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Leadership Prize: David Duncan ’19 explores experiences of immigrant college students

The 2018 Leadership Prize recipient is using the award to research the mental health of immigrant students coping with uncertainty of the future.

By Timothy Boles ’20

College students across the nation are constantly dealing with the stress of tests, organization meetings, jobs and making friends. For immigrant students, not only are they dealing with the stress of a being a student, they are also faced with the threat of deportation.

David Duncan ’19, a Spanish and psychology double major, is using Elon’s Leadership Prize to research the life and mental health experiences of these immigrant students and identify their coping mechanisms.

The Leadership Prize awards Elon students $10,000 to apply their intellectual and leadership skills toward developing a problem solution. The prize supports the intensive study of an issue worthy of study, the development of a plan of action to help address the issue, and the implementation of the solution plan or a test of the solution plan with reportable results.

Recipients are chosen based on the importance of their selected societal issue to be studied, their connection to the issue, and the issue’s richness and potential benefit from new examination.

Duncan’s interest in immigration issues began in high school when he participated in a school service trip to Puerto Rico. The trip offered a life-changing experience as he took part in a week of service and gained a better appreciation and understanding of Puerto Rican culture. This passion and appreciation remain with Duncan to this day.

When it came time for him to examine a current issue in “Disarming Justice,” the sophomore Leadership Fellows Winter Term course, he chose to examine the mental health of immigrant Latinx students in institutions of higher education. This project would be the spark that would later become Duncan’s research proposal for the Leadership Prize.

With the help of his mentor Carmen Monico, assistant professor of human service studies, Duncan is conducting interviews to learn about the lives of the many immigrant students at higher education institutions. These students rarely have someone they are able to talk to about the uncertainty and fear they deal with on a daily basis, Duncan says. The interviews give these students the opportunity to share their mental health and life experiences.

In addition to his research, Duncan hopes to implement a program that can be used to educate professionals. “I hope that through our research we can address the mental health concerns of immigrants,” Duncan says. “My goal is to create psychoeducational workshops and guides for legal counsel or higher education professionals that support immigrant mental health.”

Duncan believes the Leadership Prize has given him an opportunity to shine a light on the issue of mental health within Latinx immigration. This is just the start of Duncan’s journey, and the Center for Leadership is excited to see the groundbreaking work that is to come from this 2018 Leadership Prize recipient. 

Learn more about the Leadership Prize here

Nicole Filippo,
2/8/2018 3:05 PM