Meet Our Researchers: Renee Ryberg

Renee Ryberg is a senior research scientist in Child Trends’ education research area. She aims to use her quantitative skills for good, and leads teams of social scientists to answer questions that inform policy and program decisions to improve the well-being of youth and young adults, especially those living in poverty.

Can you tell us about your primary research interest(s)?

My work focuses on the intersection of child poverty and education. I study how our country’s social safety net and education systems work together—or against each other—to improve the well-being of young people and their families.

Here’s an important example: Many parenting students—or college students with children—live their lives at the crossroads of our education and safety net systems. These students must actively navigate both anti-poverty programs and the world of higher education, neither of which were explicitly built to accommodate their needs. I aim to produce and use research to better understand the unique situations that parenting students face as they seek economic mobility, and to better understand what works to support their journeys.

What sparked your interest in the connections between poverty and the education system?

I grew up in a small town of about 3,000 people in Maryland, named after Daniel Boone’s cousin. After I graduated from high school and went to college, Facebook made it easy to keep up with what my classmates were doing. I saw huge differences in the pathways that my high school and college classmates were taking—one group largely entering the workforce and starting families, another spending many more years in education. I wanted to understand how my peers ended up on such different life trajectories.

Renee and her dog in a national park

What books or journal articles have most influenced you?

Despite my proclivity for numbers, it’s the stories from in-depth qualitative work that stay with me and help me better understand the world. Four books have especially shaped my thinking about poverty, family, and education:

  • Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, by Kathryn Edin and Maria J. Kefalas
  • Coming of Age in The Other America, by Stefanie Deluca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin
  • LowerEd: The Trouble Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, by Andrea Elliott

What are your hobbies or interests outside of research?

As a researcher, it can take a long time to see one’s work lead to tangible change. So, in my free time I seek out immediate gratification as a maker. I love to sew and knit my own clothes.

To wrap up, can you tell us a fun or interesting fact about yourself or your family?

For starters, I am a proud “dog mom” to an 80-pound dog named Zamboni. Additionally, I’ve participated in sports all of my life, but—as my mom would say—while I try hard I’m not particularly talented. As an adult, I started participating in triathlons and got to stand on a podium for the very first time in my life as one of the top 3 participants in my age group!