(From left) Dr. Nelson Soto, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union Institute & University; Dr. Gena A. Rojas, recipient of the Marvin B. Sussman Doctoral Award; Dr. Jennifer Raymond, chairwoman of the Dissertation Committee and of the Public Policy and Social Change doctoral program at UIU; and Dr. Michael Raffanti, dean of the Graduate College at UIU.
A dissertation on CHamoru land issues has earned University of Guam Assistant Professor Dr. Gena A. Rojas the Marvin B. Sussman Doctoral Award. Rojas, an assistant professor of community development and an extension agent with UOG’s Cooperative Extension and Outreach, was selected from 30 other nominees by the graduate program faculty and administration of Union Institute & University, where she earned a doctorate in public policy and social change this month. She was presented the award at her commencement ceremony on Oct. 4 in Cincinnati.
Her dissertation, titled “Navigating Contested Terrain: A Critical Case Study of Guam’s Chamorro Land Trust Residential Land Lease Program,” examines particular issues within Guam’s residential land lease program, including how residential lessees have had to navigate the political landscape and how the struggle for power continues to play a role in addressing environmental and public health concerns on the island.
“What this study really was about is that it examined the lived experience of the residential land lessees,” Rojas said. “It really says something about the issues that we are facing — that it is a consequence of being colonized.”
The annual award was established by the late Dr. Marvin Sussman, a former faculty adviser and philanthropist for Union Institute & University, to honor a recent graduate whose doctoral dissertation is judged to be outstanding in terms of originality, interdisciplinary, social meaning, writing, and overall presentation. A committee of faculty and administrators nominate and select a recipient based on the quality of research and the impact the study will have within the community at large.
Rojas was chosen for the award alongside co-recipient Dr. Adison Soko, whose research focused on the issue of land equity in Zimbabwe.
Rojas said her main motive in choosing the topic of CHamoru land leases was to give a voice to residential land lessees and their experiences of obtaining land and building a home. She also hopes her study will inform land policy along with changes within the Chamorro Land Trust.
On receiving the award Rojas said, “We always think Guam is outside of this realm of how the real world is, so for our work to be recognized at that level just means we have something powerful to say.”
The Regional Center for Public Policy within UOG’s School of Business and Public Administration is planning several sessions for Rojas to share her study.
In the future, Rojas plans on writing more publications and to have her research accessible to future scholars who are interested in an in-depth exploration of the study’s findings and the subject matter.
The dissertation is in the process of being published by the academic database ProQuest. In the meantime, copies are available by request from Rojas at firstname.lastname@example.org.