current academic position as professor of International Relations at ITESO. Thanks to this collaboration with BC, my research has become more structured, organized, and rigorous, and as I return to Mexico this year, I know that this perspective will inform, and improve, my teaching and research at ITESO.

Tell us more about your research interest, and any current projects you are working on.

My main interest is on the social processes at work in contexts of violence. In particular, I’m focused on nonviolence resistance movements that are a reaction to violence and conflict in states that are unable or unwilling to protect the population. My current case study focuses on drug-related violence settings and the examination of collective action, social capital, and community practices in territories with a high incidence of violence like Mexico. I am also collaborating on several small projects where social capital, social welfare, and subjective wellbeing are used to assess the effectiveness of social policy action on various communities.

Tell us about the resources at Boston College and how has this helped inform your research.  

I have found a lot of new academic resources here at BC, often resources that I knew about but had difficulty accessing in Mexico, including online journals, books, and software. Probably what I enjoyed most were the opportunities to take advantage of interlibrary loans and scanned copies of chapters online. It may sound simple, but this kind of open access to resources doesn’t exist everywhere, and it can have a major impact on an individual’s ability to wholly investigate a given topic. At home, our prompt access to resources is considerably more limited.

The diverse and broad composition of the faculty members and the professors at BC – both in the School of Social work and in the Sociology department where I took most of my electives – also provided me with deep insights and novel resources and ideas about the topics of my interest.

Compare the work you do in Boston versus the work you do in Mexico.  How do they complement each other?  

As I mentioned, Boston College gave me an invaluable set of resources and methodologies to pursue my research; I came across a wide range of tools and useful examples to design and develop research projects. I also learned a lot more about how to assess and understand the connection between a social problem and existing social policies.

In Mexico I’m engaged in a more complex theoretical reflection — the school here is very concerned about the conceptual implications of research projects, and truly looks for a balance between theory and methodology. It is also very strong in non-quantitative methodologies, particularly ethnography, semi-structured interviews and document analysis, all rich resources for my current research.

What are your upcoming projects in Mexico?  

This year I will continue the dissertation phase of the PhD program from Mexico, while working half time at ITESO. I am a member of the Department of Sociopolitical and Juridical Studies, in the International Relations program, where I teach an International Issues course and have small administrative and academic projects. I will also be taking a class in the doctoral program here that I hope will inform my current research and dissertation proposal. In the future I expect to continue working with my colleagues at ITESO and Boston College on projects related to social welfare, subjective welfare, social capital, and violence.

What are your professional goals once you’ve finished the PhD program? 

Most immediately, I plan to continue working at ITESO on social research related to violence and peace in the international arena. Specifically, I want to follow a line of research on social welfare, with a focus on subjective and collective processes in contexts of violence and instability. I would love to get involved in social programs in which scholars and project leaders can work hand in hand with people on the ground to strengthen and advance social change at the community level. I am devoted to doing this work in Mexico and Latin America, where inequality, crime instability, corruption, and weak institutions combine to create continuous threats to wellbeing.

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