In her 17 years working for non-profit organizations, Neeta Goel learned that there was a clear disconnect between non-profit work and best practice research. The New Delhi native found that most field-based non-profits, especially in the developing-world contexts, do not have the resources to keep themselves abreast with research on the most effective anti-poverty interventions.

“Yet, it seems to me that this linkage is most essential in the field of development, partly due to the need for greater accountability in the expenditure of public funds, but mostly because people in disadvantaged circumstances deserve our best, most effective efforts,” says Goel, who most recently served as program director for a U.S.-based child-focused organization.

It was this realization that brought Goel to Rutgers–Camden to pursue a doctorate in the nation’s first Ph.D. program in childhood studies.

Goel is currently one of two graduate students – joining her classmate, Clovis Bergère – to be awarded the prestigious David K. Sengstack Graduate Fellowship for 2014-15. Endowed by the David K. Sengstack Foundation, the fellowship supports the best and brightest doctoral students in childhood studies at Rutgers–Camden.

“I am thrilled to win this award, but it also comes with responsibility.”

According to Goel, her dissertation research focuses on the impact of an anti-poverty policy on the life outcomes of children in India. As she explains, the Indian government guarantees poor families living in rural areas 100 days of employment. It is widely assumed that the additional income generated from this employment will have a positive effect on children’s well-being. To an extent, she says, this assumption is borne out of existing research.

However, Goel explains, parents with severe financial constraints are often forced to make very difficult choices.

“Parents may have to prioritize other needs over their children’s education or health, or may be forced to invest in one child over another, because they cannot afford to support them both,” she says.

Goel hopes to explore the extent to which income impacts children and, in a larger context, determine what can be learned and applied to the design of anti-poverty interventions.

In addition, she is working with Robin Stevens, an assistant professor of childhood studies, as a principal co-investigator on the current research study, Impact Assessment of a Structural Health Intervention on Health in a Low Income Community: a Natural Experiment. The project will assess the impact of the Kroc Center, a multimillion dollar health and wellness center opening in Camden, analyzing the extent to which low-income families living within a one-mile radius make use of the facility, and determine the effect that this usage has on their diet and physical health.

In New Delhi, Goel attended the local Convent of Jesus and Mary. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from New Delhi University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Mumbai.