An Immigrant Turns Her Curiosity Into a Career

January 4, 2023

With an International Migration Studies master’s degree, alumna Kenisha White landed a fulfilling job and is advancing toward a doctorate.

Kenisha White
Kenisha White (M.A. ’22, International Migration Studies) is the director of operations for Americorps programs administered by New York City. (Photo courtesy of Kenisha White)

Kenisha White (M.A. ’22, International Migration Studies), who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was 17, long wondered why fellow West Indian immigrants and their families stuck together in a few New York City neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. With a master’s degree in International Migration Studies, she turned her curiosity into a scholarly pursuit that has fueled her professional ambitions.

“My interest in migration studies, particularly the experiences of West Indian immigrants, stems from my own experience as a West Indian immigrant to New York City,” White says. “West Indians tend to reside in highly concentrated and often segregated neighborhoods. In many cases, they are moderately segregated from each other. So a lot of the questions I hope to spend more time thinking about relate to agency or choice versus structure — the barriers in the receiving society. These are phenomena that may in some ways help to shape these concentrated patterns that we usually see with this group.”

In her current role as director of operations for Americorps programs administered by New York City, White applies many of the skills she learned at the Graduate Center. A two-time Americorps Vista alumna herself, she now oversees compliance, evaluation, and reporting throughout the city’s Americorps programs.

“My time at the Graduate Center prepared me for this role,” White says. “I spent the past two years becoming more comfortable handling larger sets of data. My courses in demography and NYC politics and government have also been instrumental not only in how I think about who joins the city’s programs and where they are serving but also in helping me think more strategically and creatively about how we support both our members and our host-site partners in capturing their impact stories. It’s really a ‘for New Yorkers, by New Yorkers’ perspective.”

Learn more about the International Migration Studies program

White first learned of the International Migration Studies program from Professor Van C. Tran (Sociology, International Migration Studies), whom she had contacted to discuss her interest in immigration and the possibility of studying at the Graduate Center. Tran suggested the program, White says, adding “I am really glad he did.”

White enrolled full-time and embraced related opportunities outside the classroom. She worked as a research assistant for Distinguished Professor John Mollenkopf (Sociology, Political Science, International Migration Studies, Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences), director of the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center, studying the newly implemented ranked-choice voting system in the June 2021 primary elections. She also served as a student coordinator, co-developing and planning professional development workshops, for the International Migration Studies program.

“The thing I liked most about the IMS program is that it works for students regardless of where they are in the process," - Kenisha White 

“The thing I liked most about the IMS program,” White says, “is that it works for students regardless of where they are in the process. If you’re there for just the courses, you can just do that and still develop lasting relationships with faculty and students. For those of us who want more than the classroom experience and opportunities to be more engaged, those exist also.”

White hopes to continue her research. She is preparing to apply to Ph.D. programs in sociology, and she credits her experience in the IMS program with building her skills, stoking her interest, and helping her home in on ideas for a dissertation.

“Working on my capstone project was a rewarding experience,” White says. “It raised a lot of unanswered questions that I hope I’ll be able to spend more time researching and answering as a doctoral student.”

She would also like to find a way to pay forward the support she has been given and the opportunities she has earned.

“I’m passionate about service and about giving back,” White says. “To me, service is a catalyst for breaking down barriers between the haves and the have-nots.”

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