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Kristina Webber, PhD, MSW

Making Change Happen

Middle school is the crossroads for many youth, and it is often the most dangerous intersection of their lives, the point where they will decide whether they will keep going toward graduation—or just drop out.

Kristina C. Webber wants to better understand how youth make that decision, and how their teachers, other adults, and their peers can strengthen their bonds to school.

“As educators or social workers, we need to foster an optimism or belief in students that what they do matters, that they can influence their outcomes,” said Webber, who joined the faculty of the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina in August of 2013.

Webber was a grants evaluator for the Charleston County School District from 2003 to 2008 when she became interested in middle schoolers’ engagement in education. She saw that students’ ability to stay in school was affected not just by grades, but also by the kind and quality of their relationships. Myriad social and environmental factors led them to say to themselves “school is the place for me” or “I don’t fit in.”

Since beginning her doctoral program in social work at the University of North Carolina in 2008, she has studied how aspects of the school and classroom environments influence students’ overall well-being and their academic outcomes. Most recently, she has studied approaches that attempt to make school more relevant to students’ career or personal interests. These approaches seek to increase student engagement by convincing them that “what we learn means something.”

Webber studied a group of more than 2,000 middle schoolers in southeast North Carolina to measure how such teaching methods affected engagement, which she assessed using a tool called the School Success Profile, developed by University of North Carolina researchers Gary L. Bowen and Jack M. Richman.

“I’m finding relevance does seem to matter. Students are more connected,” she said. “Their experiences really inspired me. Deeper engagement is more urgent for some students, but it’s critical for all.”

The North Carolina group includes whites, African Americans, Latinos and a relatively large group of Native Americans—primarily members of the Lumbee tribe. Her next step will be to parse the effect of race and ethnicity within her study group.

Research Background

Dr. Webber has experience working within urban, rural, and suburban school settings. She also has experience as a program consultant and grant evaluator for education and prevention/intervention programs. Her research interests include school social work; positive youth development; racial/ethnic disparities in education outcomes; dropout prevention programming; and program evaluation. Her current research investigates how classroom instructional practices influence early adolescents’ engagement in school and optimism about their futures, as well as whether these pathways of influence differ for students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. She uses a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods to conduct her research, including experimental designs, multi-level modelling, survey research, semi-structured interviews, and classroom observations.

Krysti Webber portrait 5x7
Contact Information
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Office: 803.777.9901
  • Curriculum Vita
Major Classes Taught
  • SOWK 777: Advanced Theory for Social Work Practice: Children, Youth, & Families

  • SOWK 778: Advanced Policy for Social Work Practice: Children, Youth, & Families

  • SOWK 791: Social Work Research Methodologies

  • SOWK 890: Analysis of Social Work Data

  • SOWK 891: Advanced Analysis of Social Work Data

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