Student News

Human Development and Family Studies celebrates first graduate

Sarah Margaret Christy

Sarah Margaret Christy changed course late in her Carolina career. She’s glad she did.

Christy joined the School of Education’s Human Development and Family Studies major during her senior year, putting her in position to become the program’s first graduate in December.

“It was really taking a leap to … start a new major the fall of my senior year,” said Christy. “But I’m just so happy that it worked out.”

Christy said she joined the HDFS program because she wanted to study something that gave her a deep human connection. She found that in HDFS, a program that prepares students for “helping professions,” such as education, social work, and health and counseling services. It also serves as a gateway for students to the School of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

The major, which was launched in 2016, has 134 students, with 28 scheduled to graduate in May, said Helyne Frederick, the program director. Another 40 have been recommended for admission into the program in the fall, she said, with applications open until April 10.

Frederick said the program is interdisciplinary and that students benefit from a customized curriculum to fit their career goals. Students also have the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research through the honors program, Frederick said.

Internships key to HDFS

Internships are a key component of the HDFS program. Students participate in a semester-long internship that is designed to help them fully explore their area of interest within the program.

Frederick said the chance to spend a semester working in a specific area is one of the reasons why students choose the HDFS program. The internships may be clinical or research-based.

The School of Education has partnered with a variety of local organizations for internships, including the Orange County Health Department, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PreK Head Start, and Inter-Faith Council. Five additional programs under the auspices of UNC Hospital are also partners, including the Newborn Critical Care Center, Child Life, TEACHH, Children’s Hospital School and UNC Horizons, with all providing meaningful internship opportunities to students.

As the major grows, Frederick said she wants students to be able to concentrate more in areas within the program where they have a specific interest, such as child and family health, family life education or disabilities.

“We are working to align the curriculum to fit specific career paths for students,” Frederick said.

Christy interned at the UNC Women’s Hospital in the Women’s Health Information Center where she gave maternity tours and led information sessions. She also did a research project — required for the internship — on the impact of peer support on breast feeding, collecting and recording the experiences of breast-feeding mothers as part of the project. Her site supervisor and director of the program, Mary Quezada, noted that the agency wanted to conduct this study but did not have the resources to do it until Christy came to intern.

Sharon Palsha, a clinical associate professor in the HDFS program and coordinator of the program’s internships, supported Christy in securing her internship and served as the faculty supervisor for her internship.

Palsha said she is glad Christy joined the HDFS program, as she set the bar high for other HDFS students to follow. “Sarah Margaret was an exceptional student to be our first graduate,” Palsha said.

Christy will present findings from her internship research project at the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference, which will be held in Chapel Hill in March.

That internship experience sparked Christy’s interest in applying for research assistant positions. Christy said she is also applying for jobs that involve helping families navigate care plans and community resources.

Christy said she liked the interdisciplinary aspect of the HDFS program and being able to connect with her professors and classmates on a more personal level — a change from the 200- to 300-student lecture classes she attended as a biology major.

Christy said she would recommend the Human Development and Family Studies program to other students, and is grateful to faculty for working with her to help her get the degree.

“It was a learning experience for everyone, being the first one,” Christy said. “But they were happy to have me along, and I was very happy to work with them through the process as well.”