Researching with the  Social Innovation Collaboratory

by Aidan Donaghy, FCLC ’21

In February of 2019, I began working as an undergraduate research intern for Dr. Marciana Popescu, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service. Our research involves refugee and asylum-seeker integration in American higher education institutions, and we’re one of eight research teams funded by the Social Innovation Collaboratory, a program at Fordham that focuses on developing innovative solutions for social problems. 

Our involvement with the Collaboratory has made this a particularly rewarding experience—every few months, the eight teams gather for a quarterly research forum where our research progress is presented and responded to. As I plan on further entrenching myself in Academia—I’d like to eventually pursue a PhD in anthropology and teach at a research institution—this has been a really enriching and informative experience. Normally, my role at these forums is that of a silent but engaged observer. While even this is great experience, it was especially exciting to be able to assist Dr. Popescu in presenting our research progress at one of the forums. I mainly presented on our advocacy efforts: Dr. Popescu is dedicated to performing research that informs activism, and in pushing this goal, one of my chief responsibilities has been student outreach. Along with my co-intern, Olivia Quartell (a Junior at the Rose Hill campus), I’ve compiled an outreach list of student leaders and organizations with some social, cultural, or philanthropic focus to create a network of students educated about refugee and asylum issues. This is helpful in advertising various educational events that our team sponsors, and since we’re interested in fostering and tracking student awareness of refugee and asylum issues, there’s good potential for us to effectively spread our findings and message throughout the Fordham community. 

So, what are our findings? At the beginning of the project, the doctoral students on our team conducted a comprehensive literature review with the goal of finding out what is and isn’t already known about the barriers refugees, asylum-seekers, and undocumented students face in American higher education. This is an under-researched topic, and especially overlooked are the identities, subjectivities, and diasporic experiences of these students insofar as they relate to students’ ability to succeed in higher education. Because these groups of students face extra difficulties outside of the higher education setting, it is far more difficult for them to earn a degree. And to that end, universities can be enormously helpful in the integration process for these students—success in higher education increases these students’ capacity to contribute to the socio-economic progress of the receiving country, which means that universities should allocate special resources and develop special programs for these students. Often, this does not happen to a significant enough degree to make refugee and asylum-seeker student success common, so our team has written a survey to be completed by refugees and asylum-seekers to better identify the specific needs of this population. I had the opportunity to help revise this survey with a focus group of asylum-seekers, and we’ve now published the survey and are continually working to find survey participants. We want as robust a body of data as we can get, and I’m very excited to see where this research takes us as the project progresses.