- Synopsis: Biographical InformationKeywords: CHANCE program; Chicago; First generation college studentsTranscript: KEATH: My name is Matt Keath. I'm here today with my co-interviewer Kelsey Pann. Today is Friday, October 18th, 2019. We're here today in the DeKalb Public Library in DeKalb Illinois to conduct an oral history interview with Dahlia Roman for NIU's 125th Anniversary Oral History Project. Thank you, Ms. Roman, for participating in this project. I'd like to start with some biographical information. Could you tell us a little bit about your background, so just where you grew up and what your life was like before you came to NIU? ROMAN: Sure. [clears throat] Excuse me. I grew up in the northwest side of Chicago. My parents--I'm a first-generation college student, so that was really important for my family and I did have plans to go to college but I thought maybe I'd take a year off and my mom said absolutely not and drove me out to DeKalb to check it out. I grew up with mostly my mom, living with my brother. My parents are divorced, but I had a lot of support from both my parents growing up. Yeah, I don't know. I came out here, I think, not knowing what to expect at all. I think that part of my initial goal was to look at nursing, but that changed pretty quickly when I got here and realized that maybe that wasn't a good fit for me. Then I came in through the CHANCE program. That I think was a big deal because I didn't think I'd ever get into a college. I didn't have the ACT score that most people need to get into college. I was a pretty average student, and I was petrified of coming to a university [laughs]. Just the thought of being here made me really anxious. I was from an inner city and coming to a place like DeKalb was kind of culture shock for me, and as tough as I thought I was back then, there was a lot more vulnerability for me being here and being on my own, and really having to seek out support and really learning to be more resourceful I think as a young person, and just also figuring out who I was, I think. That's a little bit about my background [laughs].
- Synopsis: CHANCE Program and Latino Resourse CenterKeywords: CHANCE program; Latino Resource Center; time management; student organizations; Latinx studentsTranscript: KEATH: Could you say more about your experiences in the CHANCE program?
ROMAN: Absolutely. Like I said, I didn't even know Northern existed. I was just in my little neighborhood. My mom brought me over to the CHANCE program at the time. They sat with me and they said, "This would be a good opportunity for you." Again, I just sat there and I thought, "You guys don't understand. I don't think that I'm equipped for this." I took some placement exams, and they came out about fifteen minutes later and said that I had gotten accepted to the university. I think that was the first time in my life that I ever felt this sense of anxiety, and yet this sense of "I can't believe that somebody's going to take a chance on me," literally speaking, and they did. They provided me a lot of support, especially that first year of college, and it was my go-to place along with the Latino Resource Center. Just having different places that I could go to for support and just literally being given an opportunity to come to a university when I said, for myself, I didn't think that I had that capability. I don't know that I had the confidence to even say I'm going to go to college. Then there's this unspoken pressure that you have being a first-generation student. I didn't want to return home and disappoint my family. So absolutely, it was extremely helpful to have that support and I'm really glad that that program still exists today. I don't know that I could have completed my journey as successfully had it not been just for that first start because I had to find other supports along the way. To have had that strong sense of support and encouragement at the very beginning was pretty profound for me.
KEATH: Could you say a little bit more about what the support you received from the CHANCE program or Latino Research Center looked like?
ROMAN: Absolutely. In the CHANCE program, you had to meet with your counselors several different times, but it wasn't just meeting with them. It was really them getting to know you as a person, really understanding not just yourself as a person, but where you come from. They really took time to get to know me, really understand the dynamics of my family, and maybe some of the pressures or not pressures. I think the other thing too, that maybe some folks might hem and haw about at the beginning when they come through CHANCE is that you're kind of taking some classes that maybe necessarily don't count as a credit. I think at the very beginning, I was probably one of those students that were like, "What the heck. Why am I doing this?" Then recognize how important and valuable those courses were. I think earlier I even just was talking to a lot of folks around me and I talked about how time management is so critical. Had I not been given that class through the CHANCE program, I don't know that I would have survived as much because it really taught me the importance of managing my time. I took that with me, even in my profession. As far as the Latino Resource Center, again, coming from an inner city and coming to a small town and being in a huge university, it was hard to identify with other people. Really, my culture was really important to me and I felt a little lost in my identity. Being able to go to a place where I can speak my language and be with other Latinos and share our cultures and our traditions, and then have them have activities for us to participate really made me feel like I was at home, because I couldn't always go home on the weekends. I became a busy student and so those places became my home away from home. They really did.
KEATH: Thanks for sharing that.
KEATH: What were the activities you were doing at the Latino Resource Center?
ROMAN: Oh, gosh, we did a lot of dancing and I just love dancing. A lot of dancing, a lot of food involved, and just recognizing Latino History Month and things like that, that you do know about it as a young kid, but you don't really embrace it, you don't really pay attention or maybe appreciate it as much as when you're in a situation where there's not many of us and so many other people are interested in your culture. That was the other thing that I found is that people were excited. It wasn't just Latinos going to the Latino Resource Center. There were so many other different people that wanted to learn about each other's cultures, and I thought that was a beautiful thing as well. It was a place to study, a place to network with others, a place to eat, a place to dance, and just participate in different activities where I felt like I could be myself. That was really good.
- Synopsis: Career after graduatingKeywords: Department of Children and Family Services; social services; Preschool for All Expansion Program; CCAMPIS; child care; teachingTranscript: KEATH: You've spoken a little bit about your time as an undergrad student here. What are the roles have you played at NIU?
