UW-Platteville, German colleagues study geopolitics

April 17, 2017
Daniel Leitch and Ann Johns
Daniel Leitch and Kibreab Habtemichael

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – A professor and student from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and a lecturer from Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany recently collaborated on a research and writing project for a book on two timely topics: geopolitics and refugee integration.

Co-authors include Dr. Daniel Leitch, associate professor of special education inclusion in the School of Education at UW-Platteville; Ann Johns, a senior psychology major at UW-Platteville from Pecatonica, Illinois; and Kibreab Habtemichael, lecturer of geopolitics at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and director of the Helping Hands program for refugees in Viernheim, Germany. Helping Hands is a self-help group of 17 active refugee volunteers who contribute to, and lead, integration projects in the areas of language translation, professional development and cultural awareness as well as serve as a bridge between the host communities and newly arrived refugees.

The three co-authored the chapter “Geopolitics and Integration Strategies in Germany: Self-Help Organizations as Pillars for Refugee Integration” for the book “Migrants: Public Attitudes, Challenges and Policy Implications,” which explores a myriad of social and public policy implications as they relate to the long-term consequences of migration on the lives of the migrants and host societies. Nova Publishing will publish the book this fall.

“The cooperation between authors represents a tangible product of UW-Platteville’s strategic partnership with Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences,” said Leitch. “This project strengthened Ann’s background in research and publication, which will benefit her as she continues her studies in the Master of Psychology program at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. The collaboration also benefited both campuses because of the priority for professors to excel as both teachers and scholars. Most importantly, through the collaboration, I gained a deep appreciation for the ability of our undergraduate students to participate in academically rigorous and socially relevant research. I intend to involve more students in the future.”

Leitch said the topics outlined in the book and in their chapter are critical, as conflict and instability continue in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Central Asia. He noted that in 2016, according to the United Nations Population Fund, more than 60 million individuals were displaced and on the move due to war, famine, political oppression or other reasons.

Leitch noted that Germany’s policy-makers, academics, practitioners and others desire up-to-date research on which to build a policy roadmap, prioritize funding and promote promising practices. He and Habtemichael saw the need for research on geopolitics and refugee integration when they worked together during Leitch’s fall 2016 sabbatical in Germany aiding Syrian refugees in Darmstadt through Helping Hands. Leitch then invited Johns, a student in his Learning and Language Disorders course, to help with the research because of her exemplary academic skills, desire to participate and background in psychology.

Their research involved a review of current literature on geopolitics and migration, an analysis of Germany’s demographic data and a qualitative study focused on volunteer Syrian peer mentors associated with Helping Hands. They explored three questions critical to Germany’s current refugee crisis: 1) How do geopolitical forces influence refugee immigration into Germany? 2) How does the German context influence the design of programs for refugees in the State of Hessen, particularly in Hessen’s self-help program for refugees? and 3) What motivates peer-to-peer mentors in Hessen’s self-help program for refugees?

Johns contributed to all processes of the research project, from helping with the Human Subject Research approval process to researching the chapter section on self-help groups and peer mentoring, then analyzing the data and contributing to the final editing. She also provided the needed scholarship into the effectiveness of peer mentoring and self-help groups and conducted the coding aspect of the qualitative study.

Leitch said that the research they conducted suggests that policy and decision-makers prioritize providing support to host communities for integration initiatives at the grassroots level. “By partnering with refugee self-help groups, integration initiatives may harness the creative powers of individuals whose life trajectories, language and culture enable them to deeply understand the physical, psychological, emotional and social needs of their peers,” said Leitch. “Furthermore, this research illuminates the highly intrinsic nature of the refugee’s motivation to reach out to their peers. Thus, any investment of resources will be multiplied by the refugee peer mentors who view their work as a labor of love.”

The collaborative research and writing project was beneficial to UW-Platteville as well as Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences.

“I appreciated the opportunity to study and to write about the psychological needs of refugees and how peer mentoring helps make the integration process easier,” said Johns. “Writing collaboratively is an interesting challenge of blending writing styles and has been a helpful preparation for graduate school. I could not have asked for a better experience than working with Dr. Daniel Leitch and Mr. Kibreab Habtemichael.”

“It is exciting and fulfilling to see UW-Platteville faculty like Dr. Leitch engaging in collaborative research projects with our international partner institutions,” said Donna Anderson, director of International Programs at UW-Platteville. “Dr. Leitch’s time in Darmstadt was made possible, in part, by a generous DAAD Strategic Partnership Grant awarded to Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. The grant allows faculty from partner institutions like UW-Platteville to serve as short- or long-term visiting lecturers.”

“This was a wonderful experience with great colleagues,” said Habtemichael. “This collaboration shall further be strengthened and continue. I hope both the Applied University of Darmstadt and UW-Platteville will benefit from this collaborative research experience and it will be a cornerstone for further fruitful projects.”

For more information about Leitch’s volunteer experience assisting Syrian refugees in Germany, go to: www.uwplatt.edu/news/professor-assists-syrian-refugees-germany

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, Communications Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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