National Geographic Grant Opens Doors to Italy

National Geographic, Anthropology

Adam Kersch in Sicily in May 2014.

The National Geographic Society Young Explorers grant has been awarded to master’s student Adam Kersch. This prestigious grant is a first in the history of the department of Anthropology.

His research project is titled “Asylum in Crisis: Understanding Healthcare Provision to Refugees in Siracusa, Italy.”

“Before I began my graduate studies, I was already aware through news reports of the thousands of refugees arriving daily in Sicily from Africa and recently from Syria, escaping political unrest and poverty,” Kersch said. “I found myself increasingly motivated to better understand the struggles of refugees and healthcare providers under such difficult circumstances.”

After his first semester in the MA program at UCF, he traveled to Sicily during summer 2014 to conduct preliminary fieldwork to establish contacts and a site for his research proper in 2015.

His adviser, Dr. Joanna Mishtal, encouraged him to find funding sources, which is how he found National Geographic’s Young Explorers program.

Mishtal said it was incredibly exciting to learn that Kersch had been awarded funding.

“This award had two stages of selection, and when Adam made the short list and was chosen to compete in the second and final stage, we were very cautiously optimistic,” Mishtal said. “Of course when he received the award, we were thrilled.”

Being awarded this grant is particularly significant for MA research because funding of any kind for anthropology masters students is almost nonexistent. Mishtal said that funders generally prefer to support doctoral research.

“In cultural and medical anthropology where students design their original independent research rather than work on existing faculty projects, it is very challenging to procure funding for projects in foreign countries,” Mishtal said. “So it was very gratifying to see that National Geographic saw the intellectual merit and potential scholarly contribution of Adam’s work.”

According to the National Geographic website, Young Explorers grants help cover field project costs for creative, hard-working, passionate individuals who have significant research ideas. They focus on the disciplines they are most known for as well as emerging fields that matter most to understanding and improving the world.

“It seemed like a fantastic opportunity to get involved with an organization with such a strong reputation,” Kersch said.

He was elated upon learning that he had won the grant. He immediately thanked Dr. Mishtal, Dr. Ty Matejowsky, and Dr. Marla Toyne who had all helped him along the way. Relief washed over him as he realized he wouldn’t have to fund the project entirely out of his own pocket.

“Receiving research support from National Geographic also feels validating for the work I’m doing and gives me added energy to carry out this challenging project,” Kersch said.

He said that conducting research in a foreign country poses many logistical, financial, and cultural challenges. He attributes part of his success in securing the grant to successfully conducting preliminary fieldwork in Sicily over the summer. He was able to establish professional relationships with the ARCI Non-Governmental Organization in Siracusa and receive permission from the local community to conduct research.

“Adam has been putting a great deal of effort into developing his research in Sicily,” Mishtal said. “During his preliminary fieldwork there last summer, he volunteered with the ARCI non-governmental organization and shadowed their activists on visits to refugee camps in the Siracusa area.”

In Orlando, he completed the UCF Institutional Review Board ethics approval for research with human subjects. He also worked to develop a robust research design.

“He will collect data using an innovative 3-pronged approach with refugees, local activists, and with healthcare providers,” Mishtal said. “Commonly, studies with refugees focus only on one of these perspectives, however this project will allow for the triangulation of data from 3 distinct sample populations and data sources.”

Mishtal continued to say that his approach will deepen and enrich the results, allowing for a more holistic understanding of healthcare issues faced by the refugees.

Kersch will be using the grant money to help fund his research costs in Siracusa, Sicily. In addition to his data collection, he will be creating a podcast from his research with the refugees that will be used by National Geographic to increase awareness of the refugee crisis taking place in Southern Europe.

“I really look forward to all the opportunities that this grant and my fieldwork are going to open up,” Kersch said. “My long-term goal is to continue research with refuges in a medical anthropology Ph.D. program.”

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