Coffee Conversation – David Stern

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On October 16th, UT’s Provost, Dr. David Stern, led a Coffee Conversation with Honors Program students in the Honors dorm. The conversation was focused around the following question, “What do nationalism, populism, authoritarianism, sovereignty, and even illiberal democracy mean and why are they so important in understanding our contemporary world?” The conversation was wide-ranging, covering instances of populism and nationalism around the world.

Conferences – Layaal Hage

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From April 5th through the 8th, I attended the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Taking place for the 76th year, the MPSA Conference is an opportunity for political science scholars to present their research in a variety of sessions, ranging from lectures and lightning talks to roundtable discussions and panel presentations.

As a participant in the Undergraduate Poster Session on The Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment, I presented my research titled, “The Impact of Ghana’s 2011 Oil Production on the Western Region’s Oil-Bearing Communities,” which I had conducted for Dr. Kevin Fridy’s course on the Political Economy of Africa in the spring 2017 semester. During the hour-and-a-half-long poster session, I got the chance to give ninety-second presentations of my twenty-page paper, answer questions about my research, receive feedback on what to add, remove, or modify in future replications of the research, and embark on discussions that integrated both my research and those of the attendees. The attendees I interacted with and who toured the poster session were all at different stages of their political science academic or professional experience; while some were graduate school students and PhD candidates, others were session discussants and on-the-field professionals. Not only did my participation as a poster presenter put me on the spot and force me to think on my feet countless times, but, even more interestingly, it shed light on the power a subject of interest can have in tying together individuals from completely unrelated backgrounds. None of us knew each other’s names, nationalities, or experiences, yet we talked about natural resources, developing nations, African governments and citizens, and so on, endlessly!

In addition to being a conference participant, I got the opportunity to attend others’ presentations, two of which were paper sessions pertaining to Economic Development, particularly development outcomes, inequality, and ethnicity. Conducted differently than poster sessions, these paper sessions entailed three to four presenters discussing their research papers, discussants raising questions about and providing feedback on these presentations, and both presenters and discussants addressing questions from the audience. Right in front of me was a forum for productive discussions, debates, and exchanges of ideas that was more confident, mature, and advanced than any classroom lecture or group meeting I had ever attended or participated in. While presenting my research at this conference is a testament to the knowledge and experience I acquired during my four-year experience at UT, participating in discussions on various research topics and attending others’ presentations gave me a slight glimpse of all that I have yet to learn as a political science student and scholar!