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Fulbright Grant Supports Prof’s Health Policy Research Project

Portrait of Nielan BarnesSociology’s Nielan Barnes spent her fall 2007 semester at Carleton University in Ottawa and will spend the spring 2008 semester at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico in Mexico City as part of her first-ever Fulbright award.

“Receiving a Fulbright award is an incredible honor and privilege because it’s a vote of confidence from the Department of Education at the federal, state and local levels in the U.S., and it opens many doors in terms of professional research contacts worldwide,” said Barnes, who joined the university in 2005. “The Fulbright Commission has been responsible for supporting hundreds of thousands of scholars throughout the world, and to be part of that community provides a scholar with instant validation as a researcher, teacher and activist in just about any academic or applied setting.”

The grant supports Barnes’ research project in comparative health policy titled “Canada-U.S.-Mexico Integration: Do Civil Society Transnational Networks Lead to Health Policy and Health Service Convergence?”

More than 10 years post-NAFTA, the U.S., Mexico and Canada face many challenges in terms of providing and coordinating health care for its mobile transnational populations ─ migrants, immigrants and border residents.

“Trade agreements such as NAFTA have neglected to consider how mobility of capital, goods and labor may affect the health of transnational migrants and border populations,” she said. “This project examines the 'problem' of migrant and immigrant health in the context of North American integration by examining the possibilities for convergence of migrant/immigrant health policies and programs between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.”

Barnes believes this research is essential to her scholarship.

“The central focus of my research agenda concerns questions about immigrant and migrant health, health inequalities in the Northern hemisphere, and North American integration post-NAFTA,” she said. “This grant is an unprecedented opportunity to dedicate myself full-time to research on this topic.”

Barnes is pleased with her support. “My students were very proud and supportive of me taking this opportunity, even though it meant I would not be at CSULB during the 2007-2008 academic year to teach and mentor students,” she said. “When I told my students about the grant, they were very curious about the research I was going to do, and how I got the grant, and so it provided an opportunity to teach them about immigration, migration and health policy, and to encourage them to seek out study abroad opportunities and international scholarships and fellowships, including the Fulbright.”

Barnes is an expert on the Mexican AIDS crisis. In 2006, she received a Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Award to research “Transnational Networks and Community-Based Organizations: The Dynamics of AIDS Activism in Tijuana and Mexico City.” She received her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies from San Diego State University in 1994, her twin masters in Latin American studies in 1998 and in sociology in 2001, both from UC San Diego, and her Ph.D. in sociology there in 2005.

Barnes feels her current Fulbright is unique in that its focus is on North American integration, so it allows the researcher to live in two different countries (Canada and Mexico).

“This is only the second year the Fulbright Commission has awarded this grant; usually they award grants that allow travel to only one country,” she said. “In general, however, I do tend to travel frequently to conduct research and attend both applied and academic conferences in the U.S., Mexico and Central America. I see myself as an international scholar who is part of a transnational community of researchers and activists and students.”

Barnes feels she never could have accepted the Fulbright if it weren’t for the support of the CSULB College of Liberal Arts (CLA).

“The Fulbright, while prestigious, does not provide a stipend on which I could live,” she said. “It is only because the CLA subsidizes the award (making up the difference between the Fulbright stipend and my CSULB salary) that I was able to accept it.” 

The current Fulbright offers Barnes the opportunity to examine closely the health inequalities (in terms of access to health care and occupational health) experienced by Latino migrants working in the agricultural and service sectors in Canada and the U.S.  “One of the major problems faced by agricultural migrants is the isolation they experience due to the fact they must live in rural areas that are far from urban centers where most health services in Canada and Mexico are concentrated,” she explained. “In terms of the transnational nature of the research settings I am encountering, it is clear from the experience of Latino migrants that globalization is a local phenomenon. However, the inequalities created by globalization and labor mobility are different in specific urban and rural locales.”

Barnes encourages other CSULB faculty to apply for Fulbrights. “The application is surprisingly simple and straightforward,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t apply because they think it is too competitive or too complicated, but the Fulbright Commission has a strong commitment to supporting a wide range of scholars, from those that are just beginning their academic career to the more senior academics.”

The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship program in international educational exchange, was proposed to Congress in 1945 by Sen. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Fulbright grants are made to U.S. citizens and nationals of other countries for a variety of educational activities, primarily university lecturing, advanced research, graduate study and teaching in elementary and secondary schools. Since the program’s inception, approximately 279,500 participants have been chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential and offered the opportunity to exchange ideas and to contribute to finding solutions to shared issues.