The benefits of online learning are many. Notably, the flexibility to learn when and from where you want is a key draw, especially for those seeking a master’s degree while working full-time and balancing all of life’s responsibilities.
But what if you’re looking for hands-on research opportunities typically reserved for on-campus students? ASU Online is expanding such opportunities for our students, with one such example being the recently launched immigration research group for students in our Master of Arts in social justice and human rights program.
The research group was developed by Dr. Allan Colbern, an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and an author who has covered the passage of immigration relation policies in America. Building on that work, the group’s research focuses on how national, state and local news sources frame immigrants and immigration policies. Students in the research group are trained on how to:
- Collect news articles systematically.
- Develop specific research questions on immigration and framing in news.
- Build and apply coding schemes using Nvivo software.
- Engage in all steps of empirical analysis and writing of journal articles.
“I provide mentorship to students as a group and individually,” Dr. Colbern said, “but the group’s success is dependent on students themselves taking on leadership roles in the group and project. We’re actively developing three journal articles together, presenting at conferences and have plans to submit our first article for review in January 2022.”
We spoke with Dr. Colbern and two of the social justice and human rights master’s program students who are participating in the research group, Mapi Baez Lara and Katie Glenn. Read on to learn all about their experience:
Dr. Allan Colbern
What inspired you to form the online student immigration research group?
Our Master of Arts in social justice and human rights online program launched in 2020, and I quickly noticed important differences between our existing on-campus program and the new online program.
A staple of our on-campus program is the thesis and applied projects which offer students invaluable and individualized training from faculty. In fact, my most memorable moments at ASU have been mentoring students as their thesis or applied project chair. I wanted to support our online students in this fashion but realized this couldn’t be done in the same way as with our on-campus students. But there was also a lot of student interest within our online program for faculty mentorship, especially around research. The idea to form the immigration research group began there.
I had to be creative to make the opportunity accessible in the online environment with non-traditional students. The research group is structured so that students and I work closely together on collaborative research focusing on immigration in the United States. The opportunity to join was made available to all online students who expressed interest, and I left it up to them to be able to commit to the work. Nine students committed and now form the inaugural immigration research group cohort.
I intentionally established the research group to build on my past academic work, providing ample space for mentoring students on all stages of research and advocacy. Having the research group become a space for mentoring students on immigration-specific research and advocacy was important to me. I’m not just training students on how to conduct research, but also how to become strong immigration scholars or advocates. It’s been a true joy getting to know each of my students’ personal connection to immigration and activism as we build our research together.
Can any student in the online social justice and human rights master’s program get involved in this research group?
Yes, all students from our online program can join the research group, and it’s open to on-campus students as well.
This group is unique in that it can extend past graduation if the student so chooses. I encourage some students to remain in the group if it benefits them, especially if publishing an article that they have been working on or some aspect of our immigration work will strengthen their future candidacy for PhD programs or career positions.
Do students need to travel to participate in the research or can it be done remotely?
All of the group’s research can be done entirely remotely. Our focus has been on news articles and interviews, but we’re in the process of designing an experimental survey that complements the current work.
The beauty of this group is that we’ve worked to make sure it’s accessible from a technological standpoint. We utilize various platforms, such as Zoom, Slack, and OneDrive, to work collaboratively. I create and post video recordings of the major steps, such as how to use Nvivo (to code or analyze data), how to write a literature review and how to present slides in a conference setting. I also record and post our weekly group meetings.
Video recordings are essential to building our sense of community, to training students and to facilitating the collaborative process. I'm learning a lot through the research group on how to design my online courses and engage online students.
Are there any reasons you’d recommend a student in this master’s degree program not participate in the research group? Would it not be a good fit for some?
A lot of our online students work full-time jobs, are unable to make regular live Zoom meetings or have no interest in research or collaborating. Additionally, ASU Online classes are compressed into 7.5-week sessions during the spring and fall semesters, and 6-week sessions during summer. The immigration research group requires a much longer commitment and therefore isn't a good fit for everyone.
Students should strongly align with our group’s research interests, want to work collaboratively and be able to commit time and energy over the span of at least one year. This is a tremendous opportunity but also one that requires genuine commitment.
I regularly check in with the group and emphasize that this work should be an opportunity for them – not something that takes the focus away from succeeding in their coursework and not something that causes stress or work-life imbalance. Joining the immigration research group is a big commitment, but it’s structured so students can step up to lead at certain moments of the year, and so they can also step away and return when they have more time. Our group of nine have been wonderful at communicating their needs and availability, which has been essential to our success in working together.
Katie Glenn and Mapi Baez Lara
Katie Glenn and Mapi Baez Lara co-presented the research group’s first paper, Crimmigration Framing in Immigration Federalism, at the Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium (PRIEC) held at the University of North Texas in November 2021.
“I’m proud to say that Katie and Mapi are the first two graduate students in our newly launched online program to present work at a conference like this, and we were able to support their travel with funds in our program,” said Dr. Colbern. “Our group is working this winter to finish the work Katie and Mapi presented at PRIEC, which we’ll be submitting for review at the International Migration Review in January 2022.”
Dr. Colbern added, “I’ve been incredibly impressed by these two young scholars, especially their work ethic. Online collaboration with nine students has been exciting but also a transition and learning experience for me. I owe a lot to Katie and Mapi for helping coordinate our meetings and collaborative environment. Other students in the group are co-authors behind Katie and Mapi, and they've also been essential to the group’s success.”
What inspired you to get involved in the research group in addition to your regular studies?
Katie: My interest in academia and research has grown immensely throughout my time in the social justice and human rights master’s program. I wanted to explore this research opportunity because I knew that having mentorship from Dr. Colbern would be vital to my success. His scholarship and activism in immigrant rights aligned perfectly with my academic and professional goals of connecting public policy with social justice movements.