ROMAN: Oh, gosh. I think my favorite part of my story is that I feel like I am a full circle girl, so to speak. I did graduate with my undergrad here. I graduated with a degree in Child Development in the Department of HDFS. I have to say that I went off to work and did real-world stuff like they say, I was a big girl and worked for some social services. I worked for the Department of Children and Family Services and had a whole career in child welfare. Later, got my master's degree and did mental health and addictions work. Then all of a sudden, I just found myself having a desire to plant my grounds here after doing so many different things, and really wanting more stability in my career, and I had an opportunity to teach a class. That's how I got back at NIU. I taught, or I still teach, a section of the child abuse and neglect class, which clearly is up my alley, given my experience and I found such satisfaction in doing that. I started to make those connections with professors that had mentored me. Now I'm working in a professional setting with them. Well, that later led to me being able to obtain a position at the Child Development and Family Center as a family coordinator, and it's their very first time having that type of position and overseeing the Preschool For All Expansion program and the CCAMPIS [Childcare Access Means Parents in School] grant. The CCAMPIS grant is basically child care access means parents in school. That is very special to me, because I was a young mother my senior year. I didn't have that CCAMPIS grant. I was that parent that had to either work extra or take out an extra student loan to pay my childcare so I could finish school. Here I get to provide or oversee a grant that provides these services and support to our student parents so that they can be successful and they know that their child is safe in childcare, and it's paid for. In many ways, I just really appreciate being back at the university. I also feel like I'm paying it forward to many students. I feel like I can be a support to other students and remind them of those experiences that I had as an undergrad, but also in the real world, so to speak, and really hopefully nurture that experience for them and help launch them out into the real world.
KEATH: I find it really interesting that you were a student in the department that you now teach in.
KEATH: Could you say a little bit more about what that's been like?
ROMAN: I think in the beginning, it was a little intimidating, because I'm surrounded by faculty that--some are new, but many were there when I was a student, and now they've become my colleagues. Even when they say, “Well, you can call me by my first name,” I really struggle with that, because I have so much respect for the things that they did for me, and mentored me. I also feel this huge sense of respect and professionalism. I am fully embraced there and that's really neat to have that, and they respect my experience and what I bring to the table. It's really neat to be a part of the department, especially, that I graduated from. I mean, that's really special.
KEATH: Do you have any new insight into the faculty now that your relationship with them has changed? I know you say that you still have this great respect for them. How does being on the other side of it maybe change how you see things?
ROMAN: You know, I feel like those same folks, the professors that I had those experiences with, I thought I was going to have such a hugely different perspective about them being now a colleague, and I have to say that their genuineness is still exactly the same. That to me is even more special, because it wasn't this like different layer that I got as a professor that I get as a professional. If nothing else, it's more of them reminding me that we're on the same playing field now and reminding me of the quality and the work that I also bring to the table. I think if nothing else, it's really also seeing more of the in and outs of what professors have to go through, and what they manage, and just learning that academic piece of it and that they're not just professors and that they're not just tenured, that there's other things that they do, they don't just teach. I think that if there was anything new, it would obviously be that. Because as a student, you're so narrow-minded and your tunnel vision is just "that’s my professor" and that's it.
- Synopsis: Child Development and Family CenterKeywords: child care; Preschool for All Expansion Program; advocacyTranscript: KEATH: Could you tell us about the Child Development and Family Center?
ROMAN: Absolutely. The Child Development and Family Center really is kind of a new name. Prior to that, I think it was last year prior to me being hired, it was two separate buildings, two separate programs and historically, one was the campus childcare and then the other was the Child Development Lab. The Child Development Lab is where our students who are Child Development majors have those experiences as basically in their internship, their practicum. Historically, the childcare campus was just that for whether it be students but mostly it was faculty and staff. For many folks, they didn't realize that that's still open to the community because as we know, anything on campus we all tend to assume that it's just for campus. Again last year, it sounds like I think it was last year they did the merger and so the new name is the Child Development and Family Center. Under that center, we have three programs. We have what they call the practicum, which is, again, the internship piece. We have a non-practicum, which is the typical childcare, but of course, high quality. Then we have the Preschool For All expansion program, which is a grant through the Illinois State Board of Education. One center, three programs, not only licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services but also accredited by [unintelligible 00:13:43] and having several layers of qualitative accreditation and standards so that we can provide high quality to our children. Like I said, it's the first time that the Child Development and Family Center has ever had a family coordinator and while specific to the Preschool For All Expansion and the CCAMPIS grant, it really has lent itself to really providing support to all families at the center.
KEATH: Could you say what a family coordinator does?
ROMAN: Sure. A family coordinator, the best way that I can describe it, is very similar to the work that I did as a caseworker with the Department of Children and Family Services. The difference being is that in my role at DCFS, it was more of--you got the hotline call and you're reacting. Whereas in the role that I am now, it truly is a supportive role. It is a role for advocacy, identifying a need for resources or services, whether it be on campus or in the community. It's also making sure that we provide advocacy for our student parents and address any barriers so that they can continue their education. We also want to make sure that we're following the development of the child. If we identify any needs, how do we address that? Do we need to refer? Do we need to bring in other team members? I think that we definitely use a holistic approach in terms of remembering that the family coordinator, while we're also trying to focus on the child that's enrolled in your center, we also recognize that if you don't take a holistic approach, then you're going to miss some opportunities to address any stressors that could impact that child in our care; making sure that mom and dad are okay, making sure that siblings are getting their needs met, and then making sure that they're connected to the proper resources. The other piece of my role is to establish memorandums of understanding, and that's both on campus and in the community. Memorandums of understanding are a mutual agreement between two parties, two entities that really are serving very similar or same populations. It's them coming together and saying, "We recognize that we have these populations, we recognize that there's a need, and we also recognize that sometimes they fall through the cracks." We are going to come up with a mutual understanding that says we're going to coordinate and communicate consistently with one another to ensure that those families are supported and provided the right services. That is another pretty spectacular part of my job in that I get to be out in the community that I've served already and I have good network and experiences with, but now at a whole different level. I would say that my biggest role at the Child Development and Family Center is to be preventative and be supportive.
