Karin Machalová always loved learning about different cultures, traditions and norms.
When she read about the Business Anthropology certificate program at College of DuPage, she contacted Anthropology Professor Derrick Willis to find out more about it.
“Dr. Willis explained the program to me and I signed up for my first Business Anthropology course in 2013,” she said. “The Business Anthropology program took my interest a step further and gave me the opportunity to learn in a hands-on way and taught me how to apply what I learned to real-life situations.”
Machalová initially attended COD for one semester before her family moved out of district, but she moved back to DuPage County several years later. At COD she explored her love of anthropology through research opportunities.
“I had the privilege of working with and learning from Dr. Willis, who taught me how to conduct ethnographic research through participant observation and one-on-one interviews,” she said. “I took Dr. Willis’ Methods class and conducted hour-long interviews with students and faculty on campus about their eating habits. Then I transcribed and coded that data to identify different themes and their relationship to one another.
“I also conducted participant observation by dining at COD’s Wheat Cafe with my classmates and visiting different coffee shops in order to observe the environment and behaviors of patrons. I was able to collect and analyze qualitative data to understand the cultural meanings people ascribe to their food choices.”
After their six-month-long research, Machalová and her classmates presented their findings during the annual conference for the Society for Applied Anthropology in Albuquerque, N.M.
“This experience was extremely valuable to me because we were doing university-style work at the community college level. I learned how to conduct ethnographic research, preserve confidentiality of research subjects, search for and use peer reviewed and scholarly articles in support of my research paper, and present findings at a professional conference in front of my peers.”
Machalová earned her certificate in Business Anthropology with high honors. Her experience at COD not only allowed her to work while saving money but also gave her the courage to apply to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
Now working as a paralegal at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Machalová interviews clients to obtain information about their immigration history to determine their eligibility for various types of immigration relief. She also conducts country conditions research to support client affidavits and applications that are reviewed by adjudicating officers at government agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“I actually never thought I would be working as a paralegal in the immigration field,” she said. “However, after the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment following the 2016 presidential election, I felt a duty to be a part of the fight for immigrant rights. I graduated on Dec. 10, 2016, and I started my work at the National Immigrant Justice Center on Jan. 17, 2017, the beginning of the most stressful time in my life, not only as an immigrant myself but also as a person employed in the immigration field. This sentiment is shared by immigration attorneys and legal staff across the nation. The fact that Dec. 10 is International Human Rights Day was a sign in itself that any work I was destined to do would be in the human rights field.
“Although I didn’t end up choosing anthropology as my major, I use the valuable skills I learned through the Anthropology program at COD in my everyday work.”
Most recently, Machalová was asked to coordinate the Access to Justice Program at NIJC, which is a state of Illinois initiative designed to provide free legal representation to immigrants facing deportation and assistance to formerly incarcerated individuals with reintegration into society.
As for COD, she felt the experience was the ideal bridge with a university.
“The thought of attending a university can be scary for some people because you don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I come from a working class family and didn’t have anyone to help guide me through the college process, so I had to figure everything out on my own. I encourage students who are unsure about attending college or who think college is unattainable to take the first step and enroll at a community college. It’s never too late and you can make this work if you set your mind to it.
“Take advantage of night classes and online classes, be a part-time student if need be, and just get your foot in the door. I worked full time and attended college part time and took advantage of evening classes. Seek help when you need it and build relationships with your professors and college counselors. Ask your professors for their advice and pick their brain about their experiences. Everyone at COD is dedicated to seeing you succeed, from the librarians who assist with research projects to the custodians who maintain the building to provide you with a safe and clean learning environment. Remember it’s all about persistence, persistence, persistence: Find something to motivate you and keep you going and you will be a step closer to reaching your full potential.”