Will Allen, a 2009 graduate of Alma College, is making a difference in the United Kingdom, where he has raised $480,000 in grants that allow him to lead research on international migration.
Allen’s research explores how information about international migration is understood, visualized and communicated to a wide range of stakeholders in British public life.
His grants have come from several international sources, including the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Toyota Foundation in Japan.
“It might seem unusual for a social scientist to attract funding from councils normally covering diverse subjects like art, history, computer science or business,” Allen says. “However, I believe it illustrates the fact that data of all types, visualization of those data, and their communication are incredibly relevant to society, policymakers and the private sector.”
Allen works at the Migration Observatory in Britain. Formed in 2011, the independent organization’s goal is to inform debates about migration in the United Kingdom through and accessible data analysis.
“My role involves leading projects that investigate how the United Kingdom’s lively media — particularly its national press — discuss migration issues and portray different migrant groups,” says Allen. “My mission is to equip others with the knowledge, skills and techniques to produce better, more effective migration policy — as well as improve their involvement with migrants themselves.”
Allen’s work on the media portrayal of migration has been taken up by non-governmental organizations around the United Kingdom as well as the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the European Commission of Brussels.
After graduating from Alma College with a program of emphasis in social policy, he went on to study international development at the University of Oxford as Alma’s first Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholar. He was one of 30 scholars from around the world, selected from a pool of approximately 650 applicants, to receive the prestigious post-graduate award.
Allen says his undergraduate experiences at Alma College were vital in his success at Oxford and as a research officer at the Migration Observatory.
“Opportunities for international travel widened my horizon of what was possible,” he says. “Traveling to Ecuador, Mexico and continental Europe for spring terms gave me the self-confidence to pursue further education abroad. Perhaps most importantly, my time at Alma gave me the chance to discover how my values and beliefs could inform transformative action.”
He urges students looking to do similar social and civil work to broaden their horizons as much as possible.
“I would recommend taking a wide range of courses that challenge your thinking on a subject,” he says. “It will make you more flexible and will make you able to solve problems more intelligently. I would also emphasize the importance of understanding how to communicate effectively and managing projects. These are skills that are developed through repeated experiences outside the classroom.”
Allen has recently received a full academic scholarship to complete his PhD in Politics at Oxford University, beginning in the fall of 2015.
“My 3-year project is titled ‘Narrating Migration, 1985-2015: What Does the UK Press Say about Migration, and How Does This Impact Public Perceptions’,” says Allen. ”It will combine corpus linguistics, time series methods and survey experiments with ethnographic interviewing to get at the interactions among media, policy and attitudes towards immigration in the UK.”