- Synopsis: NIU's relationship with DeKalbKeywords: Preschool for All Expansion Program; high risk; DeKalb; povertyTranscript: KEATH: You started to touch on this little bit. As I understand it, some of the CDFC programs are available to DeKalb residents who aren't affiliated with the university, is that correct?
ROMAN: Correct. For example, the entire center is open to the community to enroll their child, right? The Preschool For All expansion program is also specifically actually to look for not just--student families can qualify for this--but it's really looking at income and risk factors. That is also outlined by the Illinois State Board of Education. Those are some of the qualifiers that the majority of the children in that program are from the community. We do have a couple of students and a couple of staff that met the criteria for that, but the abundance of those children tend to be from the community and from lower-income and high-risk.
KEATH: How does your position working in the Preschool For All expansion program, what insight does that give you into how, or I guess into the relationship between the university and the town of DeKalb?
ROMAN: Oh, boy. I think it's a big one, because we are a changing community. I mean, just by the nature that we're a university, we have a lot of people coming in, and then we have people coming out. In addition to that, our community itself has become somewhat transient. We have a lot of folks coming in from different parts of the city or different parts of the state, and they don't know the resources and they don't always know the services. We do have poverty, and we have a lot of barriers for some of those folks that are in that poverty, whether it be some legal issues that are causing a difficulty to get jobs. I think that the spirit and the dynamics of our center are definitely changing. I think it is definitely showing more unity between the community and the university. An example I can give is I facilitate what we call parent cafés. I don't call them parent workshops or parent education, because most people won't come. A parent café really is truly more of an invitation to have a conversation. In that, I have had faculty, I've had staff, I've had students, and I've had parents in the community come together at a table. You don't get that all the time, and that is a pretty powerful thing. When you see those parents at whatever educational level or whatever income level, be able to have parental conversations. At that point, it doesn't matter your income, your status or anything. It was just joining in as parents and having a conversation and supporting one another and lending itself to additional networking within a parent group. That's pretty amazing. If that helps answer the question.
ROMAN: I feel like we're definitely reducing that gap between the university and the community.
- Synopsis: Student parentsKeywords: student parents; child careTranscript: KEATH: You were a student parent and now you work with student parents.
KEATH: I'm just curious with your thoughts on how student parents fit into the broader NIU community?
ROMAN: Absolutely. I think that as a student parent, I remember struggling. I was a senior and here I was having a baby. I was so close to graduating and then felt like this enormous amount of weight. Like, how am I going to handle this? How am I going to do this? I don't know that I can afford it. Going to my professors and sitting and crying. That experience always sits with me. It has humbled me in a way to remember that people stood up for me and people provided support to me. Sorry, I get a little emotional. [cries] Overseeing the CCAMPIS grant specifically for our student parents is very personal to me. It's amazing to me that that even came up, the irony in that. When I sit with a parent and I let them know, "You've been approved for this grant," and we sit together for our one on one meeting and we go over the program guidelines and I let them know that this is going to cover 100% of their childcare costs and I could have a parent that tells me "I can finish my PhD and I don't have to work four jobs," or a mother that just came back to school because she had children and didn't know that she could go back to school, and was contemplating quitting because she realized that tuition and the childcare together, there was no way. When I tell them that, and they give me that feedback or when I see them crying, it has such an impact on myself because, it just goes to show that this is real stuff. This is us adding to their positive journey and their successes. They've already had successes, but we get to be a part of their ongoing success. I think it is pretty powerful. All the programs at the CDFC are very important to me, but there's just something about that one CCAMPIS grant that resonates more personally for me, because I was that parent and they didn't have those resources at the time, so I do really know the importance of it, but again, to see the reactions of the parents, that's humbling for oneself, I think.
- Synopsis: Other supportive servicesKeywords: transportation; Huskie Food PantryTranscript: KEATH: Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that. You've touched on how there has been this development of services available to students at NIU. What other supportive services do you think, or what would you like to see become available to students at NIU? Whether student parents or students more generally?
ROMAN: Oh, gosh. Obviously with having a grant-funded program like the Preschool For All expansion, I think it's a phenomenal opportunity for kindergarten readiness for our at-risk families, but with that being said, even though I think we have some really great resources here, the winter's going to come and we're probably going to see some decline in our attendance, because even walking from some of the housing complexes which are nearby is a lot for a parent with one or two or three children walking. I think some different type of transportation that would cater more to families. Not all families can afford Ubers or contact the Trans-Vac, because some of that might be limited to medical appointments or certain things like that. I still think that that's a little bit of a barrier for some of our families, even though I feel like that's been hugely improved in many ways since I came here, but I think that that's something that I'd like to see a little bit more. I think even just having some--I mean, the community has great resources in terms of diaper banks and things like that, but just the university recognizing that we have a higher population of student parents, and that they might have some of those same needs. We have a Huskie Food Pantry, but what if our families that are at the CDFC might need some of that, some of those resources, and what if they're not a student? Some of those kinds of things that might be a little bit more accessible or maybe more partnerships with those folks.
KEATH: Could you say more about the Huskie Food Bank?
