Participants, Border Studies | Earlham College
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Our Participants

Where do Border Studies participants attend school?
Students from the following colleges and universities have participated in the program: Anderson, Antioch, Albion, Carleton, Denison, DePauw, Earlham, Hope, Kalamazoo, Kenyon, Lewis and Clark, Macalester, Oberlin, Smith, Southwestern University, St. Olaf, Swarthmore, University of California, Vassar, Wesleyan, Western Washington University, and Wooster.

Students from all colleges and universities are eligible to apply. Please review specific policies at your university related to program approval and participation.

Is there a typical Major?
Border Studies participants represent a wide array of majors. They include: American Studies, Art, Biology, Comparative Language and Linguistics, Conflict Studies, Economics, English, Geography, History, Human Development and Social Relations, International Studies, Latin American Studies, Music, Peace and Global Studies, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology/Anthropology, Spanish, and Women's Studies.

El Paso Spring 19 Mural

Meet the Spring 2019 Participants:

Libby Munoz (Kalamazoo College)

Zoe Kaplan (Oberlin College)

Leah Feingold (Oberlin College)

Sam Stricker (Earlham College)

Nadine Guyot (Earlham College)

Celia Rayfiel (Earlham College)

Anna DeGolier (Oberlin College)

Lila Cohen (Oberlin College)

Gayla Wolcott (Oberlin College)

Leo Martin (Earlham College)

Hannah Hill (Macalester College)

Ceci Limon Mejia (DePauw University)

Malia Becker (Macalester College)

Laura Berglund (Macalester College)


Michelle Janke Raygada, Fall 2010 & Spring 2011

MichelleMichelle Jahnke Raygada, an Environmental Studies and Latin American Studies major at Oberlin College, participated in the fall 2010 Border Studies Program. And since she was still not ready to leave, she stuck around for the spring 2011 semester as well. I was originally drawn to the program because I was inspired by others’ stories of life-changing experiences during Border Studies and felt I was ready to have my own. I expected to grow from being immersed in social justice movements and life on the border. Though I feel I came with pretty high expectations, I still got more than I bargained for. Both semesters my field study site was Tierra y Libertad Organization (TYLO), a grassroots community organizing group. Working with them was one of the most challenging and fulfilling parts of the program. I got to be involved in many different parts of the organization, including know your rights workshops with the migrant rights campaign, learning about desert food and medicinal plants with the barrio sustainability group, helping paint a mosaic with the MAIZ art component, and learning and teaching along with everyone in the youth Freedom School program. Through TYLO I have become integrated in the Tucson social justice movement in a way I did not know would be possible. And I’ve also been able to convivir with a vibrant Tucson community, one that has become like another home to me. I also got to live with the same host family for both semesters. Rosalva, my host mother, is a strong, inspiring, caring woman who taught me something every day I spent with her. Living and learning with her has been incredibly important to my growth on the Border Studies Program. The Border Studies teachers are incredible. Without them I would not have been able to feel so comfortable settling into Tucson the way I have and I definitely would have had struggled much more to connect the many lessons of this experience. A year in the borderlands has challenged me to think more deeply about myself: my identity, my priorities, my place in the movement; and about the world around me: not only immigration policies but also how they connect to our local, national and international relations, the relationship between humans and the planet we live on, the social and economic structure of our communities and our world. In addition, it has given me hope in the power of coming together creatively imagine and build more just, holistic, dignified, fulfilling ways of life. Mostly it has shown me how the seemingly disparate issues I’ve faced here on the border are all connected and are present everywhere. And it has helped me find the strength to speak these truths and challenge unjust structures wherever I may go.

Sonia Lauer, Spring 2009

SoniaSonia Lauer is a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark College. I chose to do the Border Studies Program the last semester of college and am so happy I made that decision. The Border Studies Program taught me skills I had not learned at Lewis and Clark or on my other semester abroad in Havana, Cuba. I liked that the semester let the six participants explore one issue in its entirety. Along with economics, history and research methodology I felt that the program taught me how to be an effective activist. This to me was the most valuable part of my entire college education. During my time in Tucson I worked with the Southside Day Labor Center where I taught English classes and did a variety of other jobs that needed to be done. My research paper was on how social networks are used by day laborers in distributing information about local resources. Favorite activities: ultimate frisbee and climbing. I now live in Eugene, Oregon and am an AmeriCorps Volunteer working on foreclosure prevention. I have been trying to continue the border work with presentations and dialog around Eugene about my experiences. The zine that the Spring '09 group compiled and our PowerPoint discussing the myths of migration have been very helpful resources in my presentations.

