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Christine Le ’19 collects data on secondary migration in Utica

By Upstate Institute on July 25, 2019

Submitted by Christine Le ’19, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Christine Le ’19 at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica

This summer, I am one of the Field School fellows at the Mohawk Valley Center for Refugee Resources (MVRCR) in Utica. The MVRCR is a not-for-profit corporation that provides services for refugees and immigrants in Central New York. Newly arrived refugees are provided airport pickups, housing, culturally appropriate meals, health screenings, cultural orientation, and comprehensive case managements. Beyond addressing the most urgent needs, the MVRCR provides other services, such as: interpretation and translation, citizenship counseling, cultural competency training, English classes for non-native speakers, employment consulting, etc. Over 38 years of existence, the MVRCR has resettled over 16,000 refugees from 34 different countries, and provided instrumental support for many more immigrants and Limited English Proficient individuals throughout the integration process into the local community.

My summer project involves developing a database on the secondary migrants seeking services at the MVRCR. Secondary migrants are refugees who originally resettle in one state and subsequently move to another state for various reasons. They qualify for and seek many services at the MVRCR. Yet there has not been an efficient way to keep track of their demographics, service outcomes, and other population-specific information that will help the MVRCR assess its current performance and identify enhanced cultural orientation topics for more targeted services. My project aims to tackle this problem.

With valuable guidance from the MVRCR staff, I was able to revise the existing data intake process into one that can be applied across different departments of the agency. I also communicated with other refugee resettlement agencies to learn about their data management systems, in search of an optimal solution for the MVRCR. By the end of the summer, I hope to utilize the data I gathered to assess the agency’s strengths and weaknesses vis à vis its secondary migrant clients, thereby making future recommendations. Ultimately, with better services provided at the MVRCR, my project will potentially contribute to Utica’s effort at rejuvenating its Rust Belt economy, by attracting a vibrantly multicultural population as its new workforce.

Having just graduated from Colgate with a double degree in Economics and International Relations, I am thrilled about the opportunity to combine my quantitative training with my interest in issues of human rights and refugee policies – a perfect continuation of both my majors in my first post-grad “real world” experience. Daily interactions with the inner workings of the MVRCR have given me a new, micro-level perspective on the treatment of refugees and immigrants, which complements the knowledge from my classes that tend to involve broader discussions on general themes surrounding the refugee crisis. I am also learning to analyze issues through the lens of a service provider, focusing on the needs of the refugees, the agency, and the community – rather than that of a detached (wannabe) scholar. Most importantly, I am thankful for the chance to leave behind a contribution – no matter how small – to the community around me, beyond the scope of the Colgate campus, before I venture onto the next chapter of my life.

Emmy Ritchey ’20 spends second summer working with Utica refugee community

By Upstate Institute on July 25, 2019

Submitted by Emmy Ritchey ’20, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Emmy Ritchey ’20 at the Utica office of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees

This summer, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR). MVRCR serves refugees, immigrants, and limited English speakers living in the Mohawk Valley region. Based in Utica, New York, MVRCR strives to help refugees integrate and eventually become self-sufficient and provide a welcoming, supportive community for them. MVRCR provides many services to the community: resettlement, traffic safety, job placement, entrepreneurship, translation, interpretation, ESL classes, and citizenship classes. My project focuses on the Welcome Center, a new program that will provide refugees with entrepreneurship development tools.

    Last summer, I was a Field School Fellow at the Midtown Utica Community Center (MUCC), which serves as a gathering space for the refugee community. I enjoyed my time learning about the refugee community of Utica in that capacity that I chose to work at MVRCR this summer to learn more about the services provided to the refugee community. Coming into this position, I had background knowledge of the refugee community, but I have learned so much about what MVRCR provides that helps the refugee community with what they need. This summer, I have had the opportunity to go out into the community and explore Utica. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the community that MVRCR serves after visiting refugee-run businesses and local faith-based organizations while postering for different MVRCR events.

    My main project is focused on the Welcome Center. The Welcome Center is a new initiative that aims to provide refugees with the necessary resources to start their businesses. There are significant barriers for refugees trying to gain traditional American employment. Many have skills and qualifications from their native countries, but those certifications do not necessarily transfer once they arrive in the United States. Entrepreneurship gives refugees an empowering chance to be their own boss and have control over their work. Statistics show that refugees and immigrants are more likely to start businesses than U.S.-born citizens. Entrepreneurship seems to be a valuable option to help refugees move forward. My research consisted of finding refugee-based entrepreneurship programs within the United States and worldwide and examining what made them work. I am currently in the process of planning a business round table. Invitations will be extended to local refugee-and-immigrant-owned businesses. The round table’s goal is to find out how these entrepreneurs started their businesses and what sort of resources they wish had been available at the start or should be available now.

