State Department research project pairs KSU students with U.S. Embassy in West Africa

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 17, 2020

An interdisciplinary team of Kennesaw State University students led by anthropology professor Brandon D. Lundy spent the spring semester exploring immigration issues for the U.S. State Department in an effort to help officials understand the experiences of immigrants from Cabo Verde, an island country off the coast of West Africa.

The semester-long project was part of KSU’s involvement in the State Department’s Diplomacy Lab, which provides opportunities for students and faculty members from partner universities to collaborate on research related to a number of international issues and challenges.

“Here is a project that potentially is going to have some significant policy and practice implications,” said Lundy.

Lundy was drawn to this particular State Department project – researching what happens to Cabo Verdeans after they immigrate to the United States – because he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cabo Verde and has conducted research on deportation and labor migration from West Africa.

Diplomacy Lab

Earlier this year, Lundy assembled a Kennesaw State team of four anthropology majors and three geography majors who explored public assistance programs and community integration resources available to Cabo Verdean immigrants upon arrival in the U.S. The team was supported by other KSU faculty including Allison Garefino from Children and Family Programs and Paul McDaniel from geography.

“I think what appealed to the students to sign up for the project was that their work was going to have real-world impact,” Lundy said. The initiative was inspired by one of Kennesaw State’s new R2 roadmap research themes, human development and well-being.

He explained that their research provided contextual information for the State Department’s consular officers. Officers are able to gather a range of information about immigrant visa applicants from their applications and interviews, but have very limited insights into how they fare in the U.S.

The students and Lundy recently presented their research findings in a video presentation to United States Embassy officials in Cabo Verde. The Embassy then shared the KSU team’s final report internally, making it available to the entire U.S. Embassy.

The students – Danielle Dumett, Katya Godwin, Agazeet Haile and Will Hasse from anthropology, and Alex Seigler, Kathleen Smith and Nick Zingleman from geography – were tasked with evaluating Cabo Verdean immigrants use of public and community-based assistance programs. Each student focused their research on a different type of public need, such as education, communication, health, food, community resources and employment. 

For example, Dumett delved into how Cabo Verdean immigrants meet their health care needs in the U.S.  She studied U.S. census data and responses received from an online survey to examine these immigrants’ utilization of public and private health insurance over the last decade.

“Presenting to officials from the U.S. Embassy was definitely an experience I won’t forget,” said Dumett, who graduated in May. “It was such a unique opportunity that most don’t get, and I am very thankful I was able to partake in this project and speak with them. I plan on attending law school in the fall, and I’ve already gotten multiple emails from the school asking me about my Diplomacy Lab experience, so I am grateful to be able to add that to my resume.”

Dumett said that the research project appealed to her because she had enjoyed taking cultural anthropology classes at Kennesaw State, but she had not yet studied African culture. Along with having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of presenting to the U.S. Embassy, Dumett credited her Diplomacy Lab experience with strengthening her organizational skills.

“I think one thing about it that is a little different than other internships and practicums is that we all had our different parts to it, but we all had to work together,” she said. “Learning how to work in a group like that – making sure that your paper doesn’t sound redundant to what another person is writing, and you aren’t all using the same information and writing the same thing – is something that I think really would help anyone.”

Meanwhile, Seigler focused on examining the level of food security among Cabo Verdean immigrant households in the United States, and how that may or may not affect their use of public food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Through online searches, she identified community resources including supermarkets and community gardens that allowed for better access to affordable, nutritious food in Cabo Verdean communities in the U.S.

“I gained valuable experience conducting research that will help solve a real-world issue,” said Seigler, also a May graduate. “It was a really rewarding experience for our team to be able to present our hard work to the embassy officials. We were excited to share our findings, and they were excited to see what we learned.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the project enabled the students to “see the same issue through different lenses,” Lundy explained. The anthropology majors looked at Cabo Verdean immigration in a cultural context while the geography students related it to the environment and infrastructure, and the students benefitted from sharing those perspectives with each other.

“The students were able to look at this issue from multiple perspectives, so I see that as the greatest value to working as an interdisciplinary team,” Lundy said. “The students gained a great deal from being part of this project, and they did a phenomenal job.”

– Paul Floeckher

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