“Immigration is not just a border issue,” says Lisa Wisniewski, a 28-year-old student in the University of Hartford’s Educational Leadership doctoral program, who has spent the past several months as part of a White House working group that is developing recommendations for changes in immigration policies to help the Polish community in America. Wisniewski visited the White House in February for a full day of meetings with senior members of the Obama administration, and her working group is continuing its efforts. (The Obama administration has a variety of working groups representing different ethnic communities putting together recommendations on ways to improve the immigration system for their ethnicities.)
While she didn’t meet with the President personally, she has worked with other political leaders, including U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, the Polish Ambassador to the U.S., and some members of the Polish Parliament, all of whom participated in a walking tour of Broad Street in New Britain, which is officially known as “Little Poland.” Those officials were in New Britain to take part in a symposium at Central Connecticut State University that Wisniewski organized while she was studying there for her master’s degree.
Increasing general awareness of the Polish community in New Britain and improving prospects for the business community there has long been a passion of Wisniewski’s. This summer, she led a four-week course on “The Polish Experience in America” for students at the University of Connecticut in Waterbury. That course also included a walking tour on Broad Street and a meal at one of the Polish restaurants there.
She said the course was quite successful and she is talking with UConn officials about bringing it back next spring. Those who took the course saw first-hand the revitalization that is going on along Broad Street, as businesses there are being rejuvenated and new Polish signs are being installed. Pride in the Polish culture is also on the upswing in the Broad Street neighborhood, Wisniewski says.
For Wisniewski, it always comes back to neighborhood and family, even with the immigration issue.
“For us, the theme of the immigration reform battle is ‘Let Gramma Visit,’” says Wisniewski. The major problem that the Polish-American community has with the U.S. immigration system, she says, is the difficulty in obtaining visas so that family members in Poland can visit their relatives in America. “This country is missing out on a significant amount of tourism dollars because many Polish people are unable to get visas to visit their American relatives to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings, and a whole host of other events,” she said.
People of Polish backgrounds represent about eight percent of Connecticut’s population, so the impact on easing visa restrictions would be a huge economic boost for this state, Wisniewski said. She noted that there are deep historical ties between Poland and Connecticut, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War, when Casimir Pulaski came to the American Colonies to join the Continental Army under the command of George Washington. As a Brigadier General under Washington, he became known as the father of the American cavalry. A statue in his honor sits on Main Street in downtown Hartford.
Wisniewski’s interest in immigration issues also carries over to her work in the University’s Education Leadership program, where she has been working with Assistant Professor Kenny Nienhusser and Assistant Professor Diana LaRocco, both in the Educational Leadership program, as well as Fred Sweitzer, associate provost and dean of graduate studies. She is helping with Nienhusser’s study entitled “College-Going Culture and College Choice Process in an Urban Context.”
She praised her UHart faculty, saying, “They are so helpful and understanding, and with lots of ideas of how to move me forward in my path. She added, with a chuckle, “I came into the program with a Polish activist life, and they’ve been very supportive of that. It means the world to me.”
She started in the Educational Leadership doctoral program in July 2013, and she hopes to earn her doctorate by 2017.
“I love doing research,” says Wisniewski, adding that she wants to pursue research as a career, hopefully in a University setting. “I have many research interests that I still want to explore,” she said.