Second-year PhD student Rod Salgado is stepping into his role as graduate employee (GE) for the Student Diversity Affairs Committee (SDAC) with the goal of promoting and facilitating discussion of equity and diversity. Rod studies in the School Psychology program and came to the University of Oregon with experience addressing social disparity. He has hopes for constructive communication between students and faculty and between the various departments within the College of Education.
As the SDAC GE, Rod supports diversity groups and equity and inclusion initiatives in the COE, and works with the SDAC to plan diversity-related events.
"I think throughout the SDAC’s history it has been very dynamic. It’s evolved, and I think it evolves in response to the student climate, kind of what’s needed, and then also [in response to] the students that make up the committee themselves," said Salgado.
He emphasized, however, that the mission of the committee is always to encourage student initiatives to improve fairness and inclusion for the college’s diverse population. Salgado shares that mission and is particularly interested in connecting ideas generated in separate departments.
"… we have all these really great departments and really great topics of conversation happening in different programs, but we’re not necessarily talking to each other," Salgado said.
Rod is uniquely suited to his position. He majored in psychology and Spanish as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison before achieving a master's degree in rehabilitation psychology and special education from the UW–Madison's School of Education. He also graduated from the Wisconsin Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program.
It was in part because of the research being performed by a fellow LEND graduate, Laura Lee McIntyre, that Rod came to the UO. McIntyre, head of the Department of Special Education and Clinical Sciences, was researching early intervention services for children with autism.
"I want to make sure that I am in a position after leaving the UO to pursue a research tenure-track position. I want to do translational research outside in the community that helps promote positive outcomes for families and children with disabilities."
Cultural disparity and its play on equity have been central to Rod’s work for several years, but his interest in autism came gradually. After completing his undergraduate degree at Wisconsin, he followed in the steps of Sandy Magaña, a professor and researcher for The School of Social Work at UW–Madison now at the University of Illinois. Magaña was assisting newly immigrated Latino families obtain access to community resources for children with disabilities.
"I started working and coordinating a family support group of Spanish-speaking families of children with developmental disabilities and delays, and that was incredibly rewarding," said Salgado.
As he came to know the families, Rod understood the source of the disparity faced by immigrants to the United States. Families of children with disabilities didn’t know what help was available to them. Their inability to access support created feelings of isolations for those families. The experience sparked Rod’s interest in autism and what he calls "the diversity within that label." He learned the power of an autism diagnosis and was intrigued by the intersection of language, race, ethnicity, disability status and public policy.
He discovered a passion for research while working on his master’s degrees. Rod became involved with Transitioning Together, a program to assist teens with autism transitioning out of high school. He translated the program culturally and linguistically for Latino families in the Chicago area. At the same time began to assist with research on the perception of disabilities in an inclusive school attached to an orphanage for children with disabilities in Guatemala.
Rod came to the UO so he could keep researching. School psychology allows Rod to combine his interests in psychology and education, and was a strong pull to Oregon. When he isn’t working to improve resources for children with autism, Rod spends his time kayaking, hiking, and running. He is a fit not just for the COE and SDAC, but for Eugene culture.