Ph.D. Student Awarded Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for Work with Iraqi Refugees

Sally Wesley Bonet, a Ph.D. student studying at the Graduate School of Education (GSE), was recently awarded the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for her research on Iraqi refugees and their encounters with citizenship in the United States. Bonet is one of 35 dissertation fellows across the country and the first GSE student to receive this award. The $21,000 grant will support her and allow her to focus solely on completing her dissertation over the next year in anticipation of graduating in May 2015. 

“I could not be more humbled, honored, and excited to have been granted this award,” notes Bonet. “It is a life altering experience and I could not be more grateful. I can now finish my dissertation without any distractions.”

Bonet’s dissertation topic seeks to uncover how Iraqi refugees in America are coming to understand and enact citizenship through their encounters with state institutions.  She is conducting her ethnographic research with four Iraqi refugee families, continuously collecting data on their experiences with the court system, welfare agency, healthcare providers, and public schools over the past three years, establishing a close relationship with the families. Bonet’s hope is that her work will shed light on the extent to which these agencies shape and inform her participants’ understandings of citizenship. She also wishes to highlight the ways in which war affects those involved even after being removed from immediate danger.

“When you do an ethnography, it’s hard not to create emotional ties with the families,” says Bonet. “I became a family member, social worker, psychologist, while still maintaining my role as a researcher.”

Some of the refugee families she has been studying have moved away but she maintains contact, and in their absence, she continues collecting data from other sources at the local refugee resettlement agency. 

Bonet began teaching K-12 in Egypt once completing her undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  After about nine years, Bonet realized that she wanted to spend the rest of her life as an educator, specifically teaching future educators.  In order to do so, she became a certified teacher and moved to the North East to obtain her Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.  Bonet applied to the GSE for her Ph.D. in 2009 because she wanted to work and learn from Dr. Thea Abu El-Haj whose research was concerned with how transnational Palestinian youth come to understand citizenship in a post 9/11 context. 

“Everyone here at the GSE has been so kind and generous with their time,” says Benet. “I have found mentors no only in my committee but in countless faculty members who have guided me through my dissertation from the start.”

Bonet utilized resources provided by the Rutgers GradFund to apply for funding. Graduate students interested in applying for external funding should visit the GradFund website by clicking here.

To learn about the GSE’s Ph.D. program, please click here.