Community Engagement Can Go A Long Way!
Jody Lynn McBrien, Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, was awarded the Engagement Scholarship Research Award by the Florida Campus Compact, recognition of scholarly research that also brings real benefit to vulnerable communities. Her research, focused on refugees affected by the disruptive climates of civil revolutions and political warfare, helps teen refugees as they adjust to life in the United States.
In 2002, McBrien began volunteering at the Refugee Family Services (RFS) in Clarkston, GA. While working at one of the largest refugee communities in the nation, she developed a passion for working with war-affected children. She participated as an after-school tutor, then as a camp counselor before she began her dissertation study with adolescent refugee girls at RFS. Her work with students and refugees in the local community earned her Emory University’s prestigious Humanitarian Award in 2004.
In 2005, McBrien was hired into USF’s Psychological and Social Foundations of Education Department after completing her doctoral studies in comparative and international education. Immediately thereafter, she began to attend meetings for the Tampa Bay Area Refugee Task Force. This inspired her to begin a two-year project that involved 18 refugee adolescents. The project aimed at understanding the lives of refugees after living in the United States. Through photography, the teenagers were able to express their feelings about their lives in the United States, giving voice to their efforts to overcome stereotypes and adjust to a new culture.
In January of 2010, McBrien was able to spend time at Buduburam Refugee Camp, in Ghana, to address the needs of the refugees back at home. Though the refugee camp was closed by the United Nations soon after, she was able to establish relationships between refugee families, in which, she now supports two boys from the camp that aspire to become artists. Many of the children at these camps do not have a voice, let alone a choice to become who they want to be. Towns, especially in Ghana, are ravished by the results of decades of war and political tension.
In 2010, McBrien collaborated with the Social Science Research and Humanities Council of Canada to assess the large-scale needs of people in northern Uganda. After conducting interviews with residents, McBrien was particularly moved by the local connections she made in Lira. She was given the opportunity to return for two more trips to hold workshops with Lira community leaders, teachers, and students. This work has resulted in a book project with women and girl leaders and a grant proposal to support CBO educational outreach in adjacent rural areas that promotes the retention of girls in secondary schools.
Through her research, and community service, she has aided teenagers in adjusting to life in America while also staying in contact with families over in redeveloping communities. She provides them with assistance by addressing the needs and issues they still face. Her accomplishments have represented USF’s mission to engage students and communities abroad by conducting research that is meaningful to communities worldwide. Her research has been published in well-known academic journals like, The Journal of Transformative Education and Compare, and top teacher publications such as the Educational Leadership. She continues to teach, and involve herself with community engagement from local classrooms to international conferences; and most importantly, to passionately see others understand the lives of refugees.