As a student, Kasey Jacob ’21 worked with children at a counseling center in Mangalore, India, as part of SUNY Cortland’s Study Abroad program.
Inspired by that experience, she is now returning to Mangalore to create a peer mentorship program for adolescent girls, an initiative made possible by winning a prestigious Fulbright Student Research Grant.
“Doing something as big as this has been my dream since I returned from India. So I was really shocked to receive it, and also, really, really happy. I still think I’m in shock a little bit.”
While abroad in India for a semester, Jacob took sociology courses at Saint Aloysius College in Mangalore, and worked with children as an intern at a nonprofit counseling center. Her upcoming research will focus on creating and sustaining a peer mentorship program for adolescent girls. The goal is to develop and support their social, academic and personal growth.
“It will be a big change of environment for a long time,” Jacob said. “The duration of the grant is nine months, but I also know that nine months is the perfect time to be able to fully complete, create and implement my research and will give me time to get settled and develop and create relationships.”
The winning application was actually Jacob’s second. She first applied to the highly competitive program shortly after graduation but didn’t receive an award. Unwilling to give up, Jacob reapplied in 2022, incorporating the skills and knowledge gained through her relevant international work experience.
Since her graduation in December 2021, Jacob has worked as a program coordinator at West Hill Refugee Welcome Center, a refugee resettlement organization in Albany, N.Y. It assists the long-term transition needs of refugee and immigrant families.
Part of that effort is supporting youth programs — the focus of Jacob’s upcoming research. She works with children from diverse backgrounds and cultures but said the kids’ difficulties with education and the transition into school is a common tie between them.
Her first experience with that, Jacob said, was from her time studying abroad.
“That’s where I got to learn more about some of the struggles and challenges that youth in India face and that prompted my interest in working with the youth population.”
Jacob graduated from SUNY Cortland as a dual major in sociology and anthropology with minors in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and Asian/Middle Eastern studies. She praised Distinguished Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Sharon Steadman, who first recommended that Jacob apply for a scholarship, and Professor Girish Bhat of the History Department.
Both, she said, took extra steps to help her, offer advice on her application and give her letters of recommendation.
“Having their support really means a lot to me. They were there through undergrad and even now they’re mentors to me. The entire Anthropology Department in my undergrad career was so awesome. A lot of the professors in that department set me up for success where I am now. I was just so happy to be a part of that department when I was there.”
That result was an application that, in Jacob’s estimation, took months of revisions and rewriting until she was happy with the result — all while coordinating with a nonprofit in India to be sure of its support. It was then a long, anxious wait until she finally heard the good news.
The grant she received will help cover Jacob's costs for research, housing, flights to India and back and transportation within the country. The Fulbright Program was created in 1946 through federal legislation to promote international understanding and collaboration. It provides 8,000 grants annually, with about 1,600 given to U.S. students. Included among Fulbright winners are 62 Nobel Prize recipients, 78 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 41 current or former heads of state or government.
After returning in the summer of 2024, Jacob will pursue her master’s degree in education policy and leadership at Boston University.
Whether at home or halfway across the world, she has no doubt she wants to continue to give help to those who need it.
“Everything that I have done and what I hope to do is geared toward working to advocate for accessible and equitable education for youth,” Jacob said. “More specifically, for youth that you know are displaced or migrant or coming from backgrounds a little bit different than U.S.-born or other kids that have an upper hand in the education system.”