Alice Ollstein, Spring 2009

Alice _burroAlice Ollstein has found her calling as a journalist, focusing on underreported issues in Latin America. She joined the 2009 Spring Border Studies program in order to immerse herself in an area full of complex problems that she feared she may not otherwise ever fully grasp even as a Los Angeles native growing up just a few hours away from the border. "I originally signed up for Border Studies because I thought becoming an expert on the border would make me more hirable as a reporter," she said, "but I never expected that my activist side would also be touched.

For her field study, Alice worked at Samaritans, a humanitarian aid organization focused on patrolling the desert in search of migrants in medical distress. At Samaritans, she regularly attended the organization's meetings and went on several desert patrols each week. Her main duty was going on the patrols, which always need more people and especially more Spanish speakers, and helped the organization by researching how the Samaritans could work more effectively with reporters to get more and better coverage in the media.

On the side, she volunteered at the radio station Arizona Public Media, learning radio reporting and getting two pieces on the air. Between this and her work with the Samaritans, she struggled-and continues to struggle-with balancing activism with balanced reporting. Since the program, Alice has been working hard to contribute to better news coverage of migration issues. She was also hired by the LA newspaper "La Opinión," where she had the opportunity to interview Luis Alberto Urrea about his new book and her article covering the criminalization of humanitarian aid work on the border made the front page.

When she's not improving the fate of journalism, she enjoys cooking vegetarian dishes, salsa and tango dancing, reading reading reading and collecting vintage hats. She recommends the Border Studies Program to those who want to get out of their comfort zone, physically, academically and emotionally, because "the majority of the U.S. is so distant from the realities of the border that we have to learn how to meaningfully bring those realities to them by having direct experiences and learning how to articulate them."

Itzel Garcia-Mejia, Fall 2008

JackiephotoItzel "Jackie" Garcia-Mejia, a History and Latin American Studies major at Oberlin College, chose the Border Studies Program so that she could fulfill her dream of simultaneously living, working, and studying in Mexico. Itzel explained that through the various changes in the structure of the program, she was confronted with a different opportunity: to reevaluate her identity as a Mexicana in the context of current immigration laws and common stereotypes on both sides of the border.

Itzel participated in the fall 2008 Border Studies program, which divided the semester between living in Tucson and spending time in Nogales, Sonora. In Tucson, Itzel worked at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) where she helped a surveying initiative in the Latino community on the E-Verify laws. The information gathered (mainly what people knew about the law, how they had heard about it, and whether they or someone they knew had experienced abuse as a result of this law) was later put into a report that will be given out to other states where this law may be applied in the future. In Nogales, Itzel worked at the Mariposa Aid Station where she helped prepare meals, fold and sort laundry, clean the eating and kitchen area, and help guide migrants in need of medical care to the Red Cross trailer located in the camp.

"The most meaningful part of the program was having the opportunity to provide direct aid to other Mexicanos y Mexicanas who were making a journey that resembles closely to my own family. " She also explained that being surrounded by the fabulous group of BSP students made the experience unforgettable. "The emotional support they gave was crucial to my experience."

Itzel is back at Oberlin now, and she is taking a history class on the US-Mexico border to further her institutional education in this subject matter. The BSP girls from Oberlin have also gotten together to produce a zine on issues and topics related to the US-Mexico border. Inspired by the positive impact of humanitarian aid organizations through the US-Mexico borderlands, Itzel plans to return to the borderlands region after graduation and spend a year there before heading off to graduate school. "My ideal career path has definitely been influenced by the Border Studies Program.

Eric Holman, Fall 2008

EricholmanEric Holman, a Spanish and Hispanic Studies major at Earlham College, was inspired to participate in the Border Studies Program by many of his friends and peers who were profoundly affected after retuning from the program. While he saw their academic will strengthen and their inquisitions deepen, he was the most influenced by how students returning from the program seemed to purely love learning. Eric joined the program in the fall of 2008 hoping to have the same kind of transformational experience.

Eric participated in the Border Studies first semester at the new site in Tucson, Arizona. For his field study, Eric worked at Samaritans, a humanitarian aid organization focused on patrolling the desert in search of migrants in medical distress. At Samaritans, he regularly attended the organization's meetings and went on weekly desert patrols. His main duty was working with the migrant property return project, coordinating with public defenders and Samaritans constituents in the southern Arizona borderlands and northern Sonora to match belongings of detained migrants to their repatriated port of entry. When he returned from the program, Eric spent his winter break volunteering with Maine Immigrant Services.

