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Kellogg research grants offer students abroad opportunities

Dana Gusky | Friday, November 10, 2006

When senior Kevin Overmann witnessed the grief in a small Ghanaian town after the death of two women during childbirth, he wanted to learn more about the country’s cultural issues of maternity.”It was a really powerful experience that affected me,” he said. “When I got [back to campus], I realized I wanted to do something about it.” Overmann, a pre-med and anthropology major, decided that he wanted to return to Ghana and study the practices and traditions that surround childbirth. He was able to realize his goal through a grant from the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. “I observed the maternity ward in a major government hospital three days a week. The rest of the time I went to rural villages and talked to the traditional midwives, who had all their knowledge handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter,” said Overmann, who is now writing a narrative about his experiences. For more than 20 years, the Kellogg Institute and Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies have been jointly giving grants to students for undergraduate research, designed to promote students’ initiative and spark interest in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Students like Overmann must research and write a grant in the area of their choice, while partnering with a Notre Dame professor in the given field. “Your advisor really helps you with the pre- and post-study, especially when you get back and analyze the data,” senior Kristina Leszczak said. Leszczak had previously spent a summer in El Salvador before deciding to write a grant concerning the low levels of violence in Argentina. “I wanted to see why other countries weren’t looking to Argentina as this great example,” Leszczak said.The University has made a concerted effort to engage in undergraduate research, according to Holly Rivers, the coordinator of the program.”I think this program does a lot to realize that goal,” Rivers said. “It is these type of programs that enable students to get Fulbright awards and other grants after graduation.” Each summer, the institutes send five to six rising seniors to their selected regions with a maximum grant of $4,000. Once there, it is up to the student to carry out his investigation to answer the questions proposed in his grant.”I met with politicians, ex-labor leaders, and intellectuals,” senior Gustavo Rivera said. Rivera studied in his native country of Mexico, as well as Argentina, and investigated leftist countries and their relation to labor unions. “I also spent about five to six hours a day at the local library just reading everything I could,” he said.Senior Rachel Meeks used her research grant to go to north India and study a group of Tibetan refugees. She spent six weeks in a refuge center, interviewing older female refugees in a weaver and spinner group and discussing the effects of their exile and journey to India. “I wanted to compare the memories of the exiles to how they raise their own children,” Meeks said. Meeks said it is difficult to try to get in touch with people who may not be very open. “I spent my mornings in a refuge center, helping people learn English and trying to get them not to see me as a waste of space,” she said. The returnees had plenty of advice for potential applicants.”Come up with a concise and clear question, but know that question is a living thing and will change,” Rivera said. Senior Megan Westrum started her summer in India and Bangladesh and tried to determine if there was a link between democratization and economic liberalization”My study actually became a more qualitative view of how individuals and interest groups affect public policy,” she said. “Make [your study] achievable and know why you question is important.”Applicants for the summer of 2007 must submit their grant proposals by March 2.