Kevin Ferreira van Leer, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, March 2024

Kevin Ferriera Van LeerKevin Ferreira van Leer is a community and developmental psychologist who joined the HDFS faculty as an assistant professor in August 2023. His research examines the social and cultural contexts that promote positive development and liberation for Latine immigrants and their families, with an emphasis on educational contexts. He largely utilizes community-engaged research, collaborating directly with immigrant communities to develop research projects around their concerns and build their capacity to conduct research themselves. This work is shared with scholarly communities in academic journals and conferences, with immigrant communities themselves through photos, infographics and popular education materials, and with policy makers through briefs.

Kevin grew up in New Jersey in Portuguese and Colombian families. He attended United World College Costa Rica, a two-year residential international high school program that aims to make education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. He then received his undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Wagner College, where he first became interested in the role that universities can play in their local communities as anchor institutions. He worked in community-based organizations addressing issues of educational access for and alongside immigrant communities in New York. These experiences illustrated the roles that institutions of higher education and research can play in advancing community wellbeing, which pushed him to apply to graduate school. He completed his Ph.D. in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology with a certificate in Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College. He then joined the Child and Adolescent Development faculty at California State University, Sacramento where he was for five years before joining UConn HDFS.  Kevin was a National Research Center for Hispanic Children and Families’ Research Scholar and is a contributor to several Hispanic Center projects.

Kevin’s current research includes examining how Latine undergraduates understand student success and perceive “servingness” at a Hispanic Serving Institution (see the Using Our Voices HSI project), as well as investigating how structural factors – such as variation in social policy exclusions for immigrants and the assets of immigrant communities – are associated with the wellbeing of immigrant families in the U.S (see the Elevating Equity project). These community-engaged research projects blend qualitative and quantitative methods in order to center the experiences of communities at the forefront of research. As he settles into Connecticut, he is exploring potential collaborations with local Latine immigrant communities to co-investigate how their interactions with social policies and/or educational institutions facilitate wellbeing and liberation. He currently teaches courses on diverse families and issues of diversity at the undergraduate and graduate level. Within the classroom, Kevin aims to co-construct knowledge and co-examine assumptions in the field while preparing students to critically examine their contexts in hopes of positively transforming them. A scholar-activist, Kevin has been sought out for supporting educational institutions in addressing the ways that policy and practice create, and perpetuate, inequity for people of color through extra- and inter- institutional efforts. For instance, he recently served as a member of the United World College Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Group, a committee of the UWC International Board, the governing body of the 18 schools on four continents with over 60,000 alumni from over 150 countries, as well as the Supporting Equitable Educator Development Advisory Committee for EDUCARE. Alongside his role as a faculty member at UConn, he is an Executive Board member of United World College Costa Rica.

Outside of work, Kevin enjoys traveling, reading, cycling and coffee. Kevin just celebrated his son’s first birthday. Alongside his husband, he enjoys seeing the world through a toddler’s eyes.

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