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Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, Chair 305 E. 23rd Street • CLA 3.306 • A3100 • Austin, Tx 78712 • 512-232-1595

Marina Islas

MA, Ohio University; PhD (in progress), University of Texas at Austin

Doctoral Student
Marina Islas
" "Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity "



My (Her)story

I am a second generation Mexican-American woman who comes from a working-class background. I grew up in a single-parent household with my three older brothers, in Pontiac, MI. As a teenager I was an average student and I worked in a pizza joint to help my mother pay bills. My only hope to fund a college education was to join the military. So, at 17, I signed up for the Army National Guard. For eight months during high school I served in the Guard. However, I soon realized that being in the army was not the life for me.

After graduation I moved to Grand Rapids, MI where I attended Kendall College of Art and Design. Much to my dismay, the experience of living as a starving artist left much to be desired. After a year hiatus from higher education, a dear friend convinced me to return to school in order to find my place in the world. With her encouragement, I enrolled in Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC).

It was at GRCC that I found my passion. I remember it struck me as I was learning water tables in my physical geography class, that everything suddenly made sense- the world, interconnectedness, everything. During my years at GRCC, I learned so much about the world. I traveled and I experienced more of life than I could have imagined. I explored Mayan ruins, interviewed indigenous women in Chiapas, and presented conference papers in different parts of the U.S. At the time, I thought my life would be great if I could become a travel writer, or maybe if I taught courses in a community college. My mentor then told me about graduate studies, something I had never heard of- I recall saying, “What’s graduate school?” and once it was explained to me, “Wait, you can get paid to go to school and do research?!”

So, with the support of my mentor, I applied to four-year colleges with the intention of one day going to graduate school. I managed to get a scholarship to attend Aquinas College (AQ) for two years. While at AQ I continued to work fulltime as a waitress and somehow was still able to put money aside to continue traveling. I visited the ruins of Angkor Wat, hiked to the summit of Balinese temples in Indonesia, enjoyed hours of conversation and tea with a Tea Master in Singapore, and also returned to Mexico to spend my days with a toreador in Chiapas and to talk bugs with a man who weaves organic wool rugs in Oaxaca. The graduate school application process was brutal and while it seemed like a longshot that I would be accepted to a program, I figured that I could continue to live my life enlightened by geography.

Imagine my surprise when word came that I had been admitted to the master’s program at Ohio University! The rest, as they say, is (her)story.

Previous Research

While at Ohio University I focused my research mainly on Gender and Development. During the summer of 2009 I volunteered at the Jubilee House Community - Center for Development of Central America (JHC-CDCA), in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua. At that time I conducted participant observations and semi-structured interviews with men and women who participated in the Cooperativa Hilandería Génesis, an organic spinning cooperative that functioned within the JHC-CDCA. My research explored how participating in construction work and in managerial positions in the context of project Génesis has affected perceptions of gender roles and relations in the public and private spheres. Women are not typically given the opportunities to be owners of businesses in Nicaragua, so for the members of project Génesis their status as worker-owners and their participation in building this cooperative from the ground-up has brought recognition of their power in both community and household level arenas. Cooperative members are seeing that they have new capabilities and are able to function in the workplace, completing tasks that are not typically ascribed to women, such as heavy construction labor or business management. Additionally, findings indicated that although the women working for project Génesis were not receiving pay for their labor, some were still able to renegotiate domestic labor with their spouses and family members, based on the hope of one day providing a better life for their family through future participation in the cooperative. However, while these women are able to manage a business and to do construction work it is unlikely that they will be given an opportunity to demonstrate these capabilities outside of the context of project Génesis or their households.  Although there is a potential to transgress gender ideologies at the individual level through participation in gender-redistributive projects such as project Génesis, these types of projects do not challenge the social structures that perpetuate hegemonic gender ideologies at a larger scale.

Current Research

For my dissertation research, I will draw from feminist understandings of the global and intimate to reveal how Latino children of undocumented immigrants are impacted by and respond to everyday incarnations of immigration restriction and enforcement in particular spatial contexts. 


Through my own experience I have learned the importance of having mentors to support and guide one through life. I would not be working on a PhD at UT-Austin were it not for the many mentors I have collected over the years. I want to play a similar role in the lives of students. I want to see the coming generations excel and succeed in life and will do everything that I can to inspire and teach others.

