Researching Foster Care Challenges

“All my professors have made me see the world in different ways, and they’ve helped me understand where I can make a difference.”

– Hannah Hirl ’19  

Cierra Rustad ’20

Hometown: Oskaloosa, Iowa
Majors: Sociology and Political Science
Scholarships: Presidential, Trustee, Central Heritage Award and Ministry and Mission Award
Campus Organizations: Students Against Human Trafficking
Service Learning Experiences: Conmigo Early Education Center; Catholic Worker House; The Project of Primary Health Care; Iowa Legal Aid; Garden Gate Ranch
Internships: Mahaska County Department of Human Services
Off-Campus Activities: Court-Appointed Special Advocate, Polk County, Iowa, Child Welfare System
Career Plans: Attorney

Hannah Hirl ’19 says the best things about Central College are its students and the faculty.

“I have enjoyed getting to know my professors really well over the past three years as well as the frequent student-professor interactions that are possible here,” she says.

Her favorite class so far? Status and Inequality in Social Life with Professor of Sociology Jon Witt. “Jon pushes students to examine the inequalities in society through a critical lens. I left the class with a desire to change the world,” she says.

When asked to name a single favorite professor, she can’t. “It’s a four-way tie—Associate Professor of Sociology Dawn Reece; Jon Witt; Associate Professor of Sociology Shawn Wick; and Professor of Political Science Jim Zaffiro,” she says. “All have made me see the world in different ways. They’ve helped me understand where I can make a difference.”

 Outside the classroom, she says, her most significant experience may be the research project titled “Children in Need: Examining Barriers to Quality Care in the Iowa Foster Care System,” which she completed with Wick. “We formulated a research proposal, using various sources as evidence, of the importance of the research. We found out about a month later we had received a research grant,” Hirl says.

 Hirl says the research project taught her a lot—and may benefit others as well. “I’ve learned that foster care is an extremely complex system. My project identified some methods that have benefited families in the child welfare system, and I think my findings have the potential to inform state and federal child care policy,” she says.

 Hirl enjoyed the project interviews the most. “Aside from the information about foster care that various professionals shared with me, they’ve also offered a lot of guidance for working as an attorney within the system. I hope this will help me better serve my future clients,” she says.

“Central has set me up really well for law school. I have been able to develop my critical thinking and writing skills during my time at Central. Both of those skills are essential to my future career as an attorney,” she adds.


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