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Faculty Research

Since her arrival on campus, Foundation Distinguished Professor of Sociology Cecilia Menjívar has been hard at work as co-director of KU’s new Center for Migration Research, together with Victor Agadjanian, also a Foundation Distinguished Professor of Sociology.  This Spring, the Center organized a well-attended symposium on race and migration featuring such migration studies luminaries as Rogelio Saenz of UTSA and Nestor Rodríguez of UT-Austin. Participants in the conference explored the shift of emphasis in public discussions of migration from overt racism to more veiled appeals to race after the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s. Earlier in the semester, the Center also sponsored lectures by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo of the University of Southern California on migration in the U.S. context and Anne François of Eastern University (Pennsylvania) on migration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Center is also supporting faculty research on migration through seed grants.  Expect to see exciting results from the projects supported by the Center in the coming months.

Prof. Menjívar has not let the work of building a new migration studies program detract from her own academic research.  In a recent paper co-authored with Arizona State doctoral student Dulce Medina, Menjívar studied the barriers that Mexicans face when they return to their home communities after living in the United States.  Surprisingly, Menjívar and Medina found that voluntary return migrants struggled with the same social stigmas and bureaucratic barriers faced by those who had been deported. 

Prof. Menjívar also teaches popular classes on migration at KU and serves on the CLACS Executive Committee. We expect the cross-pollination between Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Migration Studies will enrich the activities of both Centers.


Brent Metz (Assoc. Prof, Anthropology) and Jodi Gentry (PhD student, Environmental Engineering), along with professional engineers from Lawrence and Topeka, co-founded the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Sunflower Professional chapter in 2011.  Gentry had founded and worked in multiple EWB chapters, but this was the first time social scientists were integrated into one of her EWB teams.  Aida Ramos Viera (PhD student, Geography) also joined the team as cultural, linguistic, and GPS expert, as have several students, including Karen Lewis (BA, Environmental Studies, GIST, Anthropology), who has taken multiple trips with the team.  The focus of the project is analysis and implementation of sustainable rural water projects in the developing world, particularly eastern Guatemala where Metz has done research since 1991.  Most rural water projects in the developing world fail to function as intended after just a few years.  This project was greatly enhanced by a Center Cluster Grant in 2012, in which Gentry and Metz were awarded funding to apply a Photovoice exercise among Ch’orti’ Maya women in eastern Guatemala in order to gauge perspectives on the most pressing health needs, problems, and challenges in their homes and community.  The exercise was a success, and 17 women took nearly a thousand photos and explained in recorded interviews how the photos related to community needs.  The photos have also been helpful in fundraising.  The Cluster Grant served as leverage to win a larger KU Commons Seed Grant, which enabled the addition of Belinda Sturm (Assoc. Prof, Environmental Engineering) and two professional videographers to the team.  This expanded research team has taken three more trips to Guatemala to lay the groundwork for potential inter institutional collaborations with national universities, the PanAmerican Health Organization, and Guatemalan ministries (health, environment).  Metz and Gentry ran a field school in which KU undergraduates worked on water testing and surveys in Guatemala in 2013, and they plan to hold another in January 2016.  Metz is also interested in establishing a living museum for the Ch’orti’s, which would require the collaboration of students and professors from several disciplines such as anthropology, Latin American and Caribbean studies, history, museum studies, biology, music, art, and more. (Photo: Jodi Gentry, PhD student in Environmental Engineering, works with Ch'orti' women on photography techniques)


Chris Brown, Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, and Director of the Environmental Studies Program, continues to develop research collaborations involving institutions in Campinas, São Paulo in Brazil. KU recently renewed a 5-yr Memorandum of Understanding with EMBRAPA (Brazil's equivalent of the USDA), related to research Chris leads at KU on the use of satellite-remote sensing to monitor the dynamics of agricultural expansion in the Amazon. This work closely involves Jude Kastens, a researcher at the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program at the Kansas Biological Survey. This past summer, Chris travelled to Campinas with Nate Brunsell, an Associate Professor in Geography, a bio-meteorologist who specializes in the study of land-atmosphere interactions. They visited EMBRAPA and neighboring research programs at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) including agricultural engineering, geography, energy, and public health to discuss future KU-UNICAMP interactions. KU graduate students Lisa Rausch and Heather Putnam have both spent study periods at UNICAMP, and two students and two faculty members from UNICAMP have also worked with Chris Brown, Town Peterson, and Nate Brunsell as visiting scholars over the last several years. A joint KU-UNICAMP workshop has been scheduled for early January, 2013, to establish formal agreements to facilitate future collaborative research in a number of different fields and to increase exchange of faculty and students. 


Three faculty research centers in Central and South America were established and are maintained by KU faculty. The Center nurtured an affiliation between KU and the University of San Marcos (Peru) through a US Dept. of State Fulbright Exchange Grant 2003-2006. This exchange generated rewarding scholarly opportunities for more than 40 faculty members involved, including conferences in both locations and visits by both chancellors.

The resources KU and CLACS devote to hosting students and faculty from our affiliated Latin American and Caribbean institutions and sending faculty and students for extended stays there, organizing K-12 teacher training programs (in Kansas and in-country), and the events CLACS builds around these activities bring peers into direct, focused contact with one another. Especially among students, these cultural and intellectual exchanges can jump-start interest in Latin America and the Caribbean.


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