Staying in Balance

I find that it's incredibly important to maintain a healthy work/life balance. To me, that means staying physically active and remaining connected to my community. Much of my time is spent conditioning and training at the boxing gym (Austin Boxing Babes). I also enjoy cooking with/for friends, running and hiking with my dog, Nando, kayaking, swimming in various bodies of water, and volunteering at the women’s shelter.


Youth Geographies, Feminist Geopolitics, Global and Intimate, Migration Studies, Bordering, Mobilities, Critical Participatory Action Research, US & Mexico, Transnationalism

Professional Memberships & Affiliations

Professional Memberships & Affiliations

Association of American Geographers (AAG)

• Geographic Perspectives on Women (GPOW)

• Graduate Student Affinity Group - Chair

• Qualitative Methods

• Sexuality and Space

• Latin America

Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers (CLAG)

Geographer’s Migration Research Network (GMRN)

Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) – Public Science Project

National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)



Ph.D.           University of Texas at Austin, Geography, expected 2015

Portfolio in Mexican American Studies

Advisor: Rebecca M. Torres

M.A.             Ohio University. Geography, 2010

Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies

Thesis: Se Hace Camino al Andar/ The Road is Made by Walking: Women’s Participation in Community-Driven Development in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua

Committee: Risa Whitson (Advisor), Yeong-Hyun Kim, Edna Wangui

B.A.              Aquinas College. Geography, 2008

Capstone Research Project: A Changing Ethnic Landscape: A Look at the Spatial Distribution of Hispanics in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Advisor: Paul Bieneman

A.A.             Grand Rapids Community College. Geography, 2006

Advisor: Mike S. DeVivo

Professional & Employment History

Professional & Employment History

2013-Present   Research Assistant, School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin. Qualitative researcher and analyst, “Exploring the Effects of Parental Deportation on U.S. Citizen Children,” National Institute of Health funded (R21 HD068874) multi-sited, exploratory project. PI: Dean Luis H. Zayas PhD. Supervisor: Andrea M. Campetella PhD.

2012-2013       Teaching Assistant, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin.

2011-2012       Research Assistant, Population Research Center (PRC), University of Texas at Austin. Responsibilities include: Fieldwork in Coyolillo, Mexico. Coordination of various research projects. NVivo coding, copyediting, and translation of documents. Supervised by Rebecca M. Torres.

2011                Instructor, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Ohio University. WGS100- Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies. Developed syllabus and curriculum for introductory course. 35 undergraduate students were taught.

2010-2011       AmeriCorps Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA), Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, Athens, OH. Program research and development, grant writer. Supervised by Gary Goosman.

2008-2010       Teaching Assistant, Department of Geography, Ohio University. 

Globalization and the Developing World. Guest lecturer. Assisted in grading and proctoring of assignments and exams. Supervised by Yeong Kim.

Introduction to Human Geography. Assisted in assignment, quiz and exam development as well as held one-on-one exam review sessions. Supervised by Tim Anderson, Risa Whitson and Brad Jokisch.

Environmental Geography. Organized and led field trips to course-relevant sites. Supervised by Geoff Buckley and Harold Perkins.

2008                Graduate Assistant, 15th Annual Critical Geography Mini-Conference. Assisted in conference organizing and served as chair of two sessions. Supervised by Harold Perkins.

2006-2007       Research Assistant, Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico. Assisted in the research of the impact of globalization on the indigenous Maya of Chiapas and Zapotecs of Oaxaca. Supervised by Mike S. DeVivo.



Fellowships, Awards & Honors

Fellowships, Awards & Honors

2012 AAG EDGE Careers & Outreach Grant, for the "Undergraduate Diversity Liaisons Project", Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin ($500) 

2012                Alejandro Junco Scholarship for Graduate Research in Mexico, Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies ($3,000)

2012                Robert E. Veselka Endowed Fellowship for Graduate Research Travel ($750)

2012                Outstanding Service Award, Graduate Student Assembly, University of Texas at Austin

2012                Ford Predoctoral Fellowship, Alternate and Honorable Mention

2011                Graduate Assistantship- 5 year award, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin (approx. $29,000 per year)

2011                Recruitment Fellowship, Graduate School, University of Texas at Austin ($6,000)

2010                1st Place MA Student Paper Competition, ELDAAG - Grand Rapids, MI ($100)

2010                Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, Department of Geography, Ohio University ($100)