    Other than working on the entrepreneurship program, I’ve also created social media campaigns for MVRCR’s World Refugee Day and Match Grant Program. My campaigns have received great responses from the community, and I am very pleased to see that my first attempts at creating social media content were successful. I have also spent time developing new success stories for MVRCR’s website. I have developed questions and conducted interviews, which I have written up for featuring on their website.

    I am an English major with an emphasis in creative writing, and my work at MVRCR has been writing heavy. Instead of writing fiction and essays, I focused my writing to advertise events and to inform readers in profiles of successful refugees; I feel like this has broadened my ability as a writer. I also enjoyed seeing another side of the Utica refugee community and have learned so much about the many moving pieces that go into helping the refugee community thrive. Last summer, I enjoyed being a Field School Fellow, and I could not be happier with my decision to come back and learn more about and help the communities that are in the surrounding area of Colgate.

Jared Collins ’21 researches loon populations in the Adirondacks

By Upstate Institute on July 24, 2019

Submitted by Jared Collins ’21, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Jared Collins in a yellow kayak on an Adirondack lake
Jared Collins ’21 is spending a lot of time on the water in the Adirondacks this summer as he collects data on loon rafts with the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation

This summer, I am conducting research for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation in Saranac Lake as part of the Upstate Institute’s Adirondack Fellows Program. As its name implies, this nonprofit organization strives to maintain and improve local loon populations by running research, capturing and tagging loons, and answering calls to aid injured loons.

My research focuses on designing a survey to generate a database of information on loon nest rafts. Loon nest rafts are human-made platforms used to provide a stable nesting area in lakes or ponds that are otherwise unsuitable. I am also determining which style of raft yields the best results for loon nesting and survival. As a biology major and environmental studies minor, I am gaining important insight on field work — insight that only comes from being in an organization like this.

While here, I am participating in many of the other activities the organization offers. Once a week, I kayak in a nearby lake and monitor the loons that live there, allowing me to learn more about their behavior and conduct field work. Later in the summer, I will help capture unbanded loons and work at community outreach events.

Perhaps the most valuable part of my experience is seeing how selfless people are in their conservation efforts. Staff members go out of their way to protect loons, while visitors and residents of Saranac Lake enjoy learning about these birds and support the organization. It is refreshing to see a local community champion a cause not because they seek any personal benefit but because they genuinely care.

Conservation is an area of study that I am considering for a career, so I am very grateful for the chance to explore the field before graduating. After I complete my research, I hope to achieve a better idea of what I want to do after Colgate and to create new opportunities for the future.

Peter Bulan ’21 prepares bankruptcy schedules with Legal Aid clients

By Upstate Institute on July 22, 2019

Submitted by Peter Bulan ’21, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Peter Bulan ’21 with Susan Conn ’79 at the Legal Aid office in Utica

This summer I have worked as a community partner at the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York (LASMNY) with attorney Susan Conn, who graduated from Colgate in ‘79. LASMNY is a non-profit law office based in Utica that provides free expansive legal services to low income clients in the surrounding area. The advice that LASMNY offers, which is civil in nature, ranges from divorce and domestic violence cases to social security to tenant law. Working at the Legal Aid Society has presented me with the opportunity to understand the prevailing economic issues of the Upstate New York region especially in and around Utica. Perhaps more importantly, this has granted me the chance to see the face of poverty. Having now seen the ways that poverty affects the daily lives of many has instilled in me an awareness of the dire situation that is poverty and why LASMNY is so critical. The legal system can be cold, harsh, and convoluted, and so LASMNY is an important resource that help clients navigate this system, with the hopes that they can come out unscathed. Many of those overwhelmed by the system simply submit without giving a fight and end up accumulating debt and fees. LASMNY is the solution for many who have nowhere else to turn. 

