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Fostering Well-Being for Immigrant Families

Through her early studies in Chile, Maria Angelica Guzman found a passion for family life education. Pursuing this passion, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Human and Social Development from the Carlos Casanueva Professional Institute in Santiago. Seeking to broaden her knowledge of family and community science, she embarked on a journey that brought her to NC State University.

Guzman will graduate from NC State this Spring with a master’s degree in Youth, Family & Community Sciences (YFCS). Reflecting on her discovery of the YFCS program, she describes it as finding her perfect educational fit, tailored to her personal and professional needs. She was particularly impressed by the program’s excellence and academic rigor. During her graduate studies, Guzman deepened her understanding of family science theories while engaging in applied research that shed light on the everyday challenges faced by families from diverse backgrounds.

For the past fifteen years, Guzman has been involved with the Department of Pediatrics at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, focusing on the Brenner FIT (Families In Training) program. In her current role as Departmental Program Manager for Latino Health, she conducts family clinic visits, and parenting classes, and oversees Brenner FIT’s work with Spanish-speaking families in Forsyth County.

Guzman with Brenner FIT program participants

Her work allows her to interact closely with immigrant families, supporting them as they navigate the challenges of adapting to a new culture while striving to improve their children’s health and well-being. When asked about the importance of her work, Guzman answers, “The work we do represents an essential support to families living through the adaptation to a new culture. The transformational process, characteristic of all immigrants, impacts all aspects of life, and we aim to support families in the challenges they face with parenting and feeding their children while going through their adaptation processes. We believe this type of support may have long-lasting effects on immigrant health”. 

Guzman found her place in Brenner FIT because of her long-lasting interest in family dynamics and native knowledge of the Spanish language. She furthers, “The Brenner FIT mission, led by Dr. Joey Skelton, is patient care, community outreach, professional education, and cutting-edge research. One noticeable program strength that has been rewarding for me over the years is the program’s ability to recognize influences from families, and based on that Brenner FIT takes action by improving content and programmatic delivery”. 

Beyond her academic and professional pursuits, Guzman is actively involved in the NC State chapter of Phi Kappa Phi and the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR), which she views as valuable resources for family science professionals. She was also named a recipient of the NCFR Honors Student Program and is the first student from NC State to earn the award. Reflecting on her time at NC State Guzman credits several faculty members who have helped her including Jamie Alexander, Maru Gonzalez, Annie Hardison Moody, Autumn Cano-Guin, and Sudha Sankar, along with her advisor, Jessica Williams.

Guzman with family members at a community event

Looking back, Guzman credits her inspiration for the field of family sciences to the individuals she works with. She acknowledges, “Families and its complexities inspire me, families represent a group where the total is greater than the sum of individuals. Family members add their thinking and sets of beliefs and together transform and adapt to environmental demands and pressures with strengths and wisdom. I am convinced that when we support families, we support the development of a better society”. 

After graduation, Guzman hopes to expand on her professional niche through working in Family Life Education Methodology. She sees herself continuing her impact by leading Forsyth County program evaluation initiatives within the next five years.