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Grants enable research abroad

Jenn Metz | Friday, September 7, 2007

Africa moved to the forefront of Notre Dame’s attention last year during the Notre Dame Forum and again when University President Father John Jenkins visited Uganda in January. This summer, senior Jenna Rogers got to see the country for herself with the help of research grants.

Rogers, a political science and politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) major, received funding from both the Kellogg Institute and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) to spend seven weeks in Uganda.

She conducted research for her senior thesis in the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative village, Nindye, where she held interviews. Her thesis advisor and director of the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative, Father Bob Dowd, was also in Uganda at the time.

Rogers also received UROP funding for a one-month trip to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in the summer of 2006, where she conducted the initial research for her thesis.

Her thesis would not have been possible, Rogers said, without the grant-funded trips to Africa.

“I conducted 92 interviews this summer, which were the basis of my thesis,” she said.

“Just applying for the grants was really helpful – it helped to synthesize my thoughts about my project.”

Many Notre Dame undergraduates, like Rogers, have taken advantage of opportunities to do research funded by grants from institutions like the Kellogg Institute and UROP, said Holly Rivers, program manager for the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Students can receive up to $4,000 in the nine research grants the Institute offers to juniors for summer research abroad, Rivers said, with special emphasis placed in developing countries.

“For a frugal student, this should cover the costs of transportation, living, etc.,” she said.

These grants are very competitive, Rivers said. She said the Kellogg Institute has partnered with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies to fund more students.

Recently, the Kellogg Institute added grant opportunities for freshmen and sophomores in the form of eight “Experiencing the World Fellowships.” These grants can be research or internship-based for students looking to experience Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“There are not very many universities out there that offer these fully funded opportunities,” Rivers said.

For both Kellogg Institute programs, students need to come up with a budget. Research grant applicants must submit a five-page proposal.

“Students are expected to be working with a faculty member who can help guide in terms of methodology and research,” Rivers said. “The ultimate goal is to use the research for the senior thesis.”

The fellowship does not come with the same expectations, she said.

“Students get their feet wet and get to experience another country,” Rivers said.

After students complete the fellowships, Rivers said she hopes they will return for more intense research.

Students who apply for these programs are traditionally from the College of Arts and Letters, especially political science, history, anthropology and sociology majors. In recent years, however, more students from science and business fields have been applying for grants. Rivers attributed this rise in interest to the growing importance of microfinance.

As for geographic location, students have been “spread out over the last couple of years,” Rivers said.

“Choice of location is very much relate to the student’s interests,” she said. “Africa is very important for Notre Dame students, but in general they span the continents.”

The internship program at the Kellogg Institute will add more sites in summer 2008.

“Research can help students win awards and direct what they do in the future,” Rivers said. “Research has made a huge difference.”

The research funded by the Kellogg Institute grants, Rivers said, is very much academic. Students must present a solid project, usable methodology, achievable goals and the skills needed to carry out those goals.

“The purpose of the project should be more then just a summer project,” she said. “It’s worthwhile to take advantage of these opportunities to help define interests.”

Ruth Abbey, the acting director for the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, said the UROP grant offers are based on the merit of the proposal. There is no fixed number or acceptance rate, she said.

“Students can spend the summer in the Notre Dame library or travel abroad or do some combination of both,” Abbey said. “During term, [students] go to conferences to present research, visit archives and seek funding to participants in surveys. … The funding follows good ideas.”

In order to obtaining UROP funding, Abbey said the applicant must have “a clear idea of his or her research goals.” This also requires a proposal and knowledge of the topic.

Like Rivers, Abbey also emphasized the need for “a good match between methods of inquiry and research goals.”

Katie Hauswirth, a senior political science major, applied for a grant from the Kellogg Institute while studying abroad last semester in Dublin. She traveled to Spain for a week to conduct and interview in Madrid and do library research in Bilbao, an experience she called essential toward the completion of her thesis.

Jordy Brooks, a senior political science and gender studies major, studied in Nairobi, Kenya for five weeks last summer working for the Coalition on Violence Against Women with the Gender Studies’ Boehnen grant.

“It gave me the opportunity to work with amazing people and get to know the Kenyan culture,” she said. Brooks is now writing her thesis from her experience.