2020-2021 Research and Social Action Project

This year, I approached by research and social action project with the lofty ambition of changing the world. After researching the ways that schools and teachers fail their immigrant students, I felt like I had the key for remedying the inequities that immigrant students face. Originally, I wanted to use this research to create a broad program within the D.C. public schools that would mimic the work of the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Equity Initiatives Unit to help form connections between immigrant students and their teachers by allowing students to take part in preparing their teachers as a part of their teacher preparation programs. I had lofty dreams of this programs success and the expansion of the program to other school districts. Needless to say, no such program was created.

Instead, I have learned a valuable lesson in the importance of meeting specific needs in coalition with others. Instead of a widespread program that I thought would create the most meaningful impact, conversations with community members showed me that the most poignant way to make an impact with the D.C. immigrant student community was to support existing programs. Thus, I refocused my work on implementing and fulfilling a needs assessment in partnership with the Latin American Youth Center in D.C. With this needs assessment, we were able to provide necessary resources for students such as school supplies, art supplies, and technology using grant money.

In an effort to still address the cultural proficiency component of my research, I worked with Inés Rénique, the associate producer of the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU to provide opportunities for the students at the Latin American Youth Center to be interviewed on the show. Unfortunately, no students were available for interview at the time the show was being recorded. However, as this project was now intended to listen to and respect the needs of the students it was trying to support, merely providing students with the opportunities to share their stories warrants a success.

Ultimately, this project has taught me that, while the final product of my project is not exactly what I had envisioned at the outset of this project, it is more important to formulate projects for communities based on their specific needs. Through this project, I was able to successfully provide opportunities for the Latin American Youth Center to address two of my research findings pertaining to inequalities faced by immigrant students: inequitable resource distribution and lacking cultural proficiency. While only the first portion was executed to the level of success I had envisioned, my partnership with the Latin American Youth Center has shown me that the success of the second portion of my project came by providing the opportunities for students and respecting their needs to meet them where they are. This allowed me to hand the power I have been given to these students who have had their power systematically taken from them.

You can watch my full project presentation here

An Idea

         As a part of the School of Public Affairs Leadership program, I spent the fall 2020 semester researching the inequities that immigrant students face in educational settings. Over the course of the spring semester, I am implementing a project to address the three main findings of my research: inadequate teacher preparation/cultural proficiency, networks for advocacy between students and their teachers, and resource distribution. This project will support immigrant and other marginalized students through fulfilling a resource-based needs assessment and by utilizing the journalism opportunities on American University’s campus to help elevate student voices. The first portion of this project is being achieved using money from the Eagle Endowment Office’s Martin Luther King Jr. grant allocated according to survey results from a local D.C. non-profit: the Latin American Youth Center. The second portion of this project is aiming to utilize opportunities with WAMU or other journalism opportunities to interview marginalized students. Through these interviews I hope to elevate the cultural proficiency of listeners, specifically teachers and peers, and help students practice their advocacy skills.

          Over the course of creating this project, I have come to realize how many people it takes to create An Idea (with an uppercase “I”) as opposed to ideas (with a lowercase “I”). When I chose my research topic, I started with an idea: as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and refugee to the United States, I wanted to research something pertaining to immigration. After pouring through surface level data about immigration research currently being conducted, a culmination of other people’s ideas, I decided that my interests, previous experience, and deficits in the research I was reading best directed me to researching education and immigration. As I continued to account for more researchers’ and scholars’, immigrants’ and professors’ ideas, my research question shifted from “how does a student’s immigration status affect their emotional, social, and academic development and success during their primary and secondary education?” to “given the inequities faced by students who are immigrants from countries where English is not the primary language, how can education systems and community partners ensure that teacher preparedness programs and relationships between schools and immigrant communities most benefit the emotional, social, and academic success of and resource distribution for students who are immigrants from countries where English is not the primary language?”

         After months of compiling research, I thought I had a good idea regarding the social action project I wanted to complete. Then, I met with Troy Boddy, the Director of the Montgomery County Public School’s Equity Initiatives Unit. I met with Monica Behn, the Coordinator of American University’s Eagle Endowment Council. I met with Marcy Campos, the Director of American University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service. I met with SPA Leadership second-year teaching assistant Olivia Phillips again and again and again. My final concretized, realistic, implementable, effective Idea (with an uppercase “I”) was a labor not only from my own head and of my own heart but from and by collaboration with the heads and hearts around me. From this project, I have come to realize that an idea turns into An Idea when it considers as many options and incorporates as many points of view as possible to achieve a collectively desired goal, together. 

Leadership Growth

When I was in fifth grade, our teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Ten year old Natalie was indecisive: did I want to be a doctor? A veterinarian? A teacher? A firefighter? The opportunities at that point felt endless. What I settled on at the time was proudly announcing that, when I grew up, I wanted to be making the world a better place. Over the decade since that conclusion, I have remained true to that narrative. Did I want to be a teacher? A journalist? A lawyer? I didn’t know and I still don’t know. But I do know that I want to be making the world a better place. Over the next decade, I hope to stay true to ten year old, gap-toothed Natalie and be striving to be a leader (wherever it is that I lead) that is helping to make the world a better place. 

As I continue on my leadership journey, growing as a leader who is making the world a better place, I hope to continuously and consciously cultivate and strengthen my ability to achieve my goals while maintaining and being driven by my own moral compass (Segon & Booth), considering the moral compasses and perspectives of others (Key Executive Leadership Programs), and promoting strong supportive communities to help foster and apply morality and empathy amongst the people that I influence (Kluger et al). As was emphasized in Kluger et al’s “What Makes Us Moral,” I believe that expanding my empathy, compassion, and general sense of community to people who aren’t in the same communities (in all the different circumstances where the word “community” can apply) as I am is essential in making the world a better place. Whether we share the same ideas, ideals, or leadership styles, I hope that my personal leadership and leadership cultivation focuses on the inclusion of community, empathy, and compassion to as many people as possible. While that is difficult in our highly polarized, individualized, and inequitable society, I hope to gain the skills and understanding to continue to fight back against that internal and external resistance to truly be a leader that helps make the world a better place.


Works Cited

Key Executive Leadership Programs. Emotional Intelligence. Powerpoint Presentation. Accessed 2 Feb 2021. 

Kluger, Jeffrey et al. “What Makes Us Moral.” Time Magazine, TIME USA LLC, 12 April 2019, pp. 8-15, ISBN: 1547848383. 

Segon, Michael and Chris Booth. “Virtue: The Missing Ethics Element in Emotional Intelligence.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 128, no. 4, Springer, June 2015, pp. 789-802, doi: 10.1007/s10551-013-2029-z.