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Students showcase international research

GABRIELA MALESPIN | Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Eight students who did research in underdeveloped countries, through various University programs, displayed their research projects in the Geddes Coffee House on Tuesday. Students investigated various topics such as cultural identity, rehabilitation of marginalized populations, education and globalization. 

Professor Vania Smith-Oka, assistant professor of Anthropology, was responsible for mentoring the group of students and teaches the course cultural difference and social change, a three credit course designed for students who have completed study or research abroad that helps students understand their experience in an academic context. 

“[The course] is an experience for them to make academic sense of what they’ve witnessed. This public presentation is a way for people to get interested in their experiences,” Smith-Oka said. 

The projects ranged from examining the relationships between language and cultural identity to health care implementation to investigating the role of masculinity in sex trafficking, among other topics. The locations included Guatemala, Tanzania, Uganda, Mexico and Thailand, among other sites. 

Smith said students who engage in this type of research typically take the initiative  afterward to undertake in-depth field work, write senior theses, present at National conferences or go on to do graduate work.

“They’ve usually been life changing experiences, going from a more sheltered life at Notre Dame to being able to witness disparity and marginality” Smith said. 

Senior Rachael Krishnan researched the rehabilitation of sex workers in Kampala, Uganda, and said that the experience enabled her to understand the dynamics between politics and vulnerable populations.

“I’ve gained a lot of skills in qualitative research, but I feel as if what I’ve gained is being able to view the world in a more culturally appropriate lens,” Krishnan said.

Senior Katy Gorentz, who researched disability and identity in Sierra Leone, said her research brought both a new medical and new cultural perspective to her studies. 

Junior Katie Hamel, who researched language and identity in Amatlan, Mexico, said the experience helped her visualize the extent of social change needed to resolve struggles faced by people in rural areas. 

“I’ve gained a shift in my world view from the experience. I realized that people who live in rural areas face struggles that are difficult to overcome without larger changes in social structure” said Hamel.

The student projects were funded by the CSC, the Glynn Family Honors Program, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and other funding entities.

Contact Gabriela Malespin at [email protected]