Signature Experience Award recipient studies life, growth, and challenges in Texas immigrant community

In the 1970s, a small group of international students from the Federated States of Micronesia at Corsicana, Texas, founded what has become a burgeoning community of hundreds of Micronesian immigrants. 

Since last fall, Nicole Ursin, a senior anthropology major at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been conducting original research on the immigrants. She is able to do the research as one of more than 100 undergraduates who received a $1,000 grant to conduct research as part of UA Little Rock’s Signature Experience Award Program.

Since beginning her research, Ursin has visited Corsicana on multiple occasions to meet with community leaders and other longtime residents to learn about daily life in the community and why it has continued to grow.

“Most choose to stay because Corsicana is a small, quiet town that doesn’t have all the rush and stress of a big city. The Federated States of Micronesia also has an agreement with the United States where its citizens are allowed to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely,” she said.

Ursin is also looking into the unique challenges they face in their community, as well as how issues from their home islands over 11,000 miles away continue to affect them.

“Micronesia was just hit by a major tropical storm a few weeks ago, which devastated much of the islands’ crops by flooding them with seawater,” Ursin said. “Since then, it’s been more difficult for Corsicana residents to access imported staple foods like taro and breadfruit. The Corsicana community has been working to raise funds to send rice back to their home islands.”

Ursin credits her faculty mentor with introducing her to the Corsicana community and providing her with access to community leaders.

“The man who currently leads the community is one of Dr. Juliana Flinn’s former students, and we’ve both been welcomed into it because of that,” Ursin said.

Throughout this process, Ursin herself has also gained valuable practical experience in anthropology.

“In the early stages of this project, I learned from Dr. Flinn the basics of proper anthropological field work. I’ve done anthropological work in museums before but actual field work was completely unknown to me, and I’m very thankful that Dr. Flinn was there with me to show me exactly what to do,” Ursin said.

After finishing her research, Ursin hopes the lessons she has learned from doing the research and the experiences in the field will land her a career in anthropology.

“My interest overall isn’t just in Micronesia but in transnationalism and community development overall,” she said. “This research is helping me further understanding how a community develops in one specific area, why people stay, and how a city can help these communities that grow within them thrive.”

Overall, Ursin is thankful for the experience she gained from the Signature Experience Award program and encourages other students to look into the program.

“If you have a solid project in mind and a good mentor, you should definitely do it,” Ursin said. “On my own I couldn’t have gone to Texas and met all these people or know what to do when I met them. It’s an experience I’ll remember for a long time.”

Ursin will be a member of a research panel discussion where she will discuss her research at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Works Expo on Thursday, April 18.

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