For Eric, the highlight of the program was his fellow participants. "Every time the group was together was a relief," he said. Eric believed the program leaders did an excellent job at fostering a great group dynamic; however, it was the special group of people whom he believes naturally evolves from the type of student who self-selects this program that stands out in his many memories of his semester in the borderlands.

Eric will graduate from Earlham this coming May, and when asked if the program will influence his career and/or plans after graduation he said, "most positively." He hopes to enter immigrant advocacy work in his home state of Maine. Eric says that his friends at Samaritans taught him that doing immigrant advocacy without getting burned out is possible. They also taught him that experiencing the reality of the borderlands and not responding directly to it is very difficult. "Samaritans and the Border Studies Program showed me that I can do this kind of work as my career."

Ginger Leigh, Fall 2007

GingerGinger Leigh, an American Studies major and 2008 graduate of Earlham College, participated in the program in the fall of 2007.

I am only beginning to realize how deeply the Border Studies Program affected my life. I left that place, the Border, with all its contradictions and confrontations, and could not imagine how I would metabolize all that I had seen and experienced. I learned about the long tenure of questionable U.S. policies and the hemorrhaging of Mexico's population seeking economic asylum, lived with a family who welcomed me into their home and cared for me more attentively than I have ever known, and worked in a detention center where I met and worked with scores of kids who had just been deported from the U.S. The semester was full with the flurry of a new place, new friends, and new frameworks, and I left without a clue that in a few months I would be plagued with the nagging need to return to the detention center after my graduation.

So here I am, graduating and dropping all plans for grad school for now to go back to Albergue Bolivia (the detention center) on a whim because I think that no matter how complicated my presence there might be, kids deserve to have a childhood filled with the magic of learning to read, to write, to create, to imagine. I am currently in the grant writing stage of an educational project for unaccompanied minors designed to incorporate the learning of practical skills to avoid workplace exploitation (like simple math and English), the fostering of creative expression about their lives, loves and losses, and emotional support for kids, some of whom have been to hell and back. What lies on the border is a complicated world filled with questions, some answers, privilege, history and a future that is yet to be determined. What do I understand to be my experience on the Border? Well, it's not over yet.

What do Border Studies participants do after graduation from College? They go on to do a multitude of things from medical school to law school to teaching to community organizing. Continue below to meet some former BSPers and find out what they're doing now and how the program influenced the path that they chose following their time in the borderlands.

Where are They Now?

Beth Lowry

Beth .jpg

Hometown: Portland, Maine

School: Kenyon College

BSP Year: Spring 2011

-          What role did the Border Studies Program play in your undergraduate education?

I cannot overstate the role that BSP played in enabling me to engage more fully with my undergraduate experience. My time on the border contextualized and brought to life the issues to which I feel I had previously been only superficially exposed. I learned how to ask difficult questions, both inside the classroom and out, and to not settle for easy answers. 

-          What have you been up to post-graduation and how did the BSP help prepare you for these experiences?

The BSP left me with too many pressing questions in my head to stay away from the borderlands. I explored a different border reality in El Paso, TX as a year-long volunteer at Annunciation House before finding my way back to Tucson. Here, I’ve accompanied Central American migrant families as part of the Casa Mariposa community, and I’m currently working as a legal assistant with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. I am profoundly grateful to BSP for introducing me a community of people who are working tirelessly to confront unjust structure and policy, and for empowering me with the tools to grapple with my own role within this chaotic landscape.

-          Is there anything in particular you would like to share with undergraduate students considering the Border Studies Program?

Border Studies provides its students with the opportunity to connect and relate on a human level to issues that I would have otherwise caused me to throw my hands up fatalistically. Choosing to participate in this program necessitates a willingness to consider oneself in relation to oppression and injustice, and to be bold enough to act upon what you discover. Because of the support and guidance that I have received from BSP mentors and peers alike, I have grown not only as a student, but holistically as a young person navigating my relationship to the complexities of engaging with social justice.

-          Now you’ve spent a couple of years in the Borderlands, what’s your favorite thing about this region?

 The connection I feel to other border-dwellers and the opportunity to learn from those around me. To live in the borderlands is to constantly be inspired by the resilience and grit of the human spirit. Also, the availability of Sonoran hot dogs and mangonadas.


Keiler Beers


Hometown: Portland, Oregon

School: Whitman College

BSP Year: Spring 2013

-          What role did the Border Studies Program play in your undergraduate education?

It’s hard to answer this question because I have a hard time imagining my life without having done BSP. I came back to Whitman College invigorated, with a mind on fire. I came down to the border knowing that immigration interested me as a single issue, but I left with a more complex understanding of how migration is intricately tied to nearly every other element of social justice.While my BSP semester undoubtedly centered around migration, it gave me the tools to be able to see every aspect of the world around me through a more critical (and maybe heavy-hearted) lens, whether it’s environmental justice, indigenous rights or patterns of global apartheid.

