Support Networks, Mentoring Key to Immigrant Youth Success

CCAS student Ivana Mowry-Mora is researching how young immigrants in Northern Virginia have been impacted by DACA.

February 28, 2019

Ivana research

Junior Ivana Mowry-Mora combines her passion for geography and Latinx issues as part of an undergraduate research project on young immigrants. (William Atkins/ GW Today)

By Kristen Mitchell

George Washington University junior Ivana Mowry-Mora, a Cisneros scholar majoring in geography, is researching the impact of support networks and mentorship on immigrant youth pursuing higher education. She hopes to add to the body of knowledge that supporting young people, regardless of their immigration status, has a profound impact on individual lives.

Ms. Mowry-Mora is working with the Dream Project, a local nonprofit dedicated to mentoring and offering financial support for students whose immigration status creates barriers to higher education. She is analyzing five years of survey data the organization has collected from students in Northern Virginia to evaluate how they have been impacted by their DACA status and to identify what attributes have helped them be successful.

Virginia is a newer destination state for immigrants, which means there is not a substantial body of research on immigrant youth in Northern Virginia compared to places like New York, Texas and California, Ms. Mowry-Mora said. Existing literature shows that being a DACA recipient has a huge impact on the financial and institutional support students are able to receive. It also impacts a student’s access to internships and other employment opportunities.

Having access to a support network and mentors can make all the difference for immigrant youth, Ms. Mowry-Mora said.

“These networks are crucial to these students because a lot of times institutional support is lacking,” she said. “The support networks can actually help them succeed and bring them more success in dealing with higher education.”

Ms. Mowry-Mora received a Cisneros Undergraduate Research Fellowship to pursue this project, an award for undergraduate students interested in conducting research on an issue facing the Latino and Hispanic communities. She spent last summer coding and  analyzing the survey data collected by the Dream Project. Ms. Mowry-Mora and her adviser Marie Price, a geography professor who has a longstanding relationship with the organization, held focus groups with recent graduates and current college students to discuss the challenges they have faced and what has helped them succeed.

“Supporting these students is necessary because these populations exist and will continue to exist and be part of this country,” Ms. Mowry-Mora said. “It’s important that we support them as best we can.”

Ms. Mowry-Mora and Dr. Price traveled to Austin, Texas, in October to give a presentation about this research at the Race, Ethnicity, and Place conference, which focused on civil and human rights. Ms. Mowry-Mora also plans to present her work at Research Days in April. She said this project has given her the opportunity to combine two of her passions— the Latinx community and human geography, the interaction between humans and the Earth and between different populations of people.

While she came to GW with plans to study international affairs, an introduction to human geography class sparked her love for the subject. She became fascinated with a project on Mongolia, and how even within one country the religious demographics can reveal layers of historic context and a wealth of stories.

“Geography shows a passion for the world around you, such a curiosity for the world around you that I really appreciated, and I love the openness of the department to collaborate,” she said.

Over time, Ms. Mowry-Mora found that she didn’t necessarily want to be a diplomat or work directly in policy, but that she enjoyed the intense curiosity and passion that researchers have for discovery. The research she does now intersects with sociology, education, economics and other disciplines.

“Creating research that can affect policy and can impact lives is really a powerful thing,” she said. “The possibilities within this work to do so much good are endless.”

Ms. Mowry-Mora works closely with Elizabeth Vaquera, director of Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute, who encouraged her to get involved with research and apply for funding. Over the past year, Dr. Vaquera has seen her mentee find her own voice in the research process as she’s learned how to ask critical questions.

All undergraduate students, no matter their major, should experiment with research, Dr. Vaquera said. Doing research gives students from all disciplines valuable skills that translate to every facet of their academic success.

“You will never know if you like research unless you do it, and the experience of working with a professor is very different than working with other students or by yourself,” she said. “I would encourage every student to engage in research before they graduate to at least try it once, and then they can decide if that’s their passion or not.”

Ms. Mowry-Mora encourages other students to ask questions and to pursue disciplines that excite them. They should talk to professors who research these subjects and ask about opportunities to get involved in their work, she said.

Dr. Price agreed and said most faculty are happy to bring in new undergraduate students to get involved in their ongoing projects.

“There are ways to make opportunities happen, and it usually begins with a conversation,” she said.

To learn more about available research opportunities contact the GW Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research.