The idea that one is deserving of legal representation, a right afforded to all citizens, is a key principle upon which the United States of America was founded. Two-hundred forty-three years later, the phrase “liberty and justice for all” may not ring true. Justice has not in fact been available to all. According to a report by the Legal Services Corporation, “86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans in the past year received inadequate or no legal help” (LSC). The legal needs of the low-income population and the resources that are available to them reveal a profound inequality, a ‘justice gap’ that LASMNY serves to address. The Legal Aid Society is a bastion of hope for the downtrodden, and serves thirteen counties in the central New York area. 

While at Legal Aid, my primary responsibility has been working on the Consumer Bankruptcy Law Project in a student paralegal capacity. This project, which also exists as a volunteer project offered at Colgate, aims to guide a client through the entire process of filing for bankruptcy at no cost to them. I am tasked with parsing through a number of legal and financial documents including credit reports and tax forms, among others, in order to complete several of the forms, called schedules, required for one to file for bankruptcy. Completing schedules requires a significant amount of time and detail in order to ensure accuracy; this is important to note because once completed and verified for accuracy, we refer the case to a pro bono attorney in the area who will then be saved a number of hours of work. The process is therefore easier for all parties involved. A significant amount of my time has been spent working on improvements to Susan’s course. These include write ups in order to facilitate learning as well as the development of a hypothetical bankruptcy case from which students can learn.  Besides working as a paralegal for the bankruptcy project, I have done ministerial work around the office. 

My time as a Field School Fellow has been momentous for me. I feel much more passionate about issues affecting the Upstate New York area and feel much more confident in wanting to attend law school. It has been a great opportunity to apply some of my linguistic and analytical skills derived from my English and Spanish studies at Colgate to a very grounded situation. Being a Field School Fellow has left me feeling hopeful about my future employability and ability to positively affect my community as a Colgate student. 

Source for data: https://www.lsc.gov/sites/default/files/images/TheJusticeGap-FullReport.pdf

Nate Jeffries ’20 researches parent engagement in secondary school support program

By Upstate Institute on July 17, 2019

Submitted by Nate Jeffries ’20, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School

Nate Jeffries ’20 on an outing with the Young Scholars Liberty Partnership Program at Utica College

This summer, I have the opportunity to work with Young Scholars, an educational nonprofit based at Utica College. Young Scholars identifies 6th graders who may benefit from academic support services and works with them from 7th through 12th grade to ensure they have the resources necessary to excel in junior and senior high. These resources include tutoring throughout the school year, summer school programs for rising 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, and internship opportunities for high school students and recent high school graduates. If Young Scholars students graduate with an advanced regents diploma, they are automatically offered admission and a financial aid package to Utica College, a promise which is made starting in seventh grade. The motivating power of such a promise is immense – to tell a 7th grader whose parents may not have even graduated high school that they can go to college has a powerful impact. The past several years have seen a one hundred percent high school graduation rate for Young Scholars students, demonstrating the enormous success of the organization in fulfilling its mission.

The Utica community has a large refugee population, and many of the students Young Scholars serves are first generation citizens. Candidates for the program are identified by their 6th grade teachers, and each cohort is selected from that group of students. The selection process is highly stringent – the 2019 cohort of about 70 students was selected from a pool of almost 250. The demographic of students and parents creates an interesting set of barriers to parental participation in their children’s education – language and transportation, for example. Many of the parents of students served by YS work multiple jobs in order to support their families and have very little free time to attend school functions and educational events. A growing body of research points to the importance of engaging parents in education – success for many students is almost impossible without it.

My project this summer revolves around solving the parent engagement problem at Young Scholars. I have spent some time coming up with solutions for the issues which prevent parent engagement that could work for Young Scholars; text services with a translating feature to enable easier communication with parents, different forms of media to disperse information, and events which can bring parents together to engage with Young Scholars, to name a couple. Although it is practically impossible to solve an issue as tremendous as parent engagement in just ten weeks, I hope that the ideas I generate and the solutions I implement can be a step in the right direction and can help improve the way Young Scholars gets parents engaged in children’s education.

I was drawn to this project for several reasons. I spent the summer of my sophomore year serving as a camp counselor with Americorps at a non-profit in Pittsburgh, and I wanted to see what I could achieve working from behind-the-scenes in more of an administrative position, so I sought a fellowship with Young Scholars. I am proud of the work I have done for the organization so far, and I have learned a lot about working at nonprofits and organizations in general. Working with Young Scholars this summer has helped me clarify my career goals and learn valuable skills related to the logistics of running a large organization, all while giving me the opportunity to give back to a greater cause.