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School of International Service: Undergraduate Research

Elise Alexander

Elise Alexander, SIS/CAS/BA '12

As a double major in international and religious studies, Elise Alexander, SIS/CAS/BA ’12, found a topic sophomore year that she loved: Middle Eastern Christianity. “[I’ve] been learning about it ever since,” she said. But Alexander has been doing more than learning: this topic has inspired her to concoct an independent reading course, write an Honors Capstone, and finish this paper, entitled “Salt of the Earth and Olive Roots: Cultural Adaptation of Protestants in the Levant.”

While scholarship exists regarding Middle Eastern Christian missionaries, “far less attention has been paid to the patterns of cultural adaptation among Protestants who maintain a long-term presence in the Middle East and those who, after generations of evangelization, are indigenous to the area,” Alexander wrote in her paper’s abstract.

Alexander collected primary source material for her paper while studying abroad in Aleppo, Syria, having applied for, and won, AU’s Summer Scholar Grant. She has recently been awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (sponsored by the U.S. Department of State), for the summer of 2012, studying in Tangier, Morocco, before embarking on a graduate career at Harvard Divinity School, focusing on religion and social sciences.

Alyssa Carlson

Alyssa Carlson, SIS/CAS/BA '12

Alyssa Carlson, SIS/CAS/BA ’12, was at first stumped about what to research.  Which of her two majors – international studies and economics – should she focus on? With the help of her economics professors and an underlying interest in international development, Carlson “concluded that poverty and income inequality was the biggest issue, and that corruption was acting as a block to allow any sort of improvement,” she noted. 

From this idea came her paper, “Income Inequality and Asymmetric Responses to Corruption.” By exploring the relationships between corruption, income inequality, and government expenditure, Alyssa demonstrates that corruption has long-term effects that are often not addressed by the steps taken to reduce corruption in the first place.     

After she graduates in May, Carlson plans not only to pursue a graduate degree in economics, but to delve into topics under debate: “this research made me realize how difficult it is to do research in controversial topics … and how it affects the amount of data there is out there. But I guess that just reinforces that someone needs to do the research for it, and that is something I would love to contribute to.”

Robert Helbig

Robert Helbig, SIS/BA '12

Robert Helbig, SIS/BA '12, is no stranger to research paper presentations. While he presented his most recent paper, “Nato-India: Prospects of a Partnership” at Fergusson College in Pune, India, December 2011, a previous paper, "Defining its Future, Engaging its Public: NATO's New Strategic Concept as a Tool for Survival," won a Pi Sigma Alpha Best Paper award for best undergraduate paper at the 2011 Annual Illinois State University Conference for Students of Political Science.  

Helbig wrote his second research paper while studying abroad in India, enjoying more than a few aspects of his work: exploring a new avenue of academe, and working on the ground with the people involved in the growing partnership.

“What I found particularly interesting about the topic ‘NATO-India’ was that I found a niche about which no other academic has published before. This gave me the chance to explore a new field and to spread awareness about the importance of a potential partnership between the parties both in NATO and in India … When I met dozens of people going from one think tank to another in Delhi, I felt like a NATO Public Diplomacy officer engaging the Indian foreign policy elite.”

Now studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the work that Helbig has done on the topic directly influenced his post-SIS plans. “It reinforced my wish to gain more experience in transatlantic security relations. It also made me think about doing a PhD, because I found the research very rewarding.” His interests also include security and defense policy, public diplomacy, and transatlantic relations.

Glynnis McIntyre

Glynnis McIntyre, SIS/BA '12

International development issues and the field of microfinance have interested Glynnis McIntyre, SIS/BA '12, since she began researching the latter topic in her sophomore year Introduction to International Relations class. Interest led to action when she interned with the Women’s Microfinance Initiative the summer before her junior year, and created her own interdisciplinary minor in global health and development.

To this end, McIntyre presented her paper, “Microfinance: An Analysis of Success and Challenges in West Africa” at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. In her abstract, she explains, “This paper examines the puzzle of differential success in [western Africa and southern Asia] through a comparison of eight microfinance institutions, four from each region. Success is defined through an operational model, designed to examine three primary categories: financial stability, institutional viability, and outreach.”

Her findings indicate that microfinance institutions in western Africa are impaired, whereas the opposite is true in southern Asia. “I believe that there is not one formula for development, but rather that you must take the needs and norms of a culture into account when creating an effective development program.”

Julia White

Julia White, SIS/CAS/BA '13

The interest Julia White, SIS/CAS/BA '13, felt for her 2012 paper, “Identity Crises: Effect of Immigration on Latino Identity in the United States,” didn’t just stem from research into the topic or other secondhand knowledge. As a high schooler, White observed the phenomenon directly.

“My high school mixed a primarily white and Jewish town with a primarily Hispanic and Catholic town. I helped to create, develop, participate, and currently facilitate a dialogue program at my high school exploring the topic of race among a diverse group of students. When participating in the dialogues, I observed identity confusion among some of the Hispanic students: both first and second generation.”

This experience led White to “[compare] the Latino immigrant experience with established theories of identity and cultural assimilation,” according to her paper’s abstract. “The research suggests that immigrant identities among the population surveyed have evolved such that certain identity features prevalent in first generation immigrants are less prevalent in subsequent generations of immigrants.”

The topic of Latino identity not only influenced White’s work at American University – she is a double major in international studies and Language and Area Studies: Spanish and Latin American Studies – but her future plans, as well. “Exploring Latino identity from the individuals themselves will definitely be beneficial to my future work in creating communities in which immigrant and non-immigrant residents can coexist and build stronger relationships.”