K. Aaron Van Oosterhout is a research scholar at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s Community Research Institute (CRI) at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At CRI, he designs, manages, and carries out a broad variety of community-based research projects, in areas ranging from housing to prisoner re-entry to public health.
Alongside his work at CRI, Dr. Van Oosterhout serves as a research director / instructor at Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates, a non-profit immigration legal office in Holland, Michigan. Furthermore, he was appointed by the mayor of Holland to serve on the International Relations Commission (as chair from July 2016–August 2017), where he currently represents the community in its sister-city relationship with Querétaro, Mexico. Dr. Van Oosterhout also serves on an ad-hoc panel addressing court- and jail-fee reform in Ottawa County.
Prior to joining CRI, Dr. Van Oosterhout taught and researched Latin American history at a number of colleges and universities in the United States and Mexico. Most recently, he taught courses on race, religion, and rebellion in Latin America at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. His doctoral research — conducted in Mexico from 2012–2013 under the auspices of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation International Dissertation Research Fellowship — centered on anti-state popular movements and the social and political construction of race in 19th-century Mexico. His work was also supported by a University Distinguished Fellowship at Michigan State University, which granted him a Ph.D. in 2014. Dr. Van Oosterhout has published a book chapter, and numerous articles and reviews in leading publications in his field.
In addition, Dr. Van Oosterhout earned a magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 2005, concentrating in Spanish and journalism. During his tenure at Notre Dame, he won the James E. Murphy Award for Exceptional Journalism, as well as the Albert LeMay Award for Service to the Hispanic Community.
Outside academia, Dr. Van Oosterhout has worked on issues of criminal justice for more than a decade, beginning with a volunteer position teaching English in a prison in Cholula, Mexico, in 2003. Most recently, he worked as an independent consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, conducting research on long-term incarceration in Michigan state correctional facilities.
Dr. Van Oosterhout sees his work at CRI as an opportunity to pursue social justice in West Michigan. By listening to a broad spectrum of community voices — from non-profit directors to the people whose lives they touch — he hopes to help area organizations strengthen their services and improve their reach.