Spotlight: Executive Director Harpreet Mangat shares how BIMI's work helps students inside and outside the classroom

young woman smiling with ornate earrings
Harpreet Mangat
January 31, 2022

Dr. Hapreet Mangat is the Executive Director of the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI). Harpeet has been a key consultant on migration research and supporter of BIMI since its inception in 2017, and recently became the Executive Director in May 2021. As the Executive Director, Dr. Mangat brings her wealth of experience to coordinate BIMI’s research projects, training programs, public engagement and grant writing. Based at IGS, BIMI is a partnership of faculty, researchers, and students dedicated to migration research and policy analysis. They investigate human mobility, immigrants' integration, and the ways migration transforms societies around the world. IGS’s Ezra Bristow spoke with Harpreet about BIMI’s recent projects and the impact it’s had on both the students and the communities that BIMI serves.  

IGS: Recently, BIMI held a fall symposium where students came together to tackle current issues facing immigrant communities and how [local] organizations are tracking that. Could you talk more about what this symposium was about?

HM: Yes. So we have a [National Science Foundation] grant to map spatial inequality. So what we do with that grant is that we look at all the immigrant service nonprofits in California, Nevada and Arizona and map health and legal services for immigrants in these three states. Our wonderful undergraduate and graduate students helped with mapping and coding. We are able to provide them with mentoring to develop good quantitative techniques in mapping and coding, which we hope will help them as they decide on their next career steps or go on to graduate studies. We have a very good model where we hire graduate students who then train these undergraduate students on these techniques. In addition, they are also trained in qualitative techniques, and very useful soft skills like, you know, you saw how they were presenting [during the Symposium]. So these are communication skills that they can use for anything that they are getting into after their undergrad program. One of the things that we have also been trying to do is collaborate with non-profits and community based organizations. We want to highlight their work. We want to make sure that the work that we do, they are aware of [these mapping tools] so that they can use it. So we invited many folks from community based organizations as well. They presented, they participated, and they attended.

IGS: Have the students been able to translate what they're learning into what they're doing?

HM: The one thing that immediately comes to my mind is that one of the students who was working with the mapping spatial inequality project is now working in Washington, D.C. as a health researcher. He said that it was because of the work that he did with our project that he got interested. And he was so invested back then that he actually went ahead and found a job. It's really very inspiring and I feel very optimistic and hopeful when I see students say that this is actually making them think about what is it that they can do? So I guess it's all about the whole experience of UC Berkeley and how BIMI is able to elevate that experience for the students. It's about coming here and expanding their horizons, thinking and then rethinking and reframing what is it that they can do? So we are just adding value to that by giving them this experience. And I'm very proud that I can be a small part.

IGS: You talked about the students’ personal experiences, getting involved with organizations that are doing the work at the ground level and really connecting the dots between what the students are learning and then the real world application. And with two major epidemics, one being the COVID pandemic and the other being the climate crisis have you seen in your experience the immediate impact from the work that the students have been doing? 

HM: We have some students who won the American Cultural Studies Award and for their report on COVID-19 and immigrants. So the students spoke about that. And then we had one student who spoke about climate migration and refugees in Myanmar. One of the students spoke about Arizona, and what was interesting was that she was born in Arizona, and she and her family and extended family actually went through something like this. And what was very poignant for me was that she said that she wished that this sort of project or mapping existed years earlier. That goes to show that there is an immediate and urgent need for this. One of the students who was also involved in the project said that she had an idea [that this was an important thing]  but she realized that actually she had to be involved in this project and do the research to understand what it is like to be an immigrant who is looking for services and is either denied the service or doesn't even have the knowledge of what services exist. For me, these were the main takeaways. This is of use to lawyers. This is of use to nonprofits, to academics. We are trying to make it as accessible to nonacademic audiences as possible. And I hope by talking to IGS today, we can increase the outreach. We are doing this amazing work and we are at this very small unit. So we need support. 

IGS: Speaking of support, how have the students been able to connect with resources like faculty in the midst of this ongoing pandemic?

HM: We mentor, train and fund undergraduate students to look at one of the recent articles related to migration that our BIMI faculty affiliates [published] and then [the students] convert the information into an easy to read 4 pager for academic and nonacademic audiences alike.

They ask the faculty about why they wrote that article, what it meant for them. So I guess having that sort of interaction with faculty is also very useful for them to understand what their process is like, what it takes to write an article. What are the challenges? And then of course, they read that article thoroughly and then produce policy briefs on it. We have this great model where we have graduate students mentoring undergraduate undergraduate students and graduate students getting mentorship from faculty.

IGS: So the students are learning more about the process of finding a topic, researching, dissecting it and really understanding the material that they're studying and then why is it important and then how to talk about it? 

