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Sociology Student Learns by Doing Research

Project Studies Side Effects of Rise in Deportation

UMass Lowell Image
Senior Sociology major Danielle Cole, left, is working on research directed by Psychology Asst. Prof. Jana Sladkova about the effects of deportation on immigrant children.

By Sandra Seitz

Like many students entering college, Danielle Cole had trouble deciding on her major. 

“I tried a number of different things,” says Cole, a senior at UMass Lowell. “Then hearing (political activist) Angela Davis speak really inspired me to choose sociology. I thought it would be a good place to read and write, to study things deeply.” 

Now Cole is learning deeply in a new way: she’s participating in interdisciplinary research on the effects of deportation on children in immigrant communities. She applied for the position through UMass Lowell’s Emerging Scholars Program, designed to engage advanced undergraduate students in scholarly research.

“Danielle has been involved from the beginning, preparing the detailed proposal and reviewing the research literature,” says Asst. Prof. Jana Sladkova, who co-directs the study with Prof. Allyssa McCabe, both of the Psychology Department. Sladkova also recruited psychology students – senior Cory Cascalheira and graduate student Isabel Cano – to work on the project.

“My way of collaboration with students is like working with colleagues,” says Sladkova. “I provide the opportunity and support and they are doing real research, fully credited.” 

The study investigates the experiences of immigrant children, particularly Latino children, in a time when frequent deportations are disrupting their communities. 

“About 25 percent of Lowell residents are foreign-born – twice the national average,” says Sladkova. “A few years ago, there were some large, public raids on companies, but now it’s more hidden – deportations are happening one by one. For families that came here from war-torn regions or a police state, that night-time knock on the door is very frightening.” 

The researchers are working with community partner Acre Family Child Care to find participating day care providers and children aged 4 to 9 who can be interviewed. Even though they are interested in the effects of deportation and hope to provide insight on the issue, the researchers never ask children or families about deportation or about immigration status.

“For interviewing, we learn to be neutral in our manner, never to give an emotional reaction,” says Sladkova. “At first it feels very unnatural.”

While it is too early for any results, Cole recently presented a research poster on the project at a meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in New York. All the students on the team will present posters at UMass Lowell’s Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium and will be credited on the research paper to conclude the study.

Working across disciplines has been challenging and rewarding for Cole.

“I noticed differences during the literature review, that the psych students focused on different aspects of the findings,” she says, adding that sociology has a lot to contribute to the discussion, in terms of understanding how society works. 

Cole’s plans for the future include graduate studies, preferably a Ph.D. program. Beyond that, she is weighing the options of academic or community-based work. 

About the Emerging Scholars Program

Advanced undergraduate students in the humanities and social sciences have a unique opportunity to engage in a yearlong research project with a professor. Supported by the Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Vice Provost for Research, the Emerging Scholars Program is administered by the Center for Women and Work.

Students apply in the spring semester for the following year. Partnership contracts lay out the scope and expectations. Students receive stipends for their work, meet weekly with partnering professors and monthly – as a group – with a program coordinator. The program includes workshops on research topics, such as literature reviews and specialized software tools.