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Mar 27, 2014

SSLS Student Writes Dissertation on Immigrants with Credentials

SSLS student Stephen Lambert Stephen Lambert, a Ph.D. student in the School of Strategic Leadership Studies, is currently working on a dissertation about immigrants with professional credentials, a topic with which he has become very familiar from years of teaching English as a second language courses in Harrisonburg.

About Lambert’s dissertation

Virginia is home to over 285,000 internationally trained professionals (ITPs), many of whom are forced into jobs they are overqualified for based on their licensures and degrees from foreign places.

Stephen Lambert, a Ph.D. student in the School of Strategic Leadership Studies (SSLS), has had the opportunity to meet many of these immigrants from teaching English as a second language (ESL) courses in Memorial Hall. After hearing too many stories of underemployed immigrants with professional training, Lambert decided something needed to be done to change the way society treats ITPs--so he is writing his dissertation on this group of individuals and the ways Virginia, as well as other locations worldwide, can better integrate them into society. 

While there is some literature discussing different aspects of the lives of ITPs and that, on average, 30% of the individuals are un- or under-employed, Lambert is interested in creating new knowledge on the subject that will lead to systemic changes.

“The wonderful thing about a Ph.D. and becoming a researcher is that your knowledge becomes public property,” said Lambert. “You are to publish and present at conferences, and I have done those things…I have a drive to continue to do those things.”

Lambert’s research is framed through the lens of new vocabulary. In his dissertation, Lambert examines how “activist entrepreneurs,”individuals who sense a perceived necessity, respond to the issue of ITPs in Virginia.

“[Perceived necessity] is something in the heart or the mind where you perceive an injustice and there is some kind of disequilibrium that is so strong in you that it forces you to act,” said Lambert. “When I had ITPs coming to me as their ESL teacher saying they have a master’s degree in law and people are telling them to get a GED, I sensed an undeniable need to help them because it was social injustice.” 

According to Lambert, the decentralized credentialing and licensing policies in the U.S. were created with good intentions, but have seen very adverse effects. While the policies are created within the context of a certain geographical context, many are realizing now that those contexts are far too narrow, and perhaps someone with a license on a certain topic in one location is qualified in different locations as well.

“If we could have policies in place where we could better understand a European degree compared to an American, Canadian, or Mexican degree, “said Lambert, “then we could have a more fluid transfer of that intellectual capital that humans move from one place to another.”

Some communities are working on the current services provided to ITPs, although many still have work to do. Federal grants allow for ESL classes for immigrants, but the law says that the instructors can only teach up to an intermediate level of English.

“In the modern economy, that level of English is not getting ITPs into jobs,” said Lambert. “We need more advanced English training that is thematically and contextually organized so that they are learning English through the context of our cultural values as well as the potential career fields they may want to enter.”

Fortunately, there are some programs that help facilitate and mentor immigrants. Training Futures in Arlington, Virginia teaches the underemployed “soft skills” that employers look for, such as how to give a proper handshake and confidence in public speaking. The individuals are also taught how to market their skills and seek employment that they are suited for based on their training. Many of the immigrants in the program are ITPs.

According to the census, Harrisonburg has 1,734 immigrant professionals, yet many of the students in Lambert’s ESL classes worked in food or hospitality services rather than in their fields of training.

“If you think about everything that they could contribute to the local economy: their innovation, their skills, both multi-lingual and cultural,” said Lambert. “That’s huge. That impacts our education, economy, prosperity, and our mutual understanding of each other as well. They’re here, they’re documented, and we need to enable them to become fully engaged citizens.”

About Lambert and his strides toward improving society

Lambert has done extensive work with immigrants in the area. After receiving his undergraduate degree from JMU, Lambert taught high school Spanish. At the same time, he received a graduate degree in second language acquisition, received ESL endorsement, and earned certification in school administration, all of which came from JMU. While earning his certifications, Lambert also taught part-time at Bridgewater College and Bridgewater Community College. In 2007, the JMU College of Education invited him to teach an adult ESL program in Memorial Hall. This full-time position lasted six years. Then, in 2010, Lambert began his Ph.D. program in SSLS at JMU to earn a degree in nonprofit and community leadership. 

In addition to meeting many of the ITPs in the area and doing extensive research on the issue, Lambert put together the Immigrant Professionals Community Coalition (IPCC), which helps legal, educated immigrants develop the skills necessary to succeed to their full career potential in the Rockingham County area. The coalition fights “brain waste” by providing ITPs with career advisement, English language training, engagement with the community, credential evaluation, and specialized training. 

“It touches lives in so many ways and impacts behaviors because when you have deep descriptions, statistics, and influential information, sincere people across the globe are always interested in that knowledge,” said Lambert.

The connection between JMU and the community

SSLS, which is funded by the College of Business, is very innovative and interdisciplinary. It is necessary to forge strong connections between businesses, communities, and government in order to collaborate—a framework that has inspired Lambert to innovate in terms of activist entrepreneurship.

“CoB has empowered me to be a social innovator and to reach out across sectors to combine different pieces of knowledge in a new way and see the new way that is and will facilitate regional, cross-regional, national, and even cross-national dialogue of how we deal with the tough issues of the century, a lot of which are social issues,” said Lambert.

As many businesses are adding social aspects to their missions, it is evident that innovating a new society is a priority right now. SSLS, being as interdisciplinary as it is, is in a position to create new solutions for some of the most difficult problems in society today. Lambert believes the community-oriented perspective of CoB and SSLS can be found across campus and shared with the community. 

“There’s something beautiful inside of JMU’s mission to prepare truly engaged and intelligent citizens and the nonprofit sector that is all about developing human beings and thriving communities,” said Lambert. “You put those two together and you can’t help but have this beautiful and productive dynamic in which true humans are involved.”

By Alix Carlin (Communication studies, ’14)








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