University of Illinois

2020 Impact Report
College of Education

Research and Recognitions

Studying the Challenges of Immigrant and Refugee Students

Dr. Liv Thorstensson DavilaDr. Liv Thorstensson Davila uncovers the challenges immigrants face and the factors that can lead to a successful transition to their new country.

“What kids all over the world right now are experiencing because of COVID-19—like not being able to go to school, or being home with parents who can’t help them with remote learning—these are the kinds of things that most of the kids in my research have always faced,” Davila says. She argues that COVID-19 presents unique new challenges, however, including social isolation, concerns around access to health care, and parental job insecurity.

Davila conducted a study from 2016 through 2018, funded by the Spencer Foundation, on adolescent English learners from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The study focused on learners’ identities and learning within linguistically diverse high school classrooms in the U.S.

“A lot was going on politically at the time,” she says, referring to the U.S. presidential election and the increased negative rhetoric and action regarding immigrants. “I saw these kids negotiate the discourse that was lobbed against them. They would try to save face or keep a low profile. But sometimes they would say really candid things to each other about how immigrants should be treated.”

Since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, the topic of immigration has been much more on the surface, Davila says. “It makes this kind of research even more important, because the groups I’ve been working with over the last 20 or so years feel stigmatized and will always feel stigmatized, but are stigmatized in more direct ways now,” she adds. “So as a researcher, I’ve definitely become more politicized in my thinking about my findings—about language, race, citizenship, and legal status—and even to some degree the questions I ask in my research. The topic is very sensitive, so I don’t ask without paying close attention to whether it’s appropriate to ask.”

“How can the knowledge that I have about the populations I work with be applied in situations that most kids around the world are facing right now? At the core of all my research is this process of taking what’s happening at the micro level and widening the lens to see what it means for the larger community.”

Assessment During a Crisis: Responding to a Global Pandemic

In June 2020, the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) released a new report, “Assessment During a Crisis: Responding to a Global Pandemic,” based on a survey of more than 800 college personnel responsible for assessment.

In March 2020, institutions abruptly pivoted to remote instruction in response to COVID-19. The findings from NILOA’s national survey of assessment-related changes made in Spring 2020 in response to COVID-19 coupled findings with other reports released from March through July and provide guidance in the form of “do’s” and “dont’s” for higher education and the field of assessment.

Natasha JankowskiNILOA director Natasha Jankowski was appointed as the Public Member for the *Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) and to the Higher Learning Commission Assessment Academy Advisory Board.

NILOA was honored with the 2020 Contribution to Higher Education Award at the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Annual Convention. The award recognizes individuals and organizations that advance a broad higher education agenda through meaningful work at the institutional, regional, and national levels.

Other Faculty Research and Recognitions