The BSP also turned me on to issues of mass incarceration and criminalization, which completely transformed my senior year and my future career interests. I worked as a youth counselor at the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center, participated in a community-based research project on a tattoo removal program for former gang members, and wrote my senior thesis on immigrant detention as a contemporary form of slavery. In each of these experiences I was able to think in depth about the intersections of crime, race, identity and power through a more astute political backdrop because of the conversations and experiences I had in the borderlands.

-          What are your post-graduation plans and how do you think the BSP helped prepare you for these experiences?

I am working at Posada Esperanza, a transitional housing shelter for women and children migrants in Austin, Texas. BSP, in particular the travel seminars into Guatemala, Chiapas and Sonora gave me an incredible window into what the migrant journey entails. Meeting these families in Austin now I think I have much more empathy and respect for what they went through to get to where they are.

Something I hadn’t anticipated was how well BSP would prepare me for any career, even one outside of immigration. At the end of the semester, I had brief worries that if I were to devote myself to anything outside of what we directly studied that semester, I would feel some sort of guilt for leaving those issues and populations. But I quickly realized, with help from the BSP staff, was that the semester had exposed me to such a wide range of possibilities that I now feel blessed with how overwhelming my interests and choices for careers appear. Far from limiting myself, my interests and passions expanded wildly after spending time on the border.

-          Is there anything in particular you would like to share with undergraduate students considering the Border Studies Program?

I was initially somewhat hesitant about participating in BSP. No one from my college had ever done it before, and before starting there was a part of me that wished I had chosen a study abroad program in a foreign country. However, what I quickly realized was that BSP gave me something that no other program would be able to: a critical window into my own country in what almost seemed like an alternate reality for five months. I went to school in a small town in rural Washington state, encompassed by the proverbial “bubble” that I’m sure many other schools like mine share. Living in a large metropolitan city allowed me to not only engage in new politics, but also have social experiences that were unavailable to me at Whitman or in Walla Walla.

BSP will completely transform the way you look at the world, your own communities, and your place within either. It was definitely not an easy semester, but it was by the far the most rewarding of my time as an undergrad.

-          You’ve left Tucson twice now, once after the program and once after your time here this past summer. Is there something about the Borderlands you miss most when you leave?

I miss the feeling of urgency that coursed through every facet of my life in Tucson. There was this constant sense that something important was happening today and tomorrow. It makes for an incredibly fertile ground to study just about any issue of political/social importance. Whether it’s police militarization, racially imbalanced school closures, immigration or the environment, it always seemed that each came to the forefront in the borderlands in a way that was so tangible and immediate that it made constant engagement not only possible, but often necessary. I will admit, life in Tucson can sometimes feel exhausting to me as a result. But there is something really incredible about being surrounded by such a strong community of activists who are seeking to combat injustices in each of these arenas on a daily basis.


Viviana Gentry Fernandez-Pellon


Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

School: Oberlin College

BSP Year: Spring 2009

-        What role did the Border Studies Program play in your undergraduate education?

My semester with BSP was by far my best semester of college if not my formal education thus far. By participating earlier on in my college career, it allowed me to focus my studies on what I am passionate about. My education with BSP was thorough enough that once I returned to campus, I was able to teach a class on the subject matter.

-          What have you been up to post-graduation and how did the BSP help prepare you for these experiences?

After leaving college, I became a farmer and later a human rights accompanier in Guatemala with NISGUA. I don’t think the latter would have been possible without my experiences with BSP. Not only was I introduced to NISGUA through BSP, but the program also familiarized me with many of the skills needed to manage such complicated and intense work. I have since returned to the US and maintain a relationship with NISGUA while running an environmental justice and community garden organization I founded 2 years ago on Chicago’s Southside.

-          Is there anything in particular you would like to share with undergraduate students considering the Border Studies Program?

This program is a life-changer, plain and simple. The way the material is approached and incorporated into experiential learning was the most practical way of learning I’ve encountered. It was my favorite semester of college.



What do BSP alums do after the program?

On campus? After graduation?


Below is a selection of just some of the things former BSP students are up to these days – places they are working, studying, and making a life. If you are a BSP alum reading this, send us along an update about what you are doing! We love to hear about all the good work you all are involved in!