HM: We found this space, this sort of vacuum, if I may use that word, that there was a need for a tool like [the mapping project] that did not exist. COVID in particular has shown us how important services are, particularly for underrepresented  communities, vulnerable communities and migrants who do not have legal status. So this project is a tool that gives this information to everyone. [The students] research all the health and legal clinics that we have coded into the map to make sure they exist and document the services that they provide. So this model of mentorship and training, it really goes beyond the regular curriculum and it really adds to the value and knowledge that students take. And we have been really fortunate to have this community that we have been able to create.

IGS: What would you say is the biggest obstacle or challenge in documenting these migration patterns?  Are you noticing any trends in terms of climate migration or providing services based off of the results of the mapping projects?

HM: That's a great question, and I need to think about it a little. Democratization of information is important, and we are able to do that. But access to those services is equally important. So having it in different languages would be very useful that people can access. With more resources, that is another thing that we could do. Another thing, we have this amazing tool, but it's very important for organizations on the ground because we are a university, we do not provide direct services.So the organizations who provide direct services, they need to be a) aware of the tool and then b) use the tools. So outreach is really important and that's something that we have been trying to do. Faculty Director Professor Bloemraad has been talking to lots of teachers and making them aware of the tool.

IGS: It’s interesting that you mention access. During the BIMI Fall Symposium, there was a performance by Cal Bhangra which is a Punjabi traditional dance form. I thought it was wonderful to see the integration of public service and arts and culture. Do you see more opportunities for access to students outside of public policy research and what do you think is the importance of that?

HM: Yes, and we are starting a new project in the spring, which continues this theme of combining the arts and the public service mission of university. We are doing a communities and culture project where one of our undergraduate researchers is just going to spotlight one of the immigrant communities. So getting on with the Cal Bhangra thing, for our readers who do not know, is a campus student dance team and Bhangra is folk dance from the part of the world that I come from, Punjab in India. So it was amazing to have those students [bring] their passion. Most of them had their finals coming up! So for them to do that was amazing, and we are hoping to continue that in this semester by spotlighting six different communities. 

IGS: I definitely think it's wonderful to see representation when you have a program like this that is really intentional about connecting to these communities that are sometimes marginalized or under-resourced, and then to see individuals from that community being able to share and celebrate the things that make that community special. Let's say you weren't a student immediately involved in public service or just even aware of the work that needs to be done around creating resources for immigrant communities. How would a student or maybe even a faculty member get more involved with BIMI's work?

HM: The first thing is, please go to our website and know more about the kind of work that we do. Mapping spatial inequality is not the only project that we do. We have a Monarch cohort where students come together and they study what the experience of undocumented students on campus. We have communication and public policy and another project called the Summer Institute in Migration Research method. This is something that we have funding from NIH [to do]. Every year we bring 20 to 30 early career faculty or postdoc or BHP students together in an intensive two week in-person course where we have experts from all over who come and talk to them about various facets of migration. This year, we're concentrating on climate migration.

Last year, we had to be remote because, of course, COVID. This year we are hoping for it to be in-person in July. This is another thing that BIMI brings to the table; we are trying to create this next generation of scholars of migration, and we involve graduate and undergraduate students in preparation and logistics of this training institute. One of the other projects that we are doing is indexing the hate crime and covering the Asian Asian-American community in that. This is something that I have been working very proactively towards. Not as many students know of all the wonderful things we do at BIMI as we would want them to. So getting the word out is really important because we do have amazing resources. I'm so thankful to IGS for spotlighting BIMI. 

IGS: Absolutely. Do you have anything specific coming up in the next couple of months that you would want to recognize or invite folks to get involved with?

HM: Like I said, indexing hate crimes, including against Asian Americans and the community and cultures project where we are spotlighting the Sikh community. In addition, we are having an event (date TBD) on migration and trauma. We will have experts speaking about how dramatic the experience of refugees and asylum seekers are with US immigration system. I will send you the details of that as soon as I have the dates nailed down. These are some of the things that we are very excited for in spring. In addition, please look up the immigration workshop that faculty director Irene Bloemraad runs in conjunction with IGS's co-director Christina Mora. That is another great resource for students who are interested in migration. We are always interested in hearing from students and from faculty members, and from community based organizations. If they have an idea, we are here to listen to those ideas and see if we have the bandwidth and the funds to operationalize those. Also, the deadline to apply for the Summer Institute is March 2nd. 

IGS: Hearing all of the wonderful work that you're doing and seeing how passionate and engaged the students are is really inspiring, especially with the ways that BIMI is branching out to show how other aspects of a student's life, educational opportunities, and extracurricular opportunities can impact the way that these predictive maps can be used. I look forward to being able to talk more and definitely letting people know about the Summer Institute and all the exciting opportunities that are happening in BIMI. Thank you for your time. 

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