Summer Bridge Spotlight: Alana Ackerman

Alana Ackerman headshot
Alana Ackerman

Meet Alana Ackerman, one of five participants selected for the 2023 Summer Bridge program. A PhD student in the Department of Anthropology, Alana worked with Immigrant Services of Champaign-Urbana.

How have you applied your humanistic training to advance the mission of the community organization?

As a graduate student in sociocultural anthropology, my training is in ethnographic research: identifying social problems, talking to lots of different people and asking the right questions, learning about the challenges that diverse populations face, and analyzing structural power inequalities. At Immigrant Services of Champaign Urbana (ISCU), I put this training to use by listening to my community partner organization and learning what support they need to better serve immigrant families in the area. This primarily meant creating a database of immigration lawyers and organizations in the region that ISCU can partner with to provide legal support and representation for families’ immigration and asylum cases.

How has this experience contributed to your career development? What skills have you gained or developed?

Through the Summer Bridge program, I took on a project from beginning to end, created an informational database, consolidated partnerships between organizations with similar missions and values, and communicated with legal teams, attorneys, staff members, and board members to work toward a common goal: getting immigrant families support for their legal cases.

What have you learned from working with this community organization?

I learned the importance of flexibility. Before beginning my summer work, I thought I would be working directly with immigrant families. However, it turned out this wasn’t what the organization needed most. I also learned that there is a huge need for affordable and accessible legal support and representation for asylum cases. We need more lawyers who are willing to take on asylum cases, low bono or pro bono. Most private firms are exorbitantly expensive, and most non-profits are severely overworked.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your Summer Bridge program experience?

This summer provided me with hands-on experience working with a small non-profit that is tackling a huge social problem. This experience allowed me to put my academic training into practice, working toward equity for an underserved population. I highly recommend the Summer Bridge program for any graduate student who is interested in contributing to and learning from a community organization.

More about HWW's Summer Bridge Program