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 complexities of immigrant experiences as they determine who are granted visas 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. “The people we presented our findings to are the ones at the embassy who are making the visa decisions for Cabo Verdeans.”
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.
Earlier this year, Lundy assembled a Kennesaw State team of four anthropology majors and three geography majors who explored immigrants’ reliance on public assistance programs and community integration resources while 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 in the wake of recent revisions to visa eligibility guidance for the State Department’s consular officers, granting them broader discretion to determine whether a visa applicant is likely to depend on certain types of government assistance in the United States and therefore not qualify to receive a visa.
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.
“It has been a true pleasure working with Dr. Lundy and his students these last few months,” said Savannah Wilson, vice consul for the U.S. Embassy in Cabo Verde. “The enthusiasm with which they all approached this fairly daunting project was admirable, and their final product is very impressive. I am hopeful that others in the State Department can benefit from the team’s valuable work.”
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’ reliance on public 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 Cabo Verdean immigrants’ utilization of Medicaid, for which they are eligible after living in the United States for five years. She found that Cabo Verdeans’ use of Medicaid is higher than that of both the total U.S. population and the total immigrant population, but also is falling every year – by a total of about 10 percent over the past 10 years.
“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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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.