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Sara Smith (Principal Investigator). “Impacts of Education-Driven Urban Migration on Youth Aspirations and Identity” National Science Foundation Geography and Spatial Science Program Grant, BCS-1561072, ($250,000)2016-2019.
Around the world, young individuals, especially those who are rural, first generation, indigenous, and racialized minorities, seek educational opportunities in cities to improve their lives. This temporary migration and resulting encounters with different people and ways of life in the city has countless unintended consequences particularly for those from marginalized groups. As they leave their homes for major urban centers, they may experience increased exclusion but also may find new freedoms and a sense of cosmopolitan, national, and even transnational identity. As these youth complete their education or drop out, return to their homes or seek employment elsewhere, their migration experiences will alter relations between these members of marginalized groups and the nation-state. Geographers are well placed to investigate how young people from minority communities in remote regions experience urban migration and higher education; how they adapt to cultural difference and how this experience in turn affects their lives, their home communities and their understanding of belonging to the nation. This project will provide insight into crucial questions about how migration and higher education in the city informs the social aspirations and political identities of minority youth.

Through a multi-sited study of higher education-driven migration in South Asia, a region of critical geopolitical importance, this research will develop theoretical frameworks and methodologies for understanding a) the social and cultural impacts of migration for higher education – both for students and home communities; b) how daily life in an urban university context shapes the individual, collective, and territorial understandings of minority identity; and c) the central role that higher education plays in youth politics. In addition to these conceptual contributions, this project will d) develop a new methodological approach for working with minority youth and building research capacity among this crucial population. Dr. Sara Smith and her research team will use focus groups, in-depth interviews, a household survey, and a participatory media project to meet these objectives. The project will advance Dr. Smith’s geopolitics framework, which builds on advances in political geography to relate micro-scale experiences of daily life to macro-scale political phenomenon such as territorial conflict and nation-building. By bringing this framework to bear on migration, youth, and higher education, this project is expected to provide a new way to understand the relationship between minorities and the nation-state. The research will contribute to global geographies of higher education and political geographies of youth, encounter and cosmopolitanism. Dr. Mabel Gergan will be working with Dr. Smith as a postdoctoral research assistant on this project for the 2016-1017. Dr. Gergan is a recent graduate of the PhD program.

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