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The ecology of college success for immigrant youth

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
EducationPsychologyGrant: Adolescence
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Ended on 12/14/16
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About This Project

Immigrant youth experience opportunities and challenges at college that occur across different contexts of development. In an ongoing set of studies, we have explored immigrant adolescents' and young adults' perspectives about their lives in school, family, and neighborhood settings. This study attempts to understand the youth's viewpoint about factors that support personal and academic adjustment.

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What is the context of this research?

I wanted to give voice to Hmong American adolescents and youths so that their life perspective is readily available. What do they experience in their families, communities, and colleges? Asian Americans are one of the largest growing immigrant groups in the United States. Much recent research focuses on adolescents with Chinese heritage as this is the largest group in the United States. Southeast Asians are also important representatives of this population. The Hmong were a minority in their homeland of Laos and are often overlooked in research on Asian Americans, even when the focus is on Southeast Asians. The research that includes them is often problem focused and tends to neglect the important ways this group has adapted to life in the United States.

What is the significance of this project?

In pilot work, we found that Hmong American students express that they take a full year to adjust to the campus environment. Prior to this adjustment, they feel marginalized in many settings, even though support systems exist on campus. They also indicate that their family, peer, and college networks are often out of sync, making adjustment to college more challenging. Some stereotypes about how Asian families function do not consistently describe how Hmong American youths feel supported by their families. These connections become even more complicated when community factors are considered at the same time. As we conduct basic research with Hmong American youths, we want to share with their support networks to improve services that they receive.

What are the goals of the project?

We want to investigate how family and community factors together are associated with Hmong American college students adjustment both academically and socially. We want to understand from these youths how their parents teach them about race and ethnicity, teach them to be self sufficient, and provide emotional support. Next, we want to consider how family connections may occur differently when the surrounding community differs in economic standing and the presence of diverse families. These two broad factors, family socialization and community context, may help in the understanding of the youths' feelings of general well-being, having a sense of connectedness at college, and feeling mastery in college experiences.

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One of the biggest challenges in this work is having the youths participate, We can work with a student organization to support involvement in the study. Just a small amount to each student increases the likelihood that they will participate.

A student hourly can assist with research activities, such as collecting, organizing, and analyzing data. While furthering the research agenda, this also allows the student to receive research skills and build her vita. For this project, the student would sign up for research credits and then would also receive a stipend for some of the work.

Endorsed by

This is a timely and relevant project given the importance of higher education for ethnically diverse students. Susie Lamborn was my doctoral adviser and mentor. Since graduation, I have collaborated on research projects with her and we have published together. This project will have practical application and shed light on the daily lives and support systems that influence educational success for Hmong students.
This is a great study with potential to have a positive impact on Hmong college students' academic performance and retention. Researchers have largely overlooked Hmong students and Dr. Lamborn is known for conducting meaningful research. Findings from this study hold promise for immediate application.

Meet the Team

Susie Lamborn
Susie Lamborn
Associate Professor of Educational Psychology

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University of Wisconsin
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Shuang Wang
Shuang Wang
Graduate Student

Affiliates

University of Wisconsin
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Team Bio

Shuang, who is part of the team, is in my course on the Immigrant Child. She is reading to understand the war history that led the Hmong to the US. She is also investigating research articles on Hmong American adolescents and their families. The class is reading a memoir of a young woman who migrated to the US from Laos, via Thailand, when she was a child. They are exploring themes of identity and belonging, family acceptance, loss and resilience, and adjusting to change.

Susie Lamborn

I was a student in the Psychology Department at Pennsylvania State University. From there, I received my graduate training at the University of Denver, again in the Psychology Department. At Denver, I found my identity as a developmental psychologist. I have always been interested in adolescents' perspectives about their social lives. How do they view their relationships with parents, peers, and mentors? How do they view themselves in their relationships with others? I am the child of an immigrant. My mother raised 7 children on her own and did not attend college. However, this is something that she always wanted for me. I'm confident that my own past drives my ongoing interest in this topic. I see myself in these young people. I want them to thrive in the lives that they are constructing that require them to bridge across cultures of ethnicity, race, and social class.

Shuang Wang

Hi, I am Shuang from the Educational Statistics and Measurement program. This is my third year in the program. I am originally from China where I used to be a linguistic instructor in college. I mainly worked with college students from Mongolia, a minority group in China. They are the Mongolian people living on the Chinese side of the China-Mongolia border. They speak Mongolian as their mother tongue. Besides teaching them the Chinese language, I also enjoyed participating in their conversations about their minority identity and their future plans.

I have been in this program for two years. My current interest in immigrant or refugee children relates to my concern about the future of the minority identity in China. I found that some of them had realized they had a weaker minority identity due to the overwhelming mainstream culture. They have to speak very good Chinese if they wish to earn more working outside their hometown. Therefore, the trend is that fewer of the Mongolian students will be motivated to learn and use the Mongolian language, and it might finally disappear in China. I believe, even though the two are not the same, working with minority identity in China can certainly parallel the experience of working with immigrant or refugee children in the US.

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