An ECU professor of geography received a $430,000 National Science Foundation grant to study how the Latino presence in eastern North Carolina affects the region’s rural areas.
Rebecca Torres has been tracking migration patterns from Mexico to eastern North Carolina for the past three years. She will spend the next five years collaborating with colleagues to develop research findings, coursework and service projects centered on this growing population.
“The overarching goal is to understand Latino migration in rural areas in North Carolina and the South. The research component looks at factors that shape migration. There’s a lot we don’t know right now,” Torres said.
In addition to providing research and outreach to the Latino community in eastern North Carolina, the grant will also enable Torres to work with fellow researchers, train six graduate students and create a text on Rural Transformation and Latino Transnational Migration.
“We hope to produce research that will contribute to an area where there’s a lot of need to understand what is happening in the south. But I also hope our findings can help inform policy — particularly policy that focuses on rural development,” she said.
North Carolina saw the largest increase in Latino population from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census.
Torres believes that the state is at a point where it must determine how to respond to this trend.
“North Carolina is at a crossroads,” Torres said. “It can go either way. It can be very negative, or we can be creative and look at ways to bring in this community in a way that would benefit everybody. I’m hoping we can contribute to that dialogue.”
Torres, who is collaborating with ECU geography professors Jeff Popke and Holly Hapke, is building her research from earlier initiatives, including Los Puentes, a dual language immersion school project at Snow Hill Elementary. Torres also earned a seed grant this summer from ECU’s Division of Research and Graduate studies. The $19,317 grant enabled Torres and Popke to travel to the rural Tierra Caliente region in Mexico to interview 30 households. Many Mexican immigrants in North Carolina are native to this region.
“The seed grant allowed us to go to Mexico and strengthen the proposal and fill in some holes,” said Torres, who had applied twice for the CAREER grant before receiving the funding this year. “It was viewed very favorably (by NSF reviewers) that ECU demonstrated their support of our project. It’s a great investment for the university and it strengthens us for when we go for these competitions.”
The five-year NSF grant, called a CAREER grant, is designed for tenure-track faculty who are just starting their professional careers.