Graduate School

  • Doctoral Program in Latin American Studies at University of New Mexico
  • Doctoral Program in Geography at University of Kentucky
  • Master’s in International Migration and Social Cohesion through Erasmus Mundi
  • Master’s in Social Work at University of Washington, Boston College, CUNY Hunter College, University of Michigan
  • Northwestern University School of Law (Chicago, IL)

 Food & Environmental Justice

  • Southside community garden/environmental justice center (Chicago, IL)
  • Urban farming & permaculture (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Event Coordinator at SoMa StrEat Food Park (San Francisco, CA)
  • Founder - Last Call Food Cart (Kenyon College)
  • Las Milpitas Community Farm (Tucson, AZ)
  • Movimiento Urbano de Agroecologia (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
  • Tohono O’odham Food Corps Volunteer (Tucson, AZ)
  • Student Conservation Association (Western US)
  • Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia)


  • City Year (Chicago, IL)
  • Fulbright Scholar (Turkey)
  • Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs Office (Hope College)
  • Girls Inc. (Boulder, CO)
  • Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation
  • City Year (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Breakthrough New York (New York, NY)
  • Slide Ranch (Marin, CA)
  • SYEP Mural Arts Teacher at Latin America Youth Center (Washington DC)
  • Comprehensive Development Inc. (New York, NY)
  • K-7 Spanish Teacher (Indianapolis, IN)
  • Americorps Member at Baltimore City Community College (Baltimore, MD)
  • Recruitment Coordinator at The Peer Project/Youth Assisting Youth (Toronto, Canada)

Labor Organizing

  • Organizer & Higher Ed Field Rep SEIU Local 509 (Boston, MA)
  • Jobs for Justice (Boston, MA)

Prison(er) Justice

  • Prison Justice Project (Oberlin College)


  • Resource Generation (Philadelphia, PA)

 (Im)migrants’ Rights, Humanitarian, & Legal Aid

  • Annunciation House (El Paso, TX)
  • AMIGOS (Richmond, IN)
  • Casa Mariposa (Tucson, AZ)
  • The Florence Project (Tucson, AZ)
  • National Immigrant Justice Center (Chicago, IL)
  • Appleseed Public Interest Justice (Lincoln, NE)
  • Robert B. Jobe Immigration Law Office (Oakland, CA)
  • Immigrant Law Group (Portland, OR)
  • Portland Central America Committee (Portland, OR)
  • No More Deaths (Tucson, AZ)
  • Posada Esperanza of Casa Marianella (Austin, TX)
  • Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project or FIRRP (Phoenix, AZ)
  • Legal Assistant at Bailey Immigration (Portland, OR)
  • South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project
  • ProBAR Children’s Project (Harlingen, TX)
  • New York State Youth Leadership Council (New York, NY)
  • ACLU (New York, NY)


  • Think Progress (Washington DC)
  • Free Speech Radio (Washington DC)
  • (Philadelphia, PA)

Fair Trade & Economic Justice

  • Coffee Supply Chain Associate at Fair Trade USA (Oakland, CA)
  • Co-Cycle Project (Earlham College),
  • JP Local First (Jamaica Plain, MA)
  • Desarollo Social y Comunitario a Pantaleon SA (Guatemala)

Human Rights & International Solidarity

  • Human Rights Accompaniment w/ NISGUA (Guatemala)
  • Human Rights Observer w/ Intag Solidarity Network (Imbabura, Ecuador)
  • Human Rights Accompaniment w/ Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center (Chiapas, Mexico)
  • New Sanctuary Coalition (New York, NY)
  • Southern Center for Human Rights (Atlanta, GA)
  • Alliance for Global Justice (Tucson, AZ)
  • Member of the Gender Unit for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
  • SOA Watch (Chile)
  • Amnesty International (Washington DC)
  • Students for a Free Palestine (Oberlin College)
  • Witness for Peace (Colombia)

Policy Advocacy

  • New Era Colorado
  • Research Assistant at the Urban Institute (Washington DC)
  • Domestic Policy Program Assistant at Friends Committee on National Legislation (Washington DC)

Community Services & Public Health

  • La Union del Pueblo Unido (Harlingen, TX)
  • Crown Heights Community Mediation Center (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Big Brothers, Big Sisters (IN)
  • Freelance Facilitator & Trainer, Black and Pink (Boston, MA)
  • Regional Field Director for United Working Families, Raise Illinois Action (Chicago, IL)
  • Children’s Program Coordinator at Sacred Heart Shelter, QuEST Fellow (Seattle, WA)
  • Café au Play (Portland, OR)
  • Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, MD)
  • Hostelling Coordinator for College Houses Co-op (Austin, TX)
  • AVODAH Program Associate at Footsteps (New York, NY)
  • Housing Navigator at Santa Cruz AIDS Project (Santa Cruz, CA)
  • Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center (New York, NY)



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