What a great time to be writing my sixth month Learning Log. Six months ago when I started my fellowship, I was both excited and anxious of how I would fare in this uncharted territory. My educational progress was entering into a new stage and the professional life that has shaped most of my adult life me was coming to end. As my fellowship began, I put together a plan that envisioned the important milestones in my educational journey and the benchmarks of how I will measure the progress that my community work. Though I have had an unequal degrees of success, both my education and community plans are moving forward.
When I began my fellowship in September 2014, my doctoral education was at a stage where I was preparing series of examinations, both written and oral, before I could start my dissertation. These three examinations happened in sequential fashion. It is the policy of the university that one has to pass the first one before moving on to the next examination. I passed the first of these exams on October 15, 2014 and passed the last one on January 29, 2015. By passing these examinations my status at the University of Minnesota changed from “Ph.D Student” to “Ph.D. Candidate.” Now I am embarking on the last leg of the journey which is the doctoral dissertation. My goal is to complete this writing the dissertation sometime next year.
Significant part of my educational plan was to establish myself through publications and conference presentations on issues that I have been passionate about: higher education reform and student success. The leave of absence that the fellowship allowed to take from counseling and teaching jobs and establish my scholarly credentials by producing knowledge that will help higher education institutions serve students in a way that enhanced the success of these students.
In an effort to establish my credibility as a scholar, I have undertaken several research initiatives. My research agenda follows two broad areas of inquiry that complement each other. The first line of inquiry examines the experiences of Somali college students in Minnesota. I am set to write a book chapter on immigrant students in Minnesota’s colleges and universities. When I applied for the fellowship, I explained the absence of meaningful research on immigrant students. I was motivated to undertake this research in order to bridge the knowledge on these students. By making contribution to in this area, I am hopeful that the higher education institutions in Minnesota will have access to research that will help them engage immigrant students in more effective ways.
The second area of my research investigates how higher education institutions can be more effective in how it interfaces with students. Borrowing from the discipline of “Behavioral Economics,” this research examines how to structure the choices that college students make in a way that maximizes their potential and enhances their likelihood of success. I have a co-authored a peer reviewed article on this topic with Prof. Melissa Anderson. We are set to present our work at 4th World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (May 30-June 3, 2015). In order to develop my expertise in how behavioral economics, a discipline that combines insights from psychology and economics, I plan to take a course with Prof. Richard Thaler, one of the foremost authorities in this discipline, at University of Chicago.
Part of my fellowship is to investigate ways in which refugee students can tap into the communal resources and cultural capital found within their own communities as well as the institutional support offered by colleges and universities that they attend. I envision providing higher education institutions with practical research that can be used to create conditions for educational and career success for refugee students. To this end, I met with members of Somali community and staff from various institutions. I listened to their ideas on how this could be accomplished.
I am convening a meeting of Somali graduate from the University of Minnesota. I have had a coffee with various individuals in order to get their input, buy-in and commitment to this idea. The consensus from the various stakeholders that I met was to start with alumni chapter. I also received support from the of Vice President of Equity and Diversity at the University regarding the establishment of alumni association that focusses on development, mentoring and supporting current Somali students at the University of Minnesota.
I convened the first meeting of this group on March 22, 2015. In that meeting, we will brain storm about chartering the alumni association, electing board of directors and leadership for the association. We will also discuss the goals and objectives and how they can be accomplished in collaborative manner.
The fellowship has been tremendous source of support and pride for me. My education plan and my scholarly work has been the focal point of time and energy. My community work lags behind in comparison. Going forward, I am planning to shift more of my energy and time to my community work so that my two twin goals of individual development and service to the community will be moving in tandem.