Hye Jung Park Shares Her Journey of Being Undocumented, Joining the Army, and Pursuing Her Ph.D.

Blog | 04/07/2021

We’re spotlighting 2020 Tillman Scholar Hye Jung Park, a U.S. Army sergeant who’s in her fifth year of service and fourth year of Ph.D research at Arizona State University’s developmental psychology program.

Military service has been stitched in Hye Jung’s family tapestry since her father served in the South Korean Marines. HyeJung, however, opted for a different branch of service. Shortly after she finished undergrad at UC-Irvine, the Army recruited her through a program called MAVNI – Military Accession Vital to National Interest.

“MAVNI is a recruitment program that was offered by the Department of Defense,” Hye Jung said, “They recruited legal non-immigrants with expertise in health care and certain languages relevant to the US military. In exchange, Soldiers enlisted through this program were offered US citizenship. At that point I was undocumented but with DACA status which gave me the legal non-immigrant status and an opportunity to apply.”

In conjunction to her military service, HyeJung is currently a graduate student at ASU. As a William T. Grant Mentor/Mentee Fellowship recipient, she was provided the opportunity to incorporate geographical information systems into her longitudinal research providing greater contextual understanding of where development is taking place. Her primary research interests are to examine community and culture specific assets that promote and protect marginalized youth developing in various contexts. 

“I am involved in a lab called Transiciones which is led by Dr. Leah Doane. This semester, we are collecting data from our eighth wave of follow-up,” Hye Jung said. “During the first wave, our participants were seniors in high school and now they’re seniors in college! By gathering data through the ecological momentary assessment longitudinally, we can examine the role of culture and environmental context on health, mental health, and academic success as late-adolescents transition into college and then into adulthood.”

Hye Jung and her fellow graduate students hope to present the findings of this study at next year’s Society for Research on Adolescence conference and plan to publish in academic journals to further disseminate their research.

As she reflects on the path that has led to her current research, Hye Jung acknowledges the enormous role the California Dream Act, DACA, and the MAVNI program have played for her to reach this point. 

“The California Dream Act and DACA is so near to my heart, because those policies are what paved the way for me to pursue my dreams and be the person that I am today,” Hye Jung said, “Unfortunately, those opportunities weren’t extended to all ‘DACA-mented’ youth. Only 17 states offer in-state tuition for undocumented students. Presently, there are no concrete pathways to citizenship for the undocumented youth. The MAVNI program, which is now closed, was selective based on the needs of the military. I know that my accomplishments were only possible because of the lucky circumstances that qualified me into these programs. My hard work and dedication are no different than other undocumented students, instead, I was just given a chance. Recognizing my successes is recognizing the need to further provide other undocumented students with a legal and clear pathway towards citizenship and to give them a chance at life as well.”