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Michelle Dromgold-Sermen is a Ph.D. candidate within the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences. Dromgold-Sermen has been awarded the Peggy Totten Harpold Summer Research Fellowship. This funding will allow her to continue work on her dissertation, which investigates the pathway to legal permanent residence for temporary migrants on visas in the United States.

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Michelle Dromgold-Sermen

Q: Tell us about your research.

My dissertation focuses on the United States immigration context. I’m looking specifically at how people who are in the U.S. on visas who are technically called ‘non-immigrants.’ They’re often here working or as students. There are different pathways through immigration law under which they are eligible or can become eligible to stay in the United States: to become permanent immigrants and to get green cards. I’m interested in how that specific group experiences that adjustment from being a visa holder to getting a green card. I’m specifically interested in how immigration policies, immigration bureaucracies and some of the legal tenets that shape that process are impacting them directly.  

Q: What will this summer funding allow you to do?

It’s been great, to be honest. I feel like I’ve gotten more work done in the last month than I had in the year prior. Generally, I’m teaching, and I’ve been teaching at least one or two classes for the last three years. With that and with COVID-19, I feel like the teaching load has become more, as there’s been a lot more care work for students. So, that made it harder to really focus on my research. With funding, I’ve had the chance, time, and the mental energy to think about my research.  

I’m in the data collection phase of my dissertation research, which hopefully will include some interviews, but also includes analyzing an online immigration form. When people are going through this process, they often post two forms online. What I’m doing is scraping data that has been posted to an online immigration website. There was a really big learning curve in this with Python, the programming language I’m using. Within the last month I’ve been able to get the code to run, and I’ll actually have data to analyze. 

Q: What brought you to study this at Carolina?

There are a lot of sociologists that do work on migration or immigration, and most of it in the United States is focused on migration from Latin America to the United States. That wasn’t what I was interested in. A lot less people at that time did what I was more interested in: Middle Eastern migration. Carolina was a particular draw because the sociology department included professor emerita Jacqueline Hagan, and Charles Kurtzman, who is a scholar focusing on the Middle East. They agreed to co-advise me, so I saw it as a great opportunity to draw on both of their areas of expertise for the benefit of my own interest.  

Q: What does it mean to have generous donors support your research?

I think it’s really important. Academia is a lot of rejection. For most people who are self-selecting into a Ph.D. or into a master’s degree program, it’s the top of the top; you’re not used to that sort of rejection. There can be a lot of imposter syndrome and just feeling like you never get anywhere. It’s really meaningful to have someone acknowledge your work. 

-Kate Slate

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