Mapi: My lived experiences and my desire to advocate for, create social consciousness for and defend human rights inspired me to get involved. I’m committed to advancing immigrant rights, with a particular interest in undocumented populations. I wanted the opportunity to focus on my interests and utilize my knowledge in intersectional justice fields towards meaningful and tangible research with like-minded individuals. The research group offers that under the guidance of Dr. Colbern, who is a highly accomplished scholar, passionate about leading others and whose work aligns perfectly with the area of research we are conducting together.
What have been your responsibilities as a member of the research group?
Katie: Each of the group’s members play a unique and important role. Some students are more interested in data collection, some are interested in analysis and others in presenting.
I quickly took on a leadership role, along with Mapi, to grow my skills in all aspects of the research process. I began by creating a Slack channel for the research, coordinating roles that each of us would play and scheduling weekly meetings to build the project into something we could be proud of and possibly publish. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could by taking the lead in each step, from data collection, coding, various types of analysis and writing.
Mapi and I drafted and submitted abstracts for the group’s work to the PRIEC. We also developed abstracts that were all accepted for other political science conferences.
Dr. Colbern emphasized that we students should lead in the process of submitting to conferences, and he integrated providing feedback on abstracts and helped develop our presentations for the conference during our group meetings.
Mapi: Given my affinity for the field and scholarship that we’re building upon, I’ve injected myself into all aspects of the research process.
Most of my responsibilities mirror that of the group, such as article collection, coding, developing the research questions, content analysis, review of scholarship and development of our abstracts and journal articles. Where I’ve taken on a more active leading role, along with Katie, is in overseeing details and management of the project and supporting the group’s communication, engagement and organization. Coordinating schedules for meetings and tracking progress on various aspects of our research were two ways in which I helped drive the progression of our research.
What’s your experience working in the group been like?
Mapi: The experience has been revolutionary. It’s shaped how I think about research, the work I want to do and how I can accomplish that. I’m learning so much about the research process and what it takes to produce collaborative work.
There are challenges with working in a completely remote online environment. It requires a lot of time, commitment, flexibility and adaptability. Technology is playing a key role, and we’ve not been shy about integrating new approaches and creative ways to interact and complete work. Working together so closely, day in and day out, has allowed relationships to evolve naturally, and we can leverage each other for support and guidance. I love that our research process is a group effort, and I can learn from each member’s perspectives, experiences and knowledge, allowing for creating a genuinely unique and diverse collaborative project.
Katie: Working solely in an online environment in a group hasn’t been easy at times, yet it was apparent early on how invested everyone was, especially Dr. Colbern. A willingness to collaborate and be innovative in our communication through technology has allowed our group to seamlessly and cohesively carry out research.
When presenting our work recently at a national conference, attendees were shocked to learn that Mapi and I had only met in person the day before. It was a great opportunity to showcase just how well online collaborations can work if done effectively. Online learning can often feel disconnected, but this group has proven that with a little bit of innovation and a lot of dedication, the connections that are built can be just as, if not more, valuable than in-person.
As an adult student with a family and a professional life outside of school, the online learning environment was the best option for my education. And the immigration research group has given me opportunities that I didn’t think possible. I’m now applying to on-campus PhD programs with new aspirations for building an academic career.
What has been most rewarding about the experience?
Mapi: There have been many rewarding aspects to this experience. Most notably, the genuine and interactive mentorship I’m receiving is unlike any opportunity I’ve been a part of, and it’s playing a pivotal role in my growth. Dr. Colbern’s hands-on approach fosters the development of our skills, and it’s strengthening my career path. With my professional goal focused on supporting and advocating for underrepresented populations, this experience gives me the tools and knowledge to be an agent for change within these communities.
Additionally, coming from a family of immigrants and being one myself, this work is very meaningful. I feel privileged to be in a position where I am contributing important work towards the advancement and empowerment of my community. Through our work, I’m actively representing the population on which our research focuses. I am intimately familiar with the challenges and barriers faced by immigrant and undocumented communities. My collaboration allows me to utilize my agency against hostile rhetoric that plagues the media and politics. Through my active participation in this group, I’m positioning myself to take the skills and knowledge onto a larger platform that more directly and practically supports immigrants and undocumented individuals.
Katie: The two most rewarding things about this group has been both the invaluable experience and training from the hands-on research process, but also from the mentorship and relationships built.
Having such a strong foundation of support and guidance from Dr. Colbern has opened new doors and given me tools to propel me forward in my academic and professional career. The relationships and opportunities from being part of this group are paving new and exciting goals for me.
I had always toyed with the idea of pursuing a PhD and being a part of this group has solidified this goal for me. I’m now in the process of applying for PhD programs, mostly in political science. This research experience has given me invaluable resources and helps me stand out in the PhD application pool. It also helped me discover my own interests and how I hope to contribute to the scholarly community.
What advice would you give to prospective students who want to get involved in the research group?
Katie: The one thing I would say for those who are interested in this opportunity is … do it! Because it’s a volunteer group, everyone knows we all have our own personal lives on top of this research. The experience is what you make of it and there’s an understanding that there will be ebbs and flows in the amount of time each person can dedicate to the group. Each member has the chance to contribute what they care to and each is valuable to the overall success of the group.
Mapi: Having good time management skills is essential since the group requires time and commitment in addition to that required for our coursework.
I find that individuals who pursue an online program are often non-traditional students, working and going to school on a full-time basis in addition to being parents, partners and caregivers. Committing to more work in the program, such as this research group, often seems inconceivable. However, the group allows members to decide their level of engagement. It’s an environment in which you get what you put into it. I highly encourage anyone interested in propelling their academic and professional careers and having a unique online graduate experience to embark on this journey.