2009                Isaac Sindiga Memorial Fund Award, Department of Geography, Ohio University ($600)

2009                Travel Grant, Graduate Student Senate, Ohio University ($266)

2008-10           Graduate Assistantship- 2 year award, Department of Geography, Ohio University (Instructional tuition waived plus yearly stipend of $11,175- total $21,918 per year)

2007                Gamma Theta Upsilon- The International Geographical Honor Society, Aquinas College

2006-08           Academic Scholarship- 2 year award, Aquinas College ($13,000 per year)

2005-06           Dean’s List, Grand Rapids Community College

Presentations & Invited Lectures

Conference Presentations

February 2012 “‘Para un futuro a nos hijos’: Participation in Community-Driven Development and the Renegotiation of Domestic Labor,” Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, New York, NY.

January 2012   Alternate Methodologies for Completing Master’s Thesis Research Abroad: Community-Driven Development in Nicaragua,” Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico.

November 2011 Understanding Shifting Gender Roles in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua,” Annual meeting of the Southwestern Division of the Association of American Geographers Austin, TX.

October 2010 Se Hace Camino Al Andar/The Road is Made by Walking: Women’s Participation in Community-Driven Development in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua,”  The East Lakes Division Association of American Geographers, Grand Rapids, MI.

March 2008     Women in the Third World: The Key to Successful Development,” (with M. S. DeVivo) Michigan Women’s Studies Association National Conference, Ypsilanti, MI.

October 2007 A Changing Ethnic Landscape: A Look at the Spatial Distribution of Hispanics in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” The East Lakes Division Association of American Geographers, East Lansing, MI.

October 2006 Maize, Milpa and the Maya at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century: A Geographical Perspective,” The East Lakes Division Association of American Geographers, Toledo, OH. 

April 2006       Indigenous People in Geographical Change: Globalization Among the Maya of Chiapas,” (with M. S. DeVivo) California Geographical Society, Redding, CA.

Invited Lectures

April 2010       “Nicaragua and Globalization.” GEOG131- Globalization and the Developing

World. Department of Geography, Ohio University, Athens, OH.


March 2010     “Cultural Geography: Geographies of Identity.” GEOG121- Human Geography.

Department of Geography, Ohio University, Athens, OH.

Field Work

Field Work

2013-ongoing    Austin, Texas, US. 20-40 semi-structured interviews and surveys with citizen children of undocumented migrants. Funded by NIH (R21 HD068874) headed by principal investigator Dean Luis H. Zayas PhD.

2012                Coyolillo, Veracruz, Mexico. 37 Interviews and 6 participatory work shops were conducted with return migrant men, women, and children. Funded by the Alejandro Junco Scholarship.

2011                Coyolillo, Veracruz, Mexico. Interviewed 23 local authorities, migrants and their families. This fieldwork was conducted for the larger project, “Rural Transformation & Latino Transnational Migration” NSF Award #0547725 headed by principal investigator Dr. Rebecca Torres.

2009                Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua. Interviewed 11 individuals participating in community-driven development. Interviews took place with those who were associated with the Jubilee House Community- Center for Development in Central America. Master’s thesis research.

2008                Estelí, Nicaragua / Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Engaged in fieldwork and interviews with indigenous farmers of the Miraflor Nature Reserve’s organic co-operative. Interviewed women of the Miraflor co-op as well as members of Grupo Venancia; a progressive women’s group of Matagalpa.

2007                Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico. Investigated the effects of globalization and tourism on artesanía families in Oaxaca and Chiapas.

2006                Grand Rapids, Michigan. Engaged in fieldwork and interviews with recent Mexican immigrants regarding employment and their overall migration experiences. Bachelor’s degree research project.

2006                Chiapas, Mexico. Engaged in fieldwork concerning Milpa agriculture in the Chiapan highlands. Conducted interviews with the ethno-botanical community and indigenous families of Chiapas regarding globalization, pesticides and bioengineered foods.

Professional & Institutional Service

Professional Service

2012-2013       Primary Coordinator, Undergraduate Diversity Liaisons Project, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin, funded by AAG 

2012-2013       Vice Chair, Graduate Student Affinity Group, Association of American Geographers

2012-2013       Student Representative, Geographic Perspectives on Women specialty group, Association of American Geographers

2012                Co-coordinator, AAG ALIGNED Toolkit Workshop, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin. 

Institutional Service

2011-2013       Representative, Graduate Student Assembly, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin.

2012                Representative, Graduate Student Advisory Council (ad-hoc, planning stages), College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin

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