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Tar Heel Talents: Allison De Marco

by Matthew Smith

Allison De Marco’s career in social work started thousands of miles to the west, but she’s making a big impact away from home at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A research scientist at the UNC School of Social Work, De Marco is leading the way for equity in community engaged research.

Whether that means helping design focus groups or teaching social work students, De Marco has found herself at home at the School.

“Growing up in California, I never thought I’d live in the South,” De Marco said. “That’s fascinating to me.”

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work Advanced Research Scientist Allison De Marco is making an impact with her research in early childhood and affordable housing.

De Marco earned her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley before moving to the east coast to work at Penn State as a postdoctoral scholar. While there, she worked on a longitudinal research project that had sites in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

After her postdoc stint concluded, she took a position at UNC after a Carolina postdoc left the project to pursue a faculty position.

“I was invited to come down and finish the work and I decided to go and see what would happen,” she said.

De Marco wasn’t alone as she joined the Tar Heel ranks.

“My twin sister, Molly, was here,” De Marco said. “She’s in public health. That was so nice having her here.”

De Marco started working at UNC and now holds multiple appointments at the University. Her research focuses on racism and affordable housing and early childhood programming.

“My primary appointment is with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, but I always wanted to maintain my tie with social work,” De Marco said. “I’ve had an appointment with the School of nearly 10 years now.”

De Marco serves as the equity lead of the School’s Jordan Institute for Families. Founded in 1996 by Michael Jordan and his family, the institute works to cultivate safe, stable, nurturing families with a special focus on early, formative childhood years.

For De Marco, that means infusing research methods with more equitable practices, like developing resources for authentic community engagement or leading the University’s Race, Racism and Equity Symposium. The symposium hosts its eighth event on April 17 with a focus on Indigenous scholarship.

“Our R3 Symposium has featured more than 30 scholars, it’s multidisciplinary, and its featured speakers from all over campus sharing the work they’re doing to advance equity,” De Marco said. “My favorite thing about working here has been the School’s openness to embracing of this kind of programming and content.”

With the semester nearing its halfway mark, De Marco is not planning on slowing down.

“I’m really excited about the future of the Jordan Institute for Families and thinking about how we continue this work with a focus on children and families,” she said. “We’re doing some work around economic justice and thinking about the support families need, while tying that to systems and structures, not just addressing individual factors.”

Tar Heel Facts

Name: Allison C. De Marco
Title: Equity Lead, Jordan Institute for Families; Advanced Research Scientist, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute
Hometown: Yreka, California
Colleges attended and degrees: Bachelor’s: Psych and Art History (UCLA); Master’s of Social Work (USC); Doctorate in Social Welfare (UC Berkeley)

Tar Heel Pride

Years working at UNC: 15
What I do at UNC: I am a research scientist at the FPG and SSW.
What I love about UNC: I love all the important work that is done at every level to advance science, from SSW students examining community benefit agreements to addressing the affordable housing crisis to senior scholars doing community-based research to address environmental injustices. I also love that it brings so many opportunities to our community such as Alvin Ailey to Carolina Performing Arts.
Research interests: My research interests focus on early childhood and affordable housing, both through a racial equity lens. I work across campus and beyond on infusing more equitable methods in our research practices.
What’s your best advice for students? Take advantage of all the opportunities UNC offers.  Our libraries are always doing amazing things, like new acquisition night where they showcase all the materials acquired in the last year. We also have excellent faculty across campus that offer intriguing and engaging courses, so I encourage students to look around to see what is available.
Favorite class to teach? I don’t teach that much but the best class I’ve taught is SoWo 490 on financial coaching and economic justice. It is a partnership with the local organization, the Community Empowerment Fund, that works with community members at risk of and experiencing homelessness.

Tar Heel Quiz

What are some of your hobbies? I manage the Orange County Obscura Instagram account, like a local Atlas Obscura for our county. It features cool and little-known sites around the community. I also like crafting and sewing and paddleboarding on Jordan Lake and the Haw River.
Last thing you read for fun? “Night of the Living Res” by Morgan Talty
What are you currently watching on TV? “Shōgun”
What was your first job? Lifeguard
What’s your favorite meal? Gnocchi
What’s one thing people don’t know about you? For over 5 years, I’ve hosted Go With The Flow, a menstrual product drive and benefit to supply products to several local organizations like IFC, Carolina Cupboard, Freedom House, CJ’s Cupboard, and UNC Horizons.

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