PSTC celebrates faculty seed awards

March 4, 2021

Four PSTC faculty associates have received 2021 Research Seed Awards to conduct research in areas including transit networks in developing countries, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on first-generation college students, and the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on Pacific Islander communities in New Zealand and the United States.

Through his project, “Informal Transit Networks in Emerging Cities,” Assistant Professor of Economics Daniel Björkegren will use data technology and a collaboration with the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority to investigate how informal transit systems (such as decentralized private bus companies) in Lagos, Nigeria respond to the city’s introduction of formal, government-owned and regulated buses. The study will also examine how these new transit options affect riders and operators.

“In most developing country cities, transit is private—run by decentralized networks of buses,” Björkegren explained. “Many of these cities are growing quickly, and deciding what form of transit to invest in. I'm excited that our study will help us understand how these informal networks interact with formal transit, to help emerging cities plan the future of transportation.”

In another project, “Disrupted Dreams: Understanding the Impact of Covid-19 on the Life Projects of First-Generation College Students and their Parents,” Assistant Professor of Anthropology Kate Mason and Assistant Professor of Education Andrea Flores, along with University of Connecticut anthropologist Sarah Willen, will utilize records from the Pandemic Journaling Project (PJP)—an online journaling platform launched by Mason and Willen to chronicle everyday Americans’ experiences during the pandemic—to gauge how COVID-19 has affected first-generation college students. Through online journal records, interviews, focus groups and a photo exhibition, the researchers hope to answer questions about how the pandemic has impacted the content or trajectory of the life projects of college students and their families.

“First-gen students are resourceful and tenacious, often carrying their families' aspirations with them as they pursue higher education,” Flores noted. “The pandemic has led to a lot of educational disruption and dysfunction that poses unique challenges to these students as they pursue these collective dreams. We wanted to focus on how they and their loved ones are creatively navigating and making sense of these obstacles, with the hope of providing the universities we work with constructive information on how to best support students' educational success and well-being.”

“We've been hearing from a lot of first-gen students who are already contributing to PJP and felt that it was really critical to highlight their voices and experiences and also those of their parents, and to figure out how as educators we can do better in helping them and their families reach their goals during this really difficult period,” Mason added.

In another project examining the pandemic’s effects on a marginalized group, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies Kevin Escudero and his co-investigators, UCLA’s Keith Camacho and University of Auckland’s Maryann Nanette Anesi Heather, will explore the experiences of Pacific Islander communities in New Zealand and the United States. In both nations, Pacific Islanders have been diagnosed with and suffered the impact of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. 

Through the project “Unmasking COVID-19: Pacific Islanders, Health Equity, and Survival in New Zealand and the United States,” Escudero and his co-investigators aim to investigate and compare the historical and structural factors of Pacific Islander communities in each nation. He commented, "In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic's disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, including Pacific Islanders in Oceania and across the diaspora, this project aims to shed light on the critically important ways that grassroots, community-based organizations have worked to meet the needs of Pacific Islander community members during these difficult times."

The team plans to share the importance of reconciling national and community-based narratives during the pandemic by writing Op-Ed pieces, a research paper, and developing a website that showcases the virus’s impact on individuals’ everyday lives and highlights community-based responses to the pandemic. They additionally aim to build the project by including additional nations and territories across the Pacific region.

Congratulations to Björkegren, Mason, Flores, Escudero and their co-investigators.