I tell my college students that careers rarely emerge as a straight line. Mine took many twists and turns before I became a clinical professor and experiential education consultant. I’ve made informed choices and unexpected turns. But — perhaps most surprisingly — my work was heavily influenced by the lives of refugees and migrants who touched my early life and gave my work purpose and direction.
The Maine Years
I lived in Maine for two decades, from the mid-1970s until I graduated high school in 1992. My sense of the world changed in the 1980s when my small, rural state welcomed an influx of political refugees. Maine is home to a Cambodian diaspora, torn and displaced by the Khmer Rouge as well as hundreds of Afghan refugees who came to the northeast following the Soviet invasion. Other immigrants and refugees would come to forge new lives in the Northeastern United States, including a large Somali population. From an early age, I was compelled to study and write about human geography and dislocation. Specifically, I wanted to document refugees’ stories of trauma and war but also of hope and resilience in an effort to build new communities far from home.
College & Internships
I began as a cultural anthropology major at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1990s and interned at Refugee Services in Houston. I advised refugee families and worked with youth impacted by the Bosnian War. I also interned at three Austin non-profits that advised legal political asylum cases and provided housing and basic needs for Central American refugees. I spent this time immersed in the study of anthropology of borderlands and narrative nonfiction as a mechanism to reach larger audiences.
In my mid-twenties, following a post-graduate internship at Texas Monthly Magazine, I was compelled to build a bridge between my refugee work and journalism. My husband and I received the opportunity to teach and study at the University of Oregon where I received an M.S. in journalism from the professional master’s program. My adviser, the journalist Carol Ann Bassett, helped find a focus and direction for my work. While living in Oregon, I worked for a refugee resettlement organization in Lane County. As part of my graduate thesis, an article I wrote about a Hmong-American college freshman and her family’s exodus from Laos , advised by Prof. Bassett, received first place from the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Collegiate Press.
With a completed master’s degree, I left Oregon and returned to Texas, making San Antonio my home. My husband, Vincent Canizaro, and I had a son in 2002 and a daughter in 2005 and flourished with the help of extended family close by in Austin. An opportunity to launch a journalism program at a new Texas A&M university branch serving first-in-family college students arose. It was an extraordinary opportunity to build an academic program at a Hispanic Serving Institution. I dug my heels into becoming a director and clinical journalism professor. We started with eight students, no labs, and no financial resources. Today, I oversee three experiential learning labs that prepare Latino students for industry work or graduate school placement. The mission of Texas A&M University-San Antonio has sustained and motivated my work for the last decade, as does the service work I continue to do in my community for historically underserved populations.
Research & Fellowship Support
Since 2010, I have received 12 separate teaching fellowships and residencies that have supported my writing and research on teaching, mentorship and topics related to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. I am indebted to organizations such as the Online News Association, the Poynter Institute, and the Dow Jones Multimedia Academy for supporting the evolution of my teaching and journalistic work.