Providing Bridges to Somewhere

Associate professor Ted Henken, center, with Anastasia Korolkova, left, and Gustavo Agosto-DaFonseca.
When Gustavo Agosto-DaFonseca deployed to Iraq, Baruch Associate Prof. Ted Henken sent him classic works of sociology by Emil Durkheim and Max Weber to keep him on track toward his degree.

"He encouraged me to continue my undergraduate studies," says Agosto (Baruch College, 2007), "and he kept in close contact with my experiences." Henken is sure to do that again as Agosto once more has interrupted his education - he's working on amaster's at Baruch's School of Public Service - to head for Afghanistan with his Army Reserve unit.

Anastasia (Stacey) Korolkova met Henken in 2007 during one of his service learning projects to rebuild homes in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Henken later guided this immigrant from Ukraine through a senior thesis about immigration from Mexico.

"He helped me see that when you narrow in, you can do a better job than if you are pursuing several different aspects of a topic," says Korolkova (Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College, 2009). At CASA, a youth center in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she interviewed youngsters about their dreams of El Norte; in New York, she investigated what happened when the dreams of illegal immigrants collided with reality. She won Macaulay's award for best senior thesis.

"A lot of times the oldest brother was sending money back home so younger brothers and sisters could go to college," she says. Working in the United States has become a right of passage, not as a golden opportunity, but as "the thing to do because there are jobs here." Nevertheless, "the people I spoke with expressed a clear desire to go back home."

Now a New York City Urban Fellow conducting research at the Human Resources Administration, the city's welfare agency, Korolkova is testing the theory that people's informal networks help them find work by providing bridges to different social circles.

Henken calls working with his students at Baruch and at the Macaulay Honors College "the part of my job I like the best." He is chair of Baruch's Black and Hispanic Studies Department and is also appointed to anthropology and sociology, giving him a broad canvas to paint. His specialty involves researching blogs and new technologies in Cuba. His Cuba-related blog is El Yuma at http://elyuma.blogspot.com.

Agosto, like Korolkova, took Henken's class in "Migration and the Americas." His parents came from Brazil and Puerto Rico, and Henken urged him to explore his roots. He also advised Agosto's honors thesis, conducted under a CUNY Pipeline Program, which encourages graduate study.

After reviewing the literature about "internalized immobility," Agosto looked around his neighborhood of Spanish Harlem for the effect of labels, stereotypes and social stigma on adolescent development. "There's a lack of visible role models, which contributes to a sense of hopelessness, or internalized immobility, which I connected with low high school graduation rates, among other factors," he said. Now, he says, "I'm focused on government and nonprofit administration."But his studies are on hold during his second deployment.

"I'll keep studying" in Afghanistan, he says, knowing that Henken will offer support. "He's played a big role in my life as a professor, mentor and confidant through some of the most challenging points of my life."