Discomfort and immigration

What I’m reading

I just finished a very provocative book from the Carnegie Foundation called The Formation of Scholars. One of the premises of the book is that we have been delivering doctoral education for hundreds of years, and that it should evolve. Are we giving students the right experiences for the 21st century, a world in which they will function primarily in interdisciplinary teams? It is an important question, and one I will be asking our faculty, students and alumni.

Get comfortable with discomfort

As readers of this blog know, one of my preferred forms of exercise is indoor spinning which I do five or six times a week at the UNC Wellness Center, surely one of the best fitness centers anywhere in the world. One of the instructors tells us to get comfortable with discomfort. I’ve been thinking a lot about that message. It doesn’t just apply to pushing oneself physically which I believe is critical to fitness. It also relates to pushing oneself to master new intellectual content, become comfortable with different kinds of people and even to put oneself in new global settings and feel OK with not being at home.

Getting comfortable with immigration

Jim JohnsonMaybe the message above applies to immigration as well. There is so much anxiety and discomfort with the topic of immigration. We should get comfortable with our discomfort that the world is changing and move on. Last Friday, Professor James Johnson from the Kenan-Flagler Business School, gave a fantastic talk at the N.C. State Health Directors’ annual meeting in Raleigh. It was a tour de force on immigration. Through compelling data, explanation and humor, Jim told the story of how immigration in the U.S. has changed over the last 100+ years. He showed very convincing data about the huge boom of pending retirements and made it clear that if we don’t capitalize on the influx of immigrants, many of them Hispanic, we are not going to fill crucial jobs in this country. North Carolina is a state in transition, with one of the fastest growing immigrant populations of any state in the country. All of this points to the need for us to become comfortable with the changing demographics and invest in helping these newcomers becoming comfortable with us. As Governor Mike Easley has courageously advocated, that means above all, providing access to education.

I suspect, like me, many readers are the grandchildren or even children of immigrants. My grandparents on my father’s side came from Lithuania by boat to Ellis Island. One generation away, my father obtained a master’s degree, thanks in part to the GI bill. He made huge contributions to the health of society through his groundbreaking work at the American Cancer Society where he conceived and developed the area of public service announcements to educate people about the dangers of smoking. His education was a great investment that benefitted to society. The same potential for benefit lies in many immigrants.

Have a good week!

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