Doctoral Student Sarah Lowe Receives $57,500 National Geographic Grant

UMass Amherst Community Health Education doctoral student Sarah Lowe

Sarah Lowe

March 25, 2019

Sarah Lowe, a doctoral student in the Community Health Education program in the Department of Health Promotion and Policy, has received a $57,500 grant from the National Geographic Society to facilitate her dissertation research.

“I was speechless when I got the news that I would become an official National Geographic ‘Explorer,’” says Lowe. “I still remember reading National Geographic Magazine in my elementary school library and the way it helped me learn about the world beyond the sleepy cornfields of Indiana where I grew up.”

Lowe works as a Digital Strategist for Define American, a non-profit media organization that uses the power of story to shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America. In 2012, Define American helped 30 undocumented immigrants across the nation come out publicly about their status in a TIME Magazine cover story that directly influenced the policy decision of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) under the Obama Administration and fundamentally changed the way the nation viewed the undocumented community.

The National Geographic project, tentatively titled, "American Dreamin': Rediscovering a 'Nation of Immigrants,'" follows up with these 30 individuals, documenting the ways in which their lives have unfolded since becoming public and exploring the positive and negative effects of “coming out” about their undocumented status around their mental health and wellbeing.

“Through my work with Define American, I have witnessed the remarkable fortitude of our undocumented communities in the U.S. and also the toll that it takes on the lives of people who have no legal pathway to citizenship. My doctoral studies are in Community Health Education and, while the research seeks to strengthen wellbeing in the undocumented population, publication in National Geographic would go a long way toward contributing to greater understanding in the wider U.S. population as well as the world.”

Adds Aline Gubrium, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Policy and Lowe’s faculty advisor, “I am utterly delighted that Sarah received the National Geographic grant. Sarah works at the cutting edge of critical narrative health intervention and ethnography, and has been working with Define American in the past year and a half to apply her academic know-how on the ground to address rampant social inequality experienced by undocumented communities in the U.S. Her work is transformative for the field of public health.”

Lowe’s formative research through this project seeks to determine the effectiveness of digital storytelling as an intervention strategy with undocumented immigrants, striving to learn from their coping mechanisms and increase resilience within and around their communities. By employing an interpretive policy approach, she will explore the ways undocumented immigrants cope with acculturation stress and make sense of immigration policies in the context of their lived experiences.

“Ultimately, I hope to create deeper understanding of why families migrate, how they find resilience, and document their enduring struggle to achieve the American dream: citizenship and the pursuit of happiness in the country they call home,” says Lowe.

Lowe will begin her fieldwork in fall 2019, which will culminate in an interactive essay exclusive for National Geographic publication.