Summer Scholars Funding Enables Unique Research
Often sequestered in the AU library, Peri Munter spent a good portion of summer 2020 with Bob Dylan echoing through her head.
Munter, a recent graduate and double major in philosophy and legal studies in CAS and SPA, scoured legal resources seeking Dylan’s lyrics that have popped up in court cases. Working with SPA professor Michelle Engert on a book manuscript, Munter found that the iconic singer-songwriter is cited in 52 cases.
Munter is one of a handful of AU students every year who receive funding from the university’s Summer Scholars and Artists Research Fellowship, which pairs a student and professor to pursue research. The most recent cohort included 12 students who could receive up to $4,000 in funding for the research.
“As a student, the money enabled me to stay in DC and work on this project, which gave me the chance to do some really cool, really creative research,” Munter said.
Jamie Wyatt, the director of the Honors and Scholars Program, said the program that pairs students with faculty mentors is about 10 years old and about 20 students apply each year.
Munter had little knowledge of Dylan prior to the fellowship. She took Engert’s complex problems course—Justice, Morality, and the Law─as a freshman and was determined to work with her former professor. The program gave her that opening, which exposed her to the impact pop culture has on the legal system.
Munter said her favorite reference came from “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The judge cited the lyric, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” to say you don’t need an expert’s testimony when common sense or common knowledge suffices.
“I think you learn that research can come from anywhere,” Munter said. “I never would’ve guessed I would’ve worked on a project like this. I wouldn’t have even thought of this as a viable field. I think people think of research as a stagnant and stuffy process, but it showed me there’s a lot of room for creativity, and there’s a place where I can bring who I am to my research.”
Munter’s research also helped ground her in the 2020 summer social justice protest movement as she connected Dylan’s protest music to that moment and conversations with Engert.
“It gave me a very real glimpse that I hadn’t seen before, the human stakes of some of that music,” Munter said. “To see it unfolding in front of me, the protests and demonstrations about human rights and dignity being threatened, the music feeds a really different perspective on the work I was doing.”
While Munter’s research involved an unfamiliar topic, Mohammed Al-Mailam's fellowship research involved politics in his home of Kuwait.
Al-Mailam, a recent SIS graduate, took a class on Middle East Urbanism with AU professor Diane Singerman. Singerman suggested the two work on a project together following a paper Al-Mailam wrote about the politics of markets and vendors in Kuwait City.
The interest in his home and Middle East urbanism directed Al-Mailam to pursue research on local governance in Kuwait on the subnational level. He researched openness in local government and housing policies.
“We were just trying to figure out how the system works,” Al-Mailam said. “I’d ask family members, ‘We know there’s a municipality, but did you know that there’s a governor’s circle or a council? How does it work.”
He found redundancies in local government and discovered that some government documents listed offices or locations that didn’t exist. The levers of government weren’t transparent, and leaders kept information tightly among themselves.
“We found out that it was an excuse to bloat bureaucracy and give jobs as a way to curry favor with constituencies,” said Al-Mailam, who used Arabic and English newspapers and businesses who posted contracts with the government on their websites.
Even with experience at SIS and in the SIS Honors Program and the rigorous Olson Scholars program, Al-Mailam said the Summer Scholars program gave him independent experience outside of the classroom to budget time and resources to execute research.
“The Summer Scholars program comes at a stage where you’ve already had some research experience,” Al-Mailam said. “You have in mind what you want to do, and now you have access to faculty expertise and mentorship, and that really makes a difference.”