Degi Tserendamba

Bridging generations

Undergraduate Degi Tserendamba studies families in her home country of Mongolia

“Mongolia’s population is very small—only 3 million people. I know it’s possible to reach more families.”

Undergraduate Delgermend “Degi” Tserendamba is not just a pie-in-the-sky optimist. Her goals for helping families in her home country of Mongolia are grounded in research, study, and determination.

Degi, majoring in family social science, received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) to return to Mongolia during summer 2011. For two months, she conducted surveys with 200 participants in families across the country.

With western influence increasing in Mongolia, Degi interviewed people of all ages to understand the gap between generations and investigate ways that traditional values can be passed on.

“The older generation grew up while Mongolia was communist,” she says. “Things were very homogenous, and the government took care of a lot of social needs, including child care. After communism fell in the 1990s, a lot changed. Now the younger generation is more concerned with money and status and is facing problems like unemployment and rising alcoholism.”

The initial thought of conducting research on Mongolian families came to Degi from one of many discussions with her parents.

“They are my mentors in many ways,” she says. She left them behind when she followed her aunt—accepted as a graduate student in conservation biology—to Minnesota. Degi finished high school and started community college, then transferred to the University in 2010.

Degi feels that working with the younger generations in Mongolia will be the most productive way to effect change. She wants to examine the roots of the alcoholism and public intoxication common among young people and give them tools to improve their lives and increase mobility.

“Not many people are asking, ‘What does it mean to be Mongolian?’” she says. “I want to create an understanding between generations to embrace Mongolian culture together.”

She is showcasing her work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in March and at the Twin Cities campus UROP symposium April 18. Degi praises associate professor Catherine Solheim and other faculty members in the Department of Family Social Science for working with her and supporting her research.

After graduation this spring, she intends to return to Mongolia to work. “I want to have a good understanding of the people I want to help before I start graduate school,” she says.

Story by Amanda Costello | March 2012