by Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)
UCLA International Institute, April 18, 2017 — Since 2014, the UCLA International Institute’s graduate student conference has provided a unique opportunity for graduate students across campus to present their own research on international topics. This year’s conference — “Going Global: Collaborative Visions for a Sustainable Future” — will be held Friday, April 21, from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm in Kerckhoff Grand Salon.
Professor Andrew Apter, an expert on Yoruba culture who teaches in the Institute's African Studies and International Development Studies programs, will deliver opening remarks. Eight panels will then showcase the research of some 24 UCLA graduate students, with an award given to the best paper at day's end. An active and enthusiastic audience is expected to participate and rival last year's attendance by nearly 100 students, faculty and staff.
A unique opportunity for master’s students
Kaitlyn Sanborn, marketing director for the conference and a student in the Institute’s African Studies M.A. program, comments, “I thought it was a unique platform for graduate students to present their research."
"Conferences are pretty restrictive in who they accept as presenters and who is able to attend (because of cost, time or travel limitations)," she continues, "so the idea of putting on a smaller, more inclusive, cross-disciplinary conference here at UCLA sounded really interesting to me” — a sentiment echoed by others on the committee.
Niat Afeworki (conference chair) and Emma Hulse (vice chair) — who are pursuing master's degrees in African Studies and Latin American Studies, respectively — are looking forward to seeing their efforts come to fruition. Afeworki, who helped organize the 2016 conference, handled logistics and funding for this year's event. "I hope that many undergraduates will also walk by and check out some of our panels," she said.
Coming together for sustainable development
“As our world continues to globalize, we need to talk to each other more and more,” says Natalie Dickson, director of communications for the conference. A dual master's student in African Studies and Community Health Sciences, she first became involved with the conference when presenting a paper herself in 2015.
Dickson noted that the organizing committee decided to make critical examination of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a central theme of the conference, giving the event cohesion while spurring new dialogue on international development. The SDGs target a range of development issues, including pollution, climate change, poverty, hunger and education, together with the actions necessary to address them.
"Many times when scholars do research, they look to the tools, methodology and theories in their own fields of study and don’t incorporate those from other fields that could greatly inