It is one thing to read about the dangerous, often deadly, journey many immigrants take to the U.S. It is another when Alexis Onelio looks you in the eye to tell you about the 17 hours he spent crammed into the back of a delivery truck with 31 others hoping to make it to Tucson, Ariz. With fellow passengers experiencing dehydration and blacking out, Onelio called it a “miracle from God that nobody died there.”
Onelio spoke on camera to Feevan Megersa ’17 (Silver Spring, Md.) when she traveled to Guatemala earlier this year for a student-produced documentary about why immigrants leave their home countries, how they get to the U.S., and how it affects those left behind.
Talking with Guatemalans who had attempted to reach the U.S. taught Megersa that there are always two sides to every story. She reported on the dangerous immigration journey for Lafayette Lens, a half-hour series covering issues of global importance that airs on Lehigh Valley PBS affiliate Channel 39 WLVT.
A double major in policy studies and film & media studies, Megersa was among a group of 54 students from various academic backgrounds that produced “If I Leave,” a half-hour exploration of Latin American immigration that aired in May. The broadcast team sought to present a balanced story, allowing the voices of immigrants to be heard amidst the deafening din of political rhetoric.
“If I Leave,” an in-depth examination of Latin American immigration
The students who traveled to Guatemala to research the issue created such a rich portrait of what it means for immigrants to leave their homes that “If I Leave” became a half-hour standalone broadcast rather than the usual 15-minute segment (Lafayette Lens productions typically cover two 15-minute topics during a half-hour broadcast). This spring’s second edition, “The Value of PII,” explored cybersecurity.
“This project illustrates the value of a Lafayette education,” says Nicole Crain, visiting professor who advised the broadcast team along with Mark Crain, Simon Professor of Political Economy and chair of the Policy Studies program. “The research and critical thinking skills, and the interdisciplinary, global mindset of our students combined with their respect for other cultures means they could quickly grasp the essential components of this complex issue. They applied concepts from other fields to the topic of immigration, and did so in a way that formed a coherent story.”
Guatemala is an ideal case study, explains Nicole Crain, because it is the largest nation in Central America, remittances from abroad are an important part of its economy, and Lafayette professors have established partnerships with Universidad Francisco Marroquín from previous interim abroad courses. Traveling there was essential, she says, to telling the whole story.
Jack Shaw ’17 (Derby, United Kingdom), a double major in geology and the self-designed philosophy, politics, & economics, learned that many immigrants are not looking for the so-called American Dream, but are desperately trying to support their families back home.
For many of the students, the experience of creating a professional-quality broadcast was as eye-opening as immigration discussion. They divided into teams to produce two-minute segments for the final broadcast. The five-day trip included a packed schedule of 23 interviews in locations from Guatemala City to Xela and two days of university lectures on the subject of immigration. The team also conducted interviews in the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, and Jupiter, Fla.
Working on the broadcast as a producer, Anne Kaplan ’15, who graduated this May with a double major in policy studies and economics, learned to be flexible when interviews didn’t go as planned, b-roll was inadequate, or translations were difficult. Having to quickly accept and resolve challenges is a skill she knows she’ll use in her new role as an analyst at Fox Networks Group.
Along with Kidane Kinney ’15, policy studies major Edward O’Brien ’16 (Lake Hopatcong, N.J.) anchored the broadcast. The PBS professionals set a high bar, holding the students to the same production standards they expect of themselves and providing a learning experience that a classroom cannot replace.
“Instead of watching news reports about immigration, the Lafayette Lens team was watching it unfold and recording it in real time,” he says. “That is something no course can teach you.”
Students divvied up production responsibilities with Allaico, who graduated this May with a major in economics, reporting on the innovative strategies the town of Jupiter uses to address immigration.
“This opportunity gave me the chance to develop a unique set of skills outside my economics major – an experience I doubt I would have had without Lafayette Lens,” says Allaico who is now working in finance for audio entertainment retailer Audible.com.
“It was incredible, as an undergraduate, to have access to these resources,” adds Jennifer Bognar ’16 (Trenton, N.J.), a double major in policy studies and Latin American & Caribbean studies who also worked as a producer. “PBS’s Chris Knight and Laura McHugh were great mentors. They ensured that all of us were learning important skills for broadcasting, whether it was for interviewing, filming, editing, or even being professional and sensitive, which was particularly important for this project due to the nature of the subject.”
“The Value of PII,” an exploration of cybersecurity