Interdisciplinary Projects Key to Understanding Issues

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Selena Tran assisted Prof. Khanh Dinh, a CAAS faculty member, with research concerning Asian-American communities and food preferences to learn about cultural changes. Photo by Meghan Moore.

By Julia Gavin

The UMass Lowell Center for Asian American Studies (CAAS), launched in 2013, is already humming with grants and community partnerships.

English Prof. Sue Kim, co-director, along with psychology Assoc. Prof. Ivy Ho, lead an interdisciplinary group of core faculty and associates working to understand and benefit Asian-American communities. The center collaborates across departments to create suggestions for health, cultural and educational initiatives that help gather information while building relationships between the university and organizations supporting the Asian-American community locally and nationally.

“There are a lot of one-off relationships that happen between organizations that result in projects and we hope to be a point of contact for the research community looking at this field,” says Kim.

The center’s research focus also creates opportunities for students. Selena Tran, a psychology major, is one of several students working with Kim and Ho.

“I’m excited to be a part of CAAS to both learn more about the wonderful cultures it covers and  gain more research experience,” says Tran, who is identifying opportunities for the center. In a future project, she will assess how the Angkor Dance Troupe, a Lowell-based Cambodian traditional arts organization formed in 1986, impacts the community. “Conducting and presenting my research is preparing me for what I would like to do in the future.”

Two of the largest projects linked to the center focus on success and education within the Asian-American community. “Understanding Triumphs and Challenges of Immigration: A Model for Economic and Social Integration Success” will study the Acre Family Child Care system in Lowell, which enables many immigrants to become financially stable through work caring for others. This psychology research project is funded by the UMass President's Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and  is being conducted by CAAS core faculty, including Prof. Khanh Dinh (PI), Prof. Allyssa McCabe (Co-PI) and Ho (Co-PI). The project focuses on immigrant women in Lowell, including Cambodian and Latina participants. The team will assess its strengths and challenges with the goal of helping other communities implement similar programs.

“Southeast Asian-American College Readiness” will assess first-year student success within the community by working with university students and faculty members. The study is part of a partnership with UMass Boston’s Asian American Student Success Program and will strengthen inter-campus relationships.

“There’s a community-based need for much of this research,” says Kim, who is a co-primary investigator for the college readiness study led by Asst. Prof. Phitsamay Uy. “Other researchers are coming to Lowell to meet with our community members. We have an excellent opportunity to connect directly to people who will benefit from our work.”