During past year, I have been engaging in numerous academic and experiential learnings that has brought me closer to my dream of attaining a doctoral degree and contributing to the advancement of young immigrant students’ ability to access and succeed in higher education. In my application, I mentioned:
The release time will allow me to focus my energy and time on reviewing literature comprehensively, collecting and analyzing rigorous data, attending local and international conferences on refugee students in higher education, networking with my peers in this field and building deep, powerful and meaningful relationships with students and communities that my studies will impact. These scholarly activities will culminate in academic publications that contributes to the scant existing scholarly literature on refugee college students and the completion of doctoral dissertation, the final step of my journey to attain a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy, and Educational Psychology.
I succeeded in many of the above academic goals that I set for myself. My progress towards the attainment of my educational attainment is on pace. In January, 2015 I passed my Oral Examination. This qualified me to become a PhD Candidate. In October 2015, I am planning to present the proposal of my dissertation to my doctoral committee and start the data collection phase.
The privilege of being a Bush Fellow allowed me not only to make this progress but also to gain an enriching experiences by presenting and attending national and international academic conferences on topics relating to higher education. Such experiences will help me distinguish myself as a scholar in the field of higher education.
In June 2015, I presented at the World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (May 30-June 3, 2015). The World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI) is aimed at furthering world dialogue on promoting academic collaboration and research integrity through the participation of representatives of funding agencies, research institutions, academies of sciences, governmental and non-governmental organizations and publishers from over 50 different countries.
The World Research Integrity Conference is the premier forum for academics, think tanks, national science academies as well as the regional and international organizations that develop policies, procedures and regulations related to research and leadership in higher education. As such it is unique gathering to share latest research in the field.
In June 2015, an academic paper which I was a co-author was presented at the 15th Biennial Society for Community Research Conference hosted by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Lowell, MA. The Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology “encourages the development of theory, research, and practice relevant to the reciprocal relationships between individuals and the social system which constitute the community context.” This paper explored the concept of resilience in the context of Somali culture.
In August 2015, I attended the 12th Somali Studies International Association Congress that was held in Helsinki, Finland, August 19-24, 2015. The title of the 12th Somali Studies International Association Congress is Revisiting Somali Identities – Addressing Gender, Generation and Belonging. This year, the theme of the congress paid close attention to the complex and multidimensional nature of Somali identity and its presentation both in Somalia and in the diaspora communities. The congress announced in a press release that it plans to “explore the diverse and often intersecting aspects of Somali identity, such as gender, generation, geography, culture, ethnicity and religion.” It also seeks to examine the different practices and processes through which resettlement societies enable or hinder the inclusion and membership of their Somali population.
This theme of Revisiting Somali Identities – Addressing Gender, Generation and Belonging is relevant to my dissertation topic and therefore will be a unique learning experience for me. My doctoral dissertation that addresses variations on a theme of identity development of Somali and other refugee college students, resilience in the context of Somali students in higher education, institutional conditions that promote success of refugee students in higher education and investigation of communal, cultural, social and economic capital native to East African communities that could be leveraged in the service of advancement of higher education access and success among these students. I submitted the draft of the first 3 chapters of my dissertation to my advisor. I am expecting a feedback on the draft in the coming days. Upon receiving this feedback, I will work on the areas of concern that my advisor identified.
In November 2015, I am set to present at the American Evaluation Association annual conference in Chicago, IL. The American Evaluation Association is an “international professional association of evaluators devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology, and many other forms of evaluation. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness. AEA has approximately 7000 members representing all 50 states in the United States as well as over 60 foreign countries.” Its mission is to “improve evaluation practices and methods, increase evaluation use, promote evaluation as a profession, and support the contribution of evaluation to the generation of theory and knowledge about effective human action.”
I am presenting at this conference on the result of yearlong evaluation project on a local organization that promotes the educational success of the minority youth. The expectation of the team of researchers that I was part of is that the result of our scholarly work will contribute to how to evaluate the effectiveness of multicultural organizations whose work is carried out in specific social and cultural contexts.
In addition to these conference presentations, I co-published articles and a book chapter in academic journals. I am also working on a book chapter on the immigrant students in Minnesota’s higher education institutions.
During past two months, I travelled to several European countries that has a sizable Somali populations. I went to these countries, namely Finland, Sweden and UK in order to learn about the experiences of Somali communities in general and Somali youth in particular. Such learnings helped me investigate how the experience of Somali immigrants in Minnesota is similar and different from that of their compatriots in these countries.
I briefly experienced and immersed myself in the same sights and sounds that greeted these immigrants as they landed on the shores of these countries and started to create social and cultural spaces that give meaning to their lives, help them develop identities and create networks and social support systems that straddle between their original homeland and their new homeland. This gave me deeper insights into the universalities of immigrant experiences and the particularities of each country’s cultural milieu, and the
political institutions that impact how immigrants cope with challenges of transplanting themselves into their new homelands. In doing so, my capacity as a student of immigrant students as well as my role as a scholar on immigrant experiences was greatly enhanced.
In addition to my academic learning experiences, I have been organizing University of Minnesota alumni chapter primarily consisting of alumni of Somali descent. I engaged in this initiative at a time when University of Minnesota is exploring expanding on alumni relations and making them more inclusive by reaching out alumni members from ethnic and racial minorities. Such affinity based alumni groups are shown to be more effective when reaching out to underserved minority students as they serve as networks of support and positive role models for current students. These affinity based alumni associations serve as mentors for current students by providing them with scholarships, internships and other personal and professional development opportunities.
I had numerous meetings with potential collaborators and partners from both Somali community and the University of Minnesota. I found there is a groundswell support for such initiative in both within the Somali community and the University of Minnesota.
The goal was to launch the chapter this summer. However, travels on my part in Europe in order to attend conferences as well as the traditional summer vacations on the part of the stake holders precluded holding the first meeting. We are hoping to have this delayed meeting in the end of this month (September 2015).
The vision of this alumni network is to have serve as a vehicle where alumni members can network, share resources and information, and support current students from the community. In partnership with the University’s alumni office, this alumni network will undertake specific activities to develop scholarships for financially needy Somali college students and provide mentorship and other support services to Somali college students. Furthermore, if successful, this will also serve as a model organization that alumni members at the other higher education institutions can adopt.
Overall, I feel I am making reasonable progress towards the two objectives I set out to accomplish during my tenure as a fellow. These two objectives were developing my scholarly credentials and organizing members of the community with a view of creating partnerships meant to support Somali college students with institutions of higher learning. I am hopping I will continue this progress as I embark on the second quarter of my fellowship.
Without the support of the fellowship, I would not have made these accomplishments. During my upcoming year, I plan to build on these achievements in order to accomplish the objectives I set out for myself at the beginning of my fellowship tenure.