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University of Northern Colorado recognizes professor Kyle Anne Nelson

By Anna Evans
On April 29, 2013

In 2012, UNC created the Award for Excellence in Social Science Engaged Research, and now in its second year, the award targets faculty at the university who display exemplary participation in civic and social engagement. This year, the award, including a $1,000 research grant, was given to Kyle Anne Nelson, an assistant professor of sociology.


Nelson, who is in her fourth year of teaching at the University of Northern Colorado, worked closely with the Global Refugee Center (GRC) to gather information about the growing refugee population in Greeley. She applied her work to her classroom and gave her students an opportunity to learn by doing.


"We have a faculty committee who review applicants and Dr. Nelson was the unanimous choice," said Teresa McDevitt, professor of psychological sciences and member of the awarding committee. "She's done a lot of exemplary work in the community with the immigrant population. She's given students the opportunity to work in the community."


Nelson, who was raised in Colorado, said she always had an interest in immigration.


"Before coming to UNC, my research focused on Hispanic immigrants and integration issues," she said. "Coming here, I met colleagues with similar interests and learned of the bourgeoning refugee population here in Greeley. I had no idea that we have a really rapidly-growing refugee population from east Africa and Asia."


According to Nelson, 3,000 or more refugees have come to Greeley since 2007, the majority coming from Burma (Myanmar) and Somalia. However, there are refugees from more than 30 countries in Greeley alone.


"They are large families with low incomes. They need English assistance, they need integration assistance," Nelson said. "So I connected with the Global Refugee Center through UNC's growing community engagement focus."


The GRC, located north of campus at 1424 13th Ave., offers services to refugees and the general immigrant community. It offers ESL, GED and citizenship classes, as well as tips on how to pay bills, operate appliances, attain employment and understand laws.


"We've worked with Dr. Nelson for about a year," said Alexandra Walker, a program coordinator for the Global Refugee Center. "She's streamlined all of our client intake forms and all of our case logs to give us a picture of the number of people that we've served. She's done really intensive migration history work to see where the refugees that live here in Greeley are coming from and how they got to Greeley."


The GRC members were thrilled to have Nelson's classes come to the center and learn more about the refugee population. She is now a member of the board of directors.


"I think that Dr. Nelson is an extremely passionate person," Walker said. "She's really passionate, really deserving of an award, has really gone above and beyond trying to help GRC and help the refugee community through research."


The ability to combine her efforts of classroom education and real-world application is something Nelson said she really savors.


"There's been a good synergy of what I can do in the classroom, what I can do in the community, and what I can do as a professional sociologist in gathering data and getting it out into my field," she said. "As a sociologist, it's a great feeling to be able to experience, 'I'm teaching it, I'm living it, and I'm professionally producing it.' We live these perspectives in our own lives. You can affect change and be a good citizen no matter what your professional occupation."


Her passion for studying the immigrant and refugee population extends to the people she helps, as well.


"A lot of the people here have experienced unbelievable trauma and loss, but are here and it's just a completely different reality," she said. "Getting used to things like traffic, not to mention the language, not to mention perhaps feeling discriminated against by our culture, it's a huge adjustment.
"It's really interesting research. It's so different for me, having had such a passion for examining Hispanic immigration issues, to think about all the different stresses and challenges for immigrants from Latin America, but the bulk of east African and Asian refugees that we see, the traumatic experiences that they've had are really different and a sharp contrast."


Through the university, Nelson hopes to encourage more community engagement.


"This award and our university are really pushing us toward making the world a better place right here in our community," she said. "It's better for our students to see that interaction, and it's better for us to strengthen our community and apply our expertise in meaningful ways as opposed to just talking amongst ourselves. It's exciting that this type of work is being promoted here at UNC."


Nelson plans to use her research grant to funnel resources back into the community, by offering incentives for refugees to help each other.


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