Illinois Undergraduate Students Engage in Research on Africa


Dr. Barro with Morgan Hollie


Dr. Barro with Morgan Hollie (left), LAS Global Studies Senior and Center for African Studies FLAS Fellow.

From April 19 to 25, 2015, the University of Illinois’ Office of Undergraduate Research hosted the Undergraduate Research Week. The event featured a series of activities showcasing undergraduate students’ projects, including the signature Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) on Thursday, April 23. The URS is designed to create a space where students who make research central to academic experiences, present their work, and a framework by which the University recognizes student achievement in undergraduate research. According to Professor Paul F. Diehl, Henning Larsen Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, “undergraduate research is a central part of education at the University of Illinois, with almost 70% of undergraduates participating in some form of such research (e.g., lab, internship, etc.) by the end of their senior years.”

The presentations, posters, and performances produced by students came from a wide range of disciplines and on critical issues affecting society and the world such as health care, education, conflict and peacebuilding, international relations, and human rights. A very significant number of papers came from students from Math, engineering and the sciences. “Such experiences emphasize undergraduates as creators of knowledge and actively involved in their education rather than merely passive receptacles of information,” says Professor Diehl.


Through these projects, and irrespective of the disciplines they are rooted in, our undergraduates have demonstrated that if given the necessary support, they are able to produce excellent research that has the potential for changing our world for the better.

The intellectual exchanges were very fruitful and stimulating.  As a Center for African Studies representative and student advisor, I was very impressed by the remarkable international and global dimension of the symposium and the number of presentations that focused on research outside of the United States. This speaks to our efforts to internationalizing our curriculum and making research, including field research, an important component in the process of developing higher standards for global/international education. Many of the students who presented projects with an international component or that focused entirely on other countries have had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad, and this experience always has a very positive impact on their training and future careers. These students are also most likely to learn a foreign language including African languages, which again, constitute a great asset in our students’ abilities to pursue promising careers anywhere in the World and as global citizens. As David Schug, Director of the National and International Scholarships Program explains, “key to students’ success has been previous experience either as a study abroad student, as a researcher with a faculty mentor, or as a member of a student group doing field work abroad. These types of encounters confirm a student’s interest and abilities to negotiate a longer term experience in Africa.” 


As a Comprehensive National Resource Center (NRC) and Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship granting institution, the Center for African Studies, with the strong support of its faculty at the Center and at other affiliated departments on campus, also provides a significant contribution to undergraduate research at Illinois.   Morgan Hollie, LAS global Studies Senior and Center for African Studies undergraduate minor student and FLAS fellow explains: “I have found the Center for African Studies to be one of my greatest academic support systems during my time as an undergraduate student. The Center has been a major help financially with helping me to apply for, and receive, the FLAS fellowship to study Wolof. Additionally, without the encouragement of the Center and the invaluable support of my advisor, I would have never been able to study abroad in Dakar, Senegal nor would I have been able to complete my undergraduate research project on conflict proliferation and democracy in West Africa.”

Maimouna Barro,

Associate Director, Center for African Studies