ROMAN: Yes. The Huskie Food Bank is there. I think that's also phenomenal. That wasn't here when I was here. I think that that's great for our students and our student parents to be able to access a food bank that's right on campus. That's really great, because while we have food banks in the community, what if they can't access that? That’s really a very nice program that our university has for our students. It really does trickle into our student families, because I've seen them access it. They're pretty happy about that. I think that's great. We have great partnerships with, for example, speech, hearing, and physical therapy. They're coming to our center to provide all of those comprehensive services where otherwise parents would have to get on a bus and go over there and do that. I think we're really developing some great partnerships. I think we're striving to meet all the needs of our families, and as we identify more, we'll just keep searching for more resources.
- Synopsis: CDFC researchKeywords: research; observation room; child developmentTranscript: KEATH: The CDFC's website says that it offers students and faculty valuable opportunities for research and observation in child development. What role does the CDFC play in research conducted by NIU faculty?
ROMAN: I know that I'm not as familiar with that research piece of it, because I am kind of all over the place, but I do know that we have several professors that have identified some different studies. I know that there is an infant-toddler study that's going on. I will say that we have a lot of students across the university, not just child development, that actually utilize the observations. We have observation booths in all classrooms of our Child Development and Family Center, which is amazing. It's great for our students, but can you imagine for those parents, they can pop in and check in on their children, they feel safer. I've had parents come in there and do homework, so it's really--that's neat, but we have nursing students, psychology students, we have PT students, you name it. We have a variety of different experiences for those students to observe children. I think that that's a huge benefit to this university as a whole because it's not exclusive to just our child development, or just our human resources, but really open to the entire university who needs that experience of observation or interaction in working with children.
- Synopsis: Social work and mental healthKeywords: Licensed Clinical Social Worker; professional development; mental health; behavioral health; needs assessment; high riskTranscript: KEATH: You are a licensed clinical social worker?
ROMAN: I am.
KEATH: Could you say what clinical social work is and how you use your clinical licensure in your work at NIU?
ROMAN: Absolutely. I decided to get my licensed clinical social worker and my addiction certification back when I worked at DCFS, primarily because I worked with so many different children and families that had high risks. I felt like at that point it behooved me to have a better understanding of mental health and addictions. Then of course during that journey I did do some practice of counseling services and still do that part-time at another place, but as far as my licensure and my experience, I feel like it's very applicable to what I'm doing at the CDFC, in that I have to observe children's behaviors. I have to, in some ways informally assess, where the parents are at. I'm gathering information. It requires a skill set to engage families to be able to get more information because we're asking a lot of personal questions in order to be able to provide that kind of support that maybe those families need. It does require a certain skill set. There's something to be said about those parents really seeing that you have experience and credentialing and some type of social service, because there's a level of trust that comes with that. Having just so many experiences with child welfare, engaging with parents and doing parenting workshops and all of these kinds of things, I feel like I can bring that to the table and be able to make some recommendations and assess. The most important is that I'd become very resourceful and so I can refer out. That's really important. I think parents really do respect that. For example, our programs should have--well, we're working towards getting a mental health consultant for our Preschool For All expansion program. Well, the benefit is that while we're looking to do that, I do have those credentials and I can provide some level of support even though that's not my exact job description. In many ways, I'm still able to provide some genuine support and professional development on some topics until we can get that other person on board. I do feel like it does bring some benefit to the table. Honestly, it's actually lent itself to conversations with parents about counseling that they wouldn't have ever really had a conversation about or really express a willingness to participate. I've also used that to my advantage to say, "maybe this is a good idea for you." Then, of course, utilizing the services on campus for that.
KEATH: What is the role of--I'm sorry, I can't remember exactly how you phrased it. You're looking to hire like a mental health--?
ROMAN: Consultant, yes.
KEATH: What need would that [crosstalk]?
ROMAN: For example, in our Preschool For All expansion program, some of the things that are required for the grant and for the programming really and it's to benefit all the children and, of course, the teachers is that they have a curriculum lead. That person really works, focusing on representing that classroom curriculum for kindergarten readiness and support to those teachers. Then the other piece of that is hiring a mental health consultant, recognizing that we have just recruited some high-risk families. It behooves us to have that mental health consultant because--some of these children have never had an experience in early childhood. Some of them have a background with trauma or loss. They might have some reactionary behaviors. Having a mental health consultant on board provides support to the teachers, provides extra observation of the children, and then potential for referrals. That I think is really beneficial. You're growing a team of different types of professionals to provide the right support for these families. That's what that's for.
KEATH: What kind of referrals would they be providing?
ROMAN: Like mental health, behavioral health. Some of those things I'm doing now. If I identify that a child is four years old, for example, and they're nonverbal, clearly, there's something wrong. What we'll do is, we might send them for pre-K screening. We will make a referral for speech hearing and language assessment. Then we might go ahead and say, "Let's do a developmental assessment." Then we might even say "go to your pediatrician" because then you'll get a referral for a neuropsych. That's what's going to diagnose or rule out whether this child maybe has a cognitive disorder, a sensory disorder, or is on the spectrum. Those are some things that we can help to kind of educate and guide our families in connecting with the right resources. That's the benefit of having that person on board.
KEATH: How does being a social worker at a university compare to being a social worker at other organizations for which you've worked?
