Anthropology professor earns research grant, expands learn by doing philosophy

By Cecilia Leyva, Sept. 28, 2021

Amy Dao, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology, earned a National Science Foundation research grant this summer to help fund her research on how multigenerational families are handling the pandemic.

In line with Cal Poly Pomona’s learn by doing philosophy, students enrolled in Dao’s ANT 4900 class, Methods of Anthropology, will participate in the research process.

“California has the highest proportion of multigenerational households in the mainland U.S,” said Dao, explaining the motivation behind her research. “In an area like Los Angeles, with so many structural issues happening — housing being as expensive as it is and such diverse ethnic groups — it’s the perfect place to ask how everyone is coping.”

Courtesy of Amy Dao

The $127,355 NSF grant allows Dao to empower students like Alexis Aguilar, an anthropology student, to conduct undergraduate research.

“Methods of Anthropology was a required course for my major, but I really am enjoying the hands-on experience,” said Aguilar. “Once we started talking about the project and finding out it was funded by the National Science Foundation, everyone got even more excited.”

While many anthropological courses center around learning key concepts and reading published works, Dao’s course offers a different approach.

“I wanted to incorporate an authentic research experience into the class,” said Dao. “The official name is CURE, or course-based undergraduate research experience. Students who take part in research studies are more likely to become more engaged and potentially graduate at a higher rate.”

Dao’s passion for research combined with her enthusiasm for helping undergraduate students results in the dedication to this study.

“I have always been interested in providing research opportunities for undergraduates,” said Dao. “I, myself, got into research as an undergrad and it opened my eyes to seeing my curiosity turn into a career. It really changed the trajectory of my life and so being able to pay that forward to the students I work with is really fulfilling for me.”

For students, this experience will involve recruiting and interviewing the study’s participants.

“First, we recruit a multigenerational family for the study, we come up with questions, interview them, and then we record the data,” explained Aguila. “We learn the techniques in class and then actually apply them.”

Courtesy of Amy Dao

While the first-hand experience can be a rich learning opportunity for students, it can also pose its challenges. Research assistant Marian Remoroza described some of the difficulties in recruiting participants for the study.

“For many families, the idea of being interviewed about this subject can be daunting, but their input is so necessary,” said Remoroza. “Sometimes a stimulus check isn’t enough. We need actual information to help these communities that are usually kept in the dark. The goal is to see how we can help these communities in the future not just sweep them under the rug.”

Dao believes the research conducted in the class will reflect what is expected later in anthropology students’ careers.

“I know it may be challenging for the students to step out of their comfort zones when they talk to people, but these are necessary skills that they will need in this field,” said Dao.

Both Dao and her students appreciate the impact the findings from this project can impart.

“With the information of these families in the right hands, like public health officials or offices that make these policies, we may be able to offer better resources,” said Dao.

“Knowing that this information we’re collecting can really make a big impact on the people in our communities going forward makes this one of my favorite classes,” added Aguilar.

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