On a campus championing “any person, any study,” two professors’ commitment to promoting this won them each a $15,000 award for their research.
Prof. Anthony Burrow, human development, and Prof. Maria Cristina Garcia, American studies, became the first recipients of the inaugural Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service Through Diversity on Jan. 30.
The award, which came to fruition through recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity, celebrates the professors’ commitment to “excellence through diversity” said President Martha E. Pollack in a University press release. Garcia and Burrow were chosen out of 33 tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Garcia — a proponent of securing protections for undocumented students in 2016 and contributor to op-eds in major publications like The Washington Post — specializes in researching immigration and refugees, according to the press release.
“Many of my students are first generation immigrants or the children of immigrants and they want to make sense of their experience and place it in some broader historical context,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Sun. “My courses offer them — all students, really — the opportunity to study American history from the perspective of immigrants.”
Through public advocacy, Garcia attempts to disassemble and confront what she believes are misconceptions about immigration.
Garcia currently teaches HIST 2551: U.S. Immigration Narratives, a course that examines the cultural history of immigration in the U.S.
“Immigrants are — and always have been — essential to nation building but they’re often left out of U.S. history textbooks,” Garcia wrote. “My courses try to address the gaps in our knowledge.”
Burrow, director of the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement –– a program that uses science to determine methods for “optimal youth development” –– told The Sun that his primary research focus is to understand what gives people a meaningful sense of direction in life.
“The two threads of my work are to think about purpose in life and how aspects of one’s racial identity both confer a kind of protection to everyday challenges and stress and helps them capitalize on everyday opportunities,” Burrow told The Sun.
His focus on the way in which racial identity and purpose impact a person’s life — especially a young person’s — has not only played an integral role in his research, but in his own life as well.
“They are constantly shaping the experiences I have with people,” Burrow said. “And I believe the same is true for students.”
While teaching HD 3510: Racial and Ethnic Identity Development, Burrow realized his class increased significantly in size because of a growing interest in learning about the societal and personal constructions of racial identities.
“It’s clear that there’s a desire to name these experiences and speak to things that really matter to people,” Burrow said. “To speak to these things through a classroom and to address these things in research, the reactions that happen are just further confirmation that they are speaking to real, significant aspects of people’s lived experience.”
Also a recipient of the 2019 Engaged Scholar Award, Burrow decided to use his award money to create the Contribution Project where 50 students and student groups had the opportunity to receive $400 to devote to a cause or project to give back to a community.
For the past four years, the Engaged Scholar Award has recognized innovative teaching approaches to “community-engaged scholarship that inspires students, colleagues and community partners alike.”
“It was weird to me to get an award and receive recognition of engaged scholarship without also recognizing those with whom I was engaged,” Burrow said.
Students from all academic backgrounds participated in the program, giving Burrow a new outlook on the importance of student perspectives.
“It brightened my experience on campus to know that I was surrounded by so many young people with wonderful ideas by reorienting my relationships with them,” Burrow said.
Burrow further contemplated the ways his research applies to students at Cornell and how it can improve the educational experience on campus.
“We asked everyone when they came in here, ‘What do you want to do?’” Burrow said. “We can actually listen to that voice and elevate it into our work a little bit more I think we would end up with more precise, sort of efficient educational experience for people.”