ROMAN: Like I said earlier, I'm in a place where I'm doing nothing but prevention. That's huge for me and it's a lot more strength-based. It's a lot more engaging. When I worked at DCFS, people are mandated to see me. That's a huge difference in that the engagement process is much easier with families than it was when I was at DCFS. Even then I felt like I was good at it. I had a lot of respect and practice with children and families and really understanding the trauma and all of those different aspects. I would say for this, there is this sense of tremendous support that I feel I receive from the parents. When I get that feedback, their biggest thing is, "I didn't know about this program. I didn't know that you could help with this. I feel super supported. I've gotten feedback from the teachers that my child is doing really well." So, it's really validating some of those insecurities and feelings or uncertainties that parents have. That's why I think it's pretty phenomenal. It is neat to have just that social work perspective. I think it's also helped our staff too, to really kind of understand. Come on, they went through this whole merger. That was a change. Then they got this other grant, that's a change. We're being inundated more with more community members, that's a change. Then I think that the whole picture of childcare is changing. We're becoming a much more inclusive--what I mean by inclusive, I mean, not just cultures and language but also abilities. We have children now. When we think of PFAE, Preschool For All Expansion, we think high risk. Well, those aren't the only kids in our center that are high risk. We have them all over the center. We have children that are on the spectrum. We have a child on a feeding tube. There's all these different things that we, I think, have opened our door to and really are learning that all children need care, all children need love, all children need consistency and routine and they benefit from that. That inclusivity, I think, is really a pretty phenomenal thing. I mean, just to come back again, full circle and to see that big shift is, I think, a pretty amazing thing. I'm really thankful for that. I think our parents are super thankful for that. One of the biggest things that I think one of our parents said a few weeks ago was, "I've never seen so much culture and color in one place." It's a beautiful thing to watch these children. They don't care about any of those things that so many other people in the outside world care about. They're just simply hanging out, simply loving each other and that's pretty awesome. I get to be a part of that.
KEATH: I've heard you use the phrase "high-risk" several times. Could you tell us what that means?
ROMAN: I don't even like that word to be quite honest with you, I really don't. That's the term that ISBE uses, Illinois State Board of Education. I know they have to call it something. When we talk about risk factors, we're looking at income, we're looking at single-parent home. We're looking at military, we're looking at any developmental delays. We're looking at whether or not there's been violence in the home, whether there's been DCFS involvement. There's a lot of different factors that we're looking at. Risk factor is not my favorite word but that's the word that is given to me to use. I think it's just a needs assessment. That's the term I prefer, but that's pretty much where that comes from is that risk. That comes exactly from the eligibility criteria that ISBE provides us.
KEATH: Could you say a little bit more about why you prefer to frame it as a needs assessment instead of in terms of risk?
ROMAN: Because I come from a very strength-based model. One of the things that I think has been ingrained in me is that we can all identify risk. Everybody can. We can identify when something's not right, but then how do we turn it around? How can you turn your lens around? If you only see the person as risk, how are you going to identify their strengths? It's really hard for me to use risk on such a consistent basis because I feel like it's going to lend itself to me always identifying the negative aspects of somebody and not the positives. Like I said, I think coming from a strength-based model, I want to be able to identify that, yes, while these are maybe some risk factors, look at the resilience that this family's had. Look at what they've persevered with. They're not just risk. I don't want that to stick out for those families. I want those families to be seen as more than just risk, because they don't see themselves as risk. I hope that makes sense.
KEATH: What kinds of strengths do you see in your clients?
ROMAN: Oh, gosh. For as much as that term "risk" is used, I see a lot of nurturing. I see a passion for wanting to do the very best. I've seen families leave drug-infested, violent, high-crime areas to come to a place they don't even know, and leave family members and come to a town that they've never been to with resources that--they know they exist, but they don't know where they're at. That's huge that they would make those sacrifices for their children, for their families, and just really take a chance. I also see a huge desire being in a college town, a desire for, "I want to get my GED. I want to go to community college. I want to do these things. That's really a possibility for me. Wow." That's the stuff that I get to see from our families. That's exciting.
- Synopsis: Impressions of working at NIUKeywords: CCAMPIS; stressTranscript: KEATH: What do you find fulfilling about your job?
ROMAN: When I walk into the doors, I could be tired. I could be in the worst mood. I could be stressed. As soon as I walk into those doors and I see those children, and they say my name, and I see the parents. They actually are surprised that I remember so many names, but they've become family to me. When I walk into a classroom and a child runs to me and gives me a hug, or a parent emails me and said, "Hey, I didn't see you on Friday. I missed you. Are you okay? I just want to make sure because you're always checking on us," there's something amazing that happens when somebody comes to me and says, "I needed that Dahlia hug today." I'm like, I didn't know there was a Dahlia hug, they're like "because you give the best ones." It really is, and I get to also see students that I've taught that are coming into the center. I'm surrounded by nothing but positivity and that is a pretty amazing feeling. Children are just so innocent, so amazing. When you walk in there and even when the little tiny ones are starting to learn your name and say it, where they throw you a kiss, it's pretty awesome. Yes, I think I have a pretty phenomenal job. As an instructor, I feel like I get to pay it forward to those students and embrace them and help them launch into their careers. Like I said, it's just, it's so fulfilling. I love it. [laughs]
KEATH: Could you speak a little bit on maybe other aspects of the job that are draining, or not as--?
ROMAN: I think the draining or if I had to pick any stressful pieces of it is that it is new. My role is the first family coordinator role ever in existence at the center, right? The Preschool for All program is also new to the university, let alone the center. Then the CCAMPIS grant, while it's returning, hasn't been here for a little bit. All of these grants came in and like, I don't know October of 2018, maybe. I got hired in January of 2019. They said, "Here you go, roll with that." Thankfully, my experiences has helped me to organize things well and roll these programs out. If I had to be stressed, it's always like second-guessing myself a little bit. Making sure that, because it's the first time, that I'm doing it right but it's also making sure that I make adjustments as I go along. As we learn something new, let's adjust it to cater to that. In that aspect, that can be a little bit stressful but I have a lot of support. Between my supervisors, the directors, our chairperson, that I don't feel alone in that journey at all. I feel very well supported. If I had to pick stress that would probably be it. [laughs] It's just that it's new, keeping track of statistics. All this information and kind of creating it, it's probably a little bit more stressful but like I said, I have a lot of support and my experiences have helped me really kind of drive it.
