National Geographic Society Newsroom

National Geographic Explorer Jason De León Named MacArthur Foundation 2017 Fellow

National Geographic Emerging Explorer (2013) Jason De León is one of 24 MacArthur Foundation 2017 Fellows announced today. The anthropologist’s multidisciplinary approach to the study of migration from Latin America to the United States is bringing to light the lives and deaths of clandestine migrants crossing the U.S.–Mexico border into the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, MacArthur says on...

National Geographic Emerging Explorer (2013) Jason De León is one of 24 MacArthur Foundation 2017 Fellows announced today. The anthropologist’s multidisciplinary approach to the study of migration from Latin America to the United States is bringing to light the lives and deaths of clandestine migrants crossing the U.S.–Mexico border into the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, MacArthur says on its website. “He combines ethnographic analysis of migrant stories, forensic science, and archaeological research in his efforts to understand this process—who makes the journey, the routes, the means of survival and manner of death—and the human consequences of immigration policy.”

By documenting and communicating the suffering and sacrifice of migrants who risk physical injury and detainment to cross the Mexican border into the United States, MacArthur added, “De León is challenging audiences to confront the complexity of international migration and American policy choices.” Read the full citation on the MacArthur website.

“Jason’s creative approach to studying the current and real issue of undocumented migration combines meticulous archaeological and forensic research with an inspiring commitment to respectfully tell the stories of otherwise voiceless human beings,” said Alex Moen, National Geographic Society Vice President for Explorer Programs. “It is truly wonderful to see Jason recognized with this prestigious award, and we are proud to count him as a member of the National Geographic Explorer community.”

The MacArthur Fellowship is a U.S. $625,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential. The Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. “The purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society,” MacArthur explains on its website.

Meet the MacArthur Foundation 2017 Fellows

“From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges,” says Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director, MacArthur Fellows Program. “Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all.”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34, painter living in Los Angeles: “Visualizing the complexities of globalization and transnational identity in works that layer paint, photographic imagery, prints, and collage elements.”

Sunil Amrith, 38, historian living in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “Illustrating the role of centuries of transnational migration in the present-day social and cultural dynamics of South and Southeast Asia.”

Greg Asbed, 54, human rights strategist living in Immokalee, Florida: “Transforming conditions for low-wage workers with a visionary model of worker-driven social responsibility.”

Annie Baker, 36, playwright living in New York City: “Mining the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.”

Regina Barzilay, 46, computer scientist living in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “Developing machine learning methods that enable computers to process and analyze vast amounts of human language data.”

Dawoud Bey, 63, photographer and educator living in Chicago: “Using an expansive approach to photography that creates new spaces of engagement within cultural institutions, making them more meaningful to and representative of the communities in which they are situated.”

Emmanuel Candès, 47, mathematician and statistician living in Stanford, California: “Exploring the limits of signal recovery and matrix completion from incomplete data sets with implications for high-impact applications in multiple fields.”

Jason De León, 40, anthropologist living in Ann Arbor, Michigan: “Combining ethnographic, forensic, and archaeological evidence to bring to light the human consequences of immigration policy at the U.S.–Mexico border.”

Rhiannon Giddens, 40, singer, instrumentalist and songwriter living in Greensboro, North Carolina: “Reclaiming African American contributions to folk and country music and bringing to light new connections between music from the past and the present.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones, 41, journalist living in New York City: “Chronicling the persistence of racial segregation in American society, particularly in education, and reshaping national conversations around education reform.”

Cristina Jiménez Moreta, 33, social justice organizer living in Washington, D.C.: “Changing public perceptions of immigrant youth and playing a critical role in shaping the debate around immigration policy.”

Taylor Mac, 44, theater artist living in New York City: “Engaging audiences as active participants in works that dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community.”

Rami Nashashibi, 45, community leader living in Chicago: “Confronting the challenges of poverty and disinvestment in urban communities through a Muslim-led civic engagement effort that bridges race, class, and religion.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, 46, fiction writer and cultural critic living in Los Angeles: “Challenging popular depictions of the Vietnam War and exploring the myriad ways that war lives on for those it has displaced.”

Kate Orff, 45, landscape architect living in New York City: “Designing adaptive and resilient urban habitats and encouraging residents to be active stewards of the ecological systems underlying our built environment.”

Trevor Paglen, 43, artist and geographer living in Berlin: “Documenting the hidden operations of covert government projects and examining the ways that human rights are threatened in an era of mass surveillance.”

Betsy Levy Paluck, 39, psychologist living in Princeton, New Jersey: “Unraveling how social networks and norms influence our interactions with one another and identifying interventions that can change destructive behavior.”

Derek Peterson, 46, historian living in Ann Arbor, Michigan: “Reshaping our understanding of African colonialism and nationalism in studies that foreground East African intellectual production.”

Damon Rich, 42, designer and urban planner living in Newark, New Jersey: “Creating vivid and witty strategies to design and build places that are more democratic and accountable to their residents.”

Stefan Savage, 48, computer scientist living in La Jolla, California: “Identifying and addressing the technological, economic, and social vulnerabilities underlying internet security challenges and cybercrime.”

Yuval Sharon, 37, opera director and producer living in Los Angeles: “Expanding how opera is performed and experienced through immersive, multisensory, and mobile productions that are infusing a new vitality into the genre.”

Tyshawn Sorey, 37, composer and musician living in Middletown, Connecticut: “Assimilating and transforming ideas from a broad spectrum of musical idioms and defying distinctions between genres, composition, and improvisation in a singular expression of contemporary music.”

Gabriel Victora, 40, immunologist living in New York City: “Investigating acquired, or adaptive, immunity and the mechanisms by which organisms’ antibody-based responses to infection are fine-tuned.”

Jesmyn Ward, 40, fiction writer living in DeLisle, Mississippi: “Exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential.”

This post was prepared from materials released on the MacArthur Foundation website.

Related Voices post: Emerging Explorer Manu Prakash Receives MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ (2016)

Related National Geographic News story: An Anthropologist Unravels the Mysteries of Mexican Migration (2015)

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn