Melissa Hartnett Velazquez
- Master of Arts in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, University of Kansas, 2008
Velazquez currently serves as the Senior Evaluation Specialist for Unbound (formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging), an international nonprofit headquartered in Kansas City. Unbound partners with families around the world, including Latin America, to help them build a path out of poverty. As an evaluator, Melissa gets the opportunity to use her research skills and apply them to specific program questions and see how change is happening in people's lives. Her role also enables her to collaborate with, and build the capacity of, program staff and local families to design and conduct their own outcome measurement. "The diverse experiences and relationships that I developed while studying abroad as a student in Latin American and Caribbean Studies help me listen to those I work alongside. And the interdisciplinary nature of my education allows me to better explore the complexities of the contexts in which we work and the problems people face. I find myself, even now, pulling articles off my shelf on human ecologies and referencing my research in peri-urban communities when discussing development approaches with colleagues," stated Velazquez. As Melissa travels frequently to Latin America and communicates daily in Spanish, she is also grateful for the rigor and commitment that KU fostered for her study of language. "I even get to use Portuguese every once in a while. And, as I plan for participatory data collection in Guatemala, my only regret from my time at KU is that I didn't take advantage of the Kaqchikel."
"While studying Latin American and Caribbean Studies and focusing on urban geography at KU, people often questioned where a degree with Latin American and Caribbean Studies would take me. I would always respond, 'I don't know, but it will be amazing.' I am glad that I pursued a passion for people, culture, and their interactions with urban spaces. And now I am grateful to continue that learning process in my work and to share that passion with my own two kids."