- Synopsis: Experiences as an instructorKeywords: Teaching; Department of Children and Family Services; caseworkers; internshipsTranscript: KEATH: Could you tell us about the class you teach?
ROMAN: Yes. So, I teach two classes. I teach one each semester. I teach a section of the child abuse and neglect class. I absolutely love that class. As morbid as it sounds, [laughs] because it is a tough class but I really try to make it a very experiential class. While I worked at DCFS, and I think that that helps a lot of my students really want to come to class. I can give them all of those experiences. I still try to bring in speakers, because I think it's important for them not just to hear it from one person. We've had some pretty powerful moments in our class. We've had foster parents come in and talk. We've had former youth and care that actually attend NIU come and tell their story. We've had a DCFS supervisor come and talk with our students. Really making it as much of an experience, not just a class. Then in the spring, I teach--the university has a partnership with DCFS for some curriculum. One of the courses that I also teach is the fundamentals to child welfare, and that is a hybrid class. This coming semester it'll be twice a semester, but there is going to be quite a bit of independent online work. Then there'll be the in-person dates that we get together to process the information. Essentially, the benefit of taking that course is that you are truly taking all of the training that I took when I was going into DCFS. The downside of that is that I had access to being in an office and job shadowing and those kinds of things. Again, the benefit is that they offer this, and I get to teach it, which is pretty awesome. I get to provide those experiences and process. When those students are done with that class, they will have their--assuming they pass, which I'm sure all of them will, because they're smart. They will have their child welfare license. They will have their safety assessment certification. Then they will have what they call a specialty exam, like a placement caseworker. That opens the door for you to be in DCFS. For me, I had to gain two or three years of experience before I could even get in the door at DCFS. Where these students have this ability after taking this class with these certifications to get right in there, which is pretty amazing. I really try to speak about that class as much as possible because it is a relatively new partnership with the Department of Children and Family Services, but it's definitely one that's needed and one that I think would be beneficial to students. There's a lot of students that really want to look at child welfare whether it's caseworker working for DCFS, or working just within that system. Having the opportunity to take some coursework, as well as doing some shadowing because there's programs through DCFS where you could do like a two day shadowing or you can do an internship. That is a pretty good partnership that I think our university has now with DCFS. I get to teach that. Again, right up my alley, because I did the work.
KEATH: I think you might have said it earlier, but just so that it is for sure on the record, DCFS is?
ROMAN: Department of Children and Family Services.
KEATH: That's a State Department?
ROMAN: It is. It's the Child Welfare Department. That's where you'll typically hear the hotline was called. Then they investigate reports of abuse or neglect, any kind of form of maltreatment. Yes, that is where I work.
KEATH: I know that you said that one thing that students get out of your classes, or at least the class in the spring semester maybe, is kind of like fast track to a potential DCFS job?
KEATH: It sounds like there are other things that you want your students to get out of your classes. I'm just curious if you could speak on that?
ROMAN: Absolutely. I think that a lot of times people think of DCFS as just being the investigator, the caseworker. The reality is that there's a lot of different disciplines at the Department of Children and Family Services to provide the support that's needed for children. Of course, we have medical staff. We have nurses that provide consultation. We have folks that did social services that specialize in domestic violence. We have persons that specialize in addictions. We have somebody that specializes with the LGBTQ population. I want folks to really understand and look at that there's other jobs out there, because a lot of times I think we tend to kind of narrow ourselves to just one pocket in life, and not recognize that there's so many other avenues that we can take as well.
- Synopsis: Student networkingKeywords: networking; foster care; homelessnessTranscript: KEATH: Are there any particular client success stories from your time at NIU that you could share?
ROMAN: I would say, which is kind of I think this was probably my most profound one since I've been here in the very short time that I've been back, one of my young ladies that I was caseworker for, was a student here. I was no longer her caseworker because I'm not working at DCFS and she emancipated, but we've kept in touch. She needed an internship and ironically, I supervised her this summer. Talk about success, she not only graduated, she successfully completed her internship and then got a job. I just got a message from her the other day, "I'm buying a house." If that's not success, I don't know what is. One of the other things that I'll just plug in real quick is that when I started at DCFS, or when I was at DCFS, one of the things that I found that was important to me is seeing that our young people who graduated high school, were transitioning to college, have as much support as possible. Well, clearly, I worked in the DeKalb office. I had a lot of young people that went to either Kish or NIU. Well, at the beginning of my career, I noticed that a lot of them were dropping out and not being as successful, and I didn't understand why. As I was talking to some of my young people, they basically said to me, "I feel like I'm on an island and I don't know anybody. I feel like when I share my story with somebody, it's going to be thrown in my face. I feel like I don't have that same support and I don't have the skill set to succeed." Then they said, "I'm the only one here." I thought to myself, but that's not true. Of course, because of confidentiality, I can't say anything. I started to talk to my youth who are already over eighteen and they can consent for themselves. I said, "I would love to invite you over to the DCFS office one day and cook you dinner. Would you be willing to come and meet other youth?" They said, "Well, as long as it's not counseling," and I said, "Absolutely." I cooked them some dinner. Long story short, here we are going into our 12th year, and I call it meet and greet and now we do it at the university. Twice a semester, I cook a meal for these youth that either remained in foster care or have been emancipated or adopted. We get together a couple of times a semester and we break bread, so to speak. We have a nice family-style dinner. I have been very well supported by the university doing that. Nobody funds it. It's just something that I've always been passionate about. When we talk about how do we support those students, that population of students is extremely special to me. It's really neat that I get to do that for them. I just remember, I think any college student can completely appreciate a nice home-cooked meal. That's probably the one thing that we all miss. Bringing food to the table is what brings everybody together and it's really provided a sense of family for them. I call it meet and greet because they come in, they meet, they greet each other, and then they start networking. That's probably one of the things that I'm most proud of, being here in the university, as well as that now I get to do it more.
