Social Work, University of Chicago
Cohort Five Fellow

Academic Mentor
Mark Courtney
Professor, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Policy Mentor
Debbie Raucher
Project Director of California College Pathways, John Burton Foundation

Research Interests
Child welfare policy, Outcomes and services for foster care youth and alumni, College retention strategies, Adolescent mental health, Quantitative methods and survey analysis  

Areas of Expertise

Child Welfare and Foster Care Systems, Evidence-Based/Evidence-Informed Programs, Mental Health and Well-Being, Youth Development, Longitudinal Data Analysis, Hierarchical Linear Modeling, Regression Modeling, Adolescents and Young Adults

Nathanael J. Okpych is a student at the University of Chicago, where he is pursuing a doctoral degree at the School of Social Service Administration and a master’s degree in biostatistics and epidemiology through the Department of Health Studies. He also holds a master's degree in clinical psychology from Duquesne University and a master's degree in social work from Rutgers University. Mr. Okpych's professional experience includes providing mental health services to youth with emotional disturbances in residential, school, and community settings, as well as working for several years in college residence life. These two areas of professional experience inform his research on understanding and promoting college persistence among foster care youth. 


Make or Break: A Quantitative Study of College-going and College Leaving among Older Foster Care Youth

For young people in foster care as adolescents, completing a college degree can improve their own life outcomes and may reduce the likelihood that their children will be maltreated in the future. Although 8 in 10 foster care youth aspire to finish college and over 6 in 10 begin college, fewer than 1 in 10 complete a degree. This three-paper dissertation will examine college persistence and attrition for foster youth on three levels. First, it will examine individual-level predictors of attrition including a novel measure of vigilant self-reliance, a coping mechanism forged during foster care placement instability that may hinder college persistence. Second, on the group level it will identify distinct enrollment trajectories and describe characteristics of youth most likely traverse pathways to completion and to dropout. Third, it will examine whether state policy that extends foster care eligibility beyond age 18 increases the likelihood that youth persist in college.