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She grew up 15 minutes from the US-Mexico border. It inspired a lifetime of work.

Photo courtesy Kathryn Garcia

Having grown up in San Diego, California, Kathryn Garcia is no stranger to the United States-Mexico border. She volunteered at an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, throughout middle- and high school, and would make the 15-minute trip to the country for leisure, as well.

But Garcia was also aware of the growing crisis at this familiar border—hundreds of thousands of people are detained each year trying to cross into the United States, and thousands of people who weren’t so lucky have died making the journey each year.  

“It’s just hard to comprehend,” Garcia says. “The border was such a big part of my life growing up, and yet it’s so dangerous for so many people. I knew I had to do something.”

Garcia has dedicated her college career to researching issues and volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border, and this year, she was selected as one of only a few students to receive the Harold D. Hodgkinson Award for her work.

The Hodgkinson Award is one of Northeastern University’s highest honors for graduating seniors. Colleges nominate their top students on the basis of academic and experiential performance, and selections are made by a faculty committee.

Garcia, a student of cultural anthropology and art at Northeastern, has shaped her education around better understanding the issues at the border, and helping to create solutions to some of the most pressing among them.

On co-op at the Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence, Garcia helped develop a study to examine attitudes toward immigrants. She contributed research to an annual report by the Hope Border Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to improve conditions on both sides of the border. Last summer, through a grant by the National Science Foundation, she was stationed in El Paso, Texas, observing immigration court proceedings, working in migrant shelters, and researching immigration policy.

Garcia says she’s been inspired by her coursework, too.

“I think honestly the most significant impact on me has been through my professors and the books I have read, especially The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail,” by Jason De León, an anthropologist with whom Garcia conducted fieldwork on the border, she says.

Garcia plans to continue her work after graduation, as well.

“I’m motivated by this idea that academia can be used for good, for making the world a better, more accepting place,” she says. “Research can inspire change; it doesn’t have to stay just research.”

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