KEATH: How do you think that ability to network benefits these students?
ROMAN: It benefits them greatly. I've had students, like I said, that were dropping out. I have many more that we're celebrating graduations for. I went to graduation in May. Four--four!--graduated. The semester before that right in December three graduated. That's the most in the time that I've been at DCFS that I have seen at one time at one school. They graduated with honors, and they keep in touch with each other. We have our own little Facebook page. Do you know how good it feels that, even after they've graduated, they still provide support to each other? I had a young lady that was homeless and didn't tell anybody and was living in her car. I had another young lady, her roommate just decided to leave. By the nature of the meeting and greeting, they were able to help each other out through that semester. That's powerful. I remember another young lady and another young man, they always wanted to go on vacation but never did, because they were in foster care. They decided to do a spring break together and they had that experience together. They wouldn't have done that any other time, but they trusted each other. They're like brother and sister. Beautiful, beautiful things that fill you up in a way that I don't think anybody could expect.
- Synopsis: Changes in supportive servicesKeywords: resources; CCAMPISTranscript: KEATH: What insight does your position at NIU give you into how the university operates?
ROMAN: I think the insight is that I think the university does some great work. I think the university really tries to get as much information out to students, to families. But I also think that we're so inundated by that, that we're still finding that families or students don't always know all of the resources, or maybe they don't see the importance of those resources. I think the ability--what I see that's benefiting that adjustment and maybe potential change to help that, is that many of the departments are communicating a lot more, and really trying to show more support. I've reached out to all the different departments even just telling them about the campus grant. That's been in the news. It's been in myNIU, it's been emailed, it's been all over, but yet they didn't know about it. Even at our university--come on, that's just a big entity. It's never going to be perfect. I think that the university has done a much better job in trying to provide as much support as many resources as possible, and just helping students be more aware of that. I really appreciate that.
KEATH: You were a student at NIU, right? You left to go work for DCFS for a while, and now you're back.
KEATH: How has NIU changed, or have you noticed changes, from when you were here to now that you're here again?
ROMAN: Absolutely, it's changed. The food's great. [laughs] The campus just continues to look beautiful. I feel like I can navigate the resources and find them. Like I said, easier than when I was here before. I think the biggest shock is I was able to print a lot for free and now students are like, "I can't print that." Still, I think the systems that are in place right now really help to streamline more than when I was here. Even then I still felt like I had some good support. I find things, but it's definitely easier to navigate, I feel like now, and we just have a lot on campus that people can access. We just have to network a little more.
- Synopsis: Graduation and motivations as a studentKeywords: graduation; family; first generation college students; peer supportTranscript: KEATH: Could you share a story about an experience or event from any of your time at NIU that stands out in your memory?
ROMAN: Honestly, I think the biggest one was graduating. I think for me, it was being so nervous and thinking to myself--they're really going to let me graduate. I didn't that perspective and the confidence in myself thinking of how I earned that, and it wasn't until I reflected on that. There was something to be said about being that first-generation, and there's something more to be said about looking in the audience and seeing your child, because that was that person that didn't think I was going to graduate. I was that person that kept saying, "I wasn't supposed to even be here." Looking out, oh, my goodness. [cries] Looking out at my daughter and my parents, and my grandparents, and them being so proud and me thinking--I really did this. It took me so much longer than I ever thought, but I also thought I wasn't supposed to be here. I remember telling my mother "I'm only going to give you a semester." and then after that semester, I thought--if I go home, she's going to totally rip me one. [laughs] Then I realized everything that I fought for and everything that I survived in my life was for that little girl. That was my little husky at the time, and so that was really powerful. It was probably the first time I really recognized that I had the power to move forward and to accomplish. It was probably the first time I felt some level of confidence in myself, which sounds kind of crazy because you've gone through this journey in college, but that's when you finally embrace it. You finally realize, "Wow, I got here." Yeah, I had a baby, but she was there. She could look at those pictures and say, "My mom didn't give up. She persevered." I accomplished a whole lot more in my life than I ever, ever expected because I was that girl for a long time that said she wasn't supposed to. I am very humbled and very thankful. I think that's why I take my responsibility and my work at NIU so serious, because I want people to know that the journey is not easy, but you learn so much about yourself. Yes, I learned a lot in my academics, but I learned more about myself personally than I could have ever in any other journey.
KEATH: Thank you for sharing that. So, what did you learn about yourself?
ROMAN: I learned that I'm resilient. I learned that I'm smart. I learned that I don't have to take no for an answer. And that I'm my biggest barrier. That's what I learned. I learned the sky's the limit, that I can do anything possible. That's what I learned. Sorry, just get a little emotional. I wasn't expecting that. [cries] Okay.
KEATH: You said when you first came here, you were going to give it a semester.
ROMAN: I was.
KEATH: Then after that semester, you decided "I'm going to stick it out." What changed during that semester? What happened during that semester that made you see [crosstalk]?
