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New York City immersion helps students better understand immigration history

May 7, 2012
 New York City Immersion
Thirty UW-Eau Claire economics and history students traveled to New York City in April as part of an immersion project to help them better understand the history of immigrants in the U.S. Contributed photo.
EAU CLAIRE — As Maria Stratan wandered about the famous Alexander Hamilton's Grange National Memorial, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire junior wondered how many people understood the significance of the man who helped develop New York City.

"Alexander Hamilton was a visionary man, an immigrant, and he was conscious of the important role immigrants would play in building the American nation," said Stratan, an international student from the Republic of Moldova. "His belief that 'everyone who had intelligence, ability and the right to rise' is certainly the New York's immigrant story."

A spring immersion project in New York City gave Stratan and other UW-Eau Claire students a chance to better understand the history of immigration in the United States by exploring a city that has long attracted immigrants from around the world, Stratan said.

"Hamilton's talent, ability to achieve and determination is an inspiration to thousands of immigrants to come to the land of all opportunities to build a better life for themselves and their families," Stratan said, noting that the trip helped her understand the pull and the push factors that influenced the immigrants to leave their home countries to come to the United States.

Professors in the departments of economics and history took 15 history and 15 economics students to New York City as part of a project titled "New York City and the Immigrant Experience: An Economic and Historical Perspective." Professors Rose-Marie Avin, economics, and Jane Pederson, history, created the learning community around the question "What is the impact of immigration on New York City and by extension the United States?"

Prior to traveling to New York, students studied economic theory and the rich historical literature on immigration. Avin's class focused on the economic contributions and experiences of the new immigration (since 1965) from China, Latin America and the Caribbean. Pederson's students focused on the "old immigration" (1815-1914) from Ireland, Germany, Italy and China.

The economics and history students then traveled together to New York City in April to expand their understanding of the experiences and realities of immigration, Avin said.

"This experience helped me develop a larger sense of tolerance for the different immigrant groups that created New York City in the way we know it today, and to be more curious about the immigrants' historical significance in building the modern cultural, political, economic and social aspects of the city," Stratan said of the project, which was funded by the Blugold Commitment.

The economics and history students spent time visiting museums, touring neighborhoods and immersing themselves in the immigrant experience, Avin said. They learned how various factors — ranging from economic, social, political and cultural dynamism of New York — influenced multiple waves of immigration, she said.

"I think that this experience was invaluable for several reasons," Avin said. "Students were able to understand better the experiences of immigrants by immersing themselves in their neighborhoods and their cultures."

Students also were able to develop an appreciation for the history and the culture of New York City, called by documentary filmmaker Ric Burns "the greatest and most complex of cities," Avin said.

"In addition, students were able to meet about 30 UW-Eau Claire alumni at a reception organized by the UW-Eau Claire Foundation," Avin said. "This event allowed students to do some networking and give the alumni an update of campus news."

Senior Judith Dickinson, Marshfield, was excited about the networking opportunities the immersion trip offered. As a double major in economics and psychology, Dickinson said it's important to expand her knowledge and interact with people and cultures the group researched prior to leaving for New York.

"I was able to experience the energy and diversity of New York and the dichotomy of New York as both the financial capital of the world and the city of neighborhoods," Dickinson said. "As a result of this immersion experience, I am more motivated to expand my horizons in the future when considering various graduate schools and career tracks, rather than confining my options to the Midwest."

For more information about this immersion experience or for photos of the students in New York City, contact Dr. Rose-Marie Avin at 715-836-45123 or, or Dr. Jane Pederson at 715-836- 5900 or



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