SIT Congratulates Spelman College and Washington and Lee University Students for Excellence in Undergraduate Research

SIT Study Abroad recently announced the recipients of its first Undergraduate Research Award: Mamasa Camara and Scott Sugden. The students were selected for the award based on the quality and significance of the Independent Study Projects (ISPs). Completed during the final month of the semester, the ISP is de­signed to integrate the learning, knowledge, field experience, and contacts acquired from all other components of an SIT Study Abroad program.

“It was my privilege to review the 20 nominees for the first annual SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award,” said Priscilla Stone, SIT vice provost. “I was very impressed with the quality and variety of projects that were nominated and enjoyed reading our students’ statements and the nomination forms submitted by our academic directors around the world.”

Mamasa and her homestay sister in China

Mamasa and her homestay sister in China

Mamasa is a student at Spelman College and an alumna of the China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program. She received the award for her ISP “Imagined Communities: Changing Markets and the Implications for 21st Century Mali-China Migration,” which examined how factors such as economics, immigration policy, and race ideology affect the way African migrants live in a specific neighborhood in Guangzhou, China.

As a part of her research, Mamasa found a Malian host family in Guangzhou and lived in the African migrant community for a month, allowing her to examine the community from the inside out. Her SIT Study Abroad academic director in China, Lu Yuan, was impressed with Mamasa’s creativity in developing her research project, and with her tireless dedication to comprehensive fieldwork. “Mamasa spent hours on the street, in markets and restaurants, and with her Malian host family, both in the home and out on errands.” Lu Yuan also commends Mamasa for her well-written ISP paper. “[Her] findings are logically and convincingly presented, with a skillful interweaving of personal experience, observations, and interview material.”

Scott in Isalo, Madagascar

Scott in Isalo, Madagascar

Scott is a student at Washington and Lee University and an alumnus of the Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management program. He received the award for his ISP “Plant Community Structure over an Elevation Gradient in Manongarivo Special Reserve Madagascar,” which investigated differences in vegetation at varying altitudes in a rainforest reserve in northwestern Madagascar.

Working alongside a local guide, Scott measured a variety of indicators, including tree diameter, height, crown position, and spatial distribution; presence or absence of vines and epiphytes; and structure and size of underbrush. He measured these factors at a variety of elevations to determine differences in plant structure and growth density. According to academic director Jim Hansen, Scott’s project “represents a highly impressive data set gathered under very difficult conditions using a well-conceived and clearly described methodology. The amount of analysis undertaken during the available study period is very impressive and shows a great deal of personal initiative.”

SIT Study Abroad academic directors nominated 20 students for this inaugural award, and a committee of SIT’s academic deans and the vice provost selected the two winners. Mamasa and Scott will receive $150 each and be SIT’s nominees for The Forum on Education Abroad 2015 Undergraduate Research Award. SIT alumna Madison Stevens was one of the recipients of the Forum’s 2014 award for her ISP research in northern Uganda on land rights and disputes.

“We believe the creation of this award [the SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award] is an innovative way to recognize the outstanding academic achievements of our students during their terms abroad on an SIT program,” Stone said.

SIT has long been a leader in undergraduate research abroad with its signature ISP program component. Many students enroll in an SIT program with limited, or no, primary field research experience, and the ISP is often the first op­portunity for students to learn how to undertake a field-based research project in an intercultural setting.

While all nominees for this year’s inaugural award were based on ISP research conducted during an SIT semester abroad program, in the future, nominations will be accepted for students undertaking comparative research projects on IHP/Comparative programs; additionally, SIT students participating in select summer programs that offer short, yet intensive, field research opportunities may also be eligible for the award.

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