ROMAN: I had a 4.0. I've never had a 4.0 in my life. That was totally because I had tons and tons of support with the CHANCE Program. Now granted, after that it fluctuated, but that's your first semester is--you're going to either make it or break it. When I saw a 4.0 I'm like, "Somebody misgraded me. I've never had that in my entire life." All of a sudden, there's like this level of confidence that I never even imagined having, and I still had some insecurities. Don't get me wrong. When I saw the 4.0 I was like, "Well, I guess I got to stay." Then I thought, "Well, my mom's going to hurt me anyways if I go home." She's not going to want me to come home, and my dad was super excited. It was the first time that I saw my parents come together, and embrace me together. You come from a couple that barely spoke to each other because they were divorced. When they saw that they had a daughter in college, and they both were cheering for me, and hugging me, and they were in the same room--that is powerful. It's like, "How can I give up on college when they were so happy and they have so much faith that I can do this." I felt like I owed it to myself. Mostly, I use them and their energy to motivate me and then really come to a place where I was accepting that it wasn't just for my parents, that it was for myself, and for my brothers in many ways. I have two younger brothers. I use that to motivate me and lessen some of that pressure of being that first-generation college student, but that's what I would say about that.
KEATH: You mentioned that when you were a student, you felt external motivation, but also internal motivation. I'm just wondering if you could speak on what you see motivating the students that you're working with now?
ROMAN: You know what? I don't think much of that's changed. You do hear them talk about their parents. You do talk about the fact that they feel supported, or if they don't have that, you talk about their need to persevere and be resilient. A lot of it is their own personal desire and motivation. I think some of that external piece comes from really acknowledging that their family supports that, and that they get this excitable push from their family. Bu then when they're here, I think that they get that from their peers. That helps to sustain us here, right? Because without that peer support, we're all going through a lot of the same things. I think it validates those experiences for our students, whether they are good, or whether they're a little more difficult. I think that validation really helps inspire our students to move forward, because they're getting that same feedback from their peers or their professors, and really understanding that we're really here to support them.
- Synopsis: More on NIU's relationship with DeKalbKeywords: DeKalb; community resourcesTranscript: KEATH: What else do you think deserves--What else would you want people to know about NIU, I guess?
ROMAN: That it's not an island. [laughs] That I think that we're much more connected to the community than people think. I think we still have to do some more of that, but that's just the struggle of being a university. I think our university is a special one, and that they do work hard to include the community. Our high school gets to play at the Huskie Stadium. There's more embracing of the community and NIU together. I think that that's--I've seen that grow a lot. I think that that's a really important piece, because they both need each other.
KEATH: Could you say more about that? The way that they need each other?
ROMAN: Like I said, we do have a lot of resources here. If I have a family that really doesn't have transportation, why would I send them all the way to Sycamore or DeKalb, the Ben Gordon Center, not that that's a bad thing, but why can't we access the accounting services that are in university, that are within walking distance? It might be less intrusive for a family. What if the waiting period is less for that family?That's what I mean by that. It's letting our community know that we have some supports even on campus that you can access. You don't have to just be a student. You don't have to be a staff. I also find that it's also opening the doors for our students and our community members to also find employment with the university. That's a special thing because again, you're getting community members that otherwise wouldn't have had opportunities. Now they're at a university, and they're being sparked by, "Wow, I'm at a university, I don't want to just do this job. Maybe I'll take a class." [laughs] I think in many ways, it's really prompting a lot more. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's where I see our community and our university really coming together, and really supporting one another.
KEATH: Do you often see people from the community, I guess, through--Sorry, I'm getting my initials mixed up. The CDFC. Do you often see them getting employment at the university? Is that a common thing that happens?
ROMAN: I have seen. I have seen it, or some of them aren't even aware that they can make an account at myNIU. That's something that we're starting to really work on. Think about it, we have all these families from "these high-risked areas," and a huge problem is employment. Helping them connect not just to our university, but what about Kish? What about the supports that job searches provide, or the Career Center. All these different avenues that we could probably utilize and bring those folks into the CDFC to provide more information. That is exciting for so many of our community members, both community campus and community-community, right? DeKalb, because they're all in that center. For example, next week we're going to have somebody coming in to do a parent cafe. I have a speaker coming in. They're going to be talking about credit, they're going to be talking about opening up a bank account, how to avoid those title loans, and things like that, because we all need to be educated. This isn't just for those high-risk families. This is for our students, our faculty, how about just for myself? [laughs] Because we can all use that information. We have resources coming in from Kishwaukee College, or the Illinois redeployment for workforce. They're going to be coming in. Why? Because they want to provide support to those families too. They want to see those barriers broken, and see those parents working. Again, we're bringing that in. Again, a special thing, I don't know too many daycare centers or universities that have those kind of partnerships that can do that. I think I'm pretty blessed, and I'm pretty excited that I get to be a part that.
KEATH: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about that maybe I didn't ask a question that gave you an opportunity to touch on? Or any closing thoughts you want to give?
ROMAN: If you would have asked me just even two or three years ago, where I would be, I would tell you I'd still be stuck at DCFS, because I loved that job, and I'd been doing it for over 18 years. I could not see myself doing anything else. The big joke at DCFS is there's actually a life outside of that. I could not see that because I really was passionate about the work that I did. I wasn't sure if I was going to find a passion anywhere else. I have to tell you, being that full circle girl, I definitely feel the passion. It's not just in my role as a family coordinator, but it's also is a role as an adjunct instructor, and just being on campus and knowing that I can give back the way that so many people gave back to me. I think that's pretty humbling.
KEATH: Beautiful. Well, Dahlia Roman, thank you so much for sitting down with us. We really appreciate it.
ROMAN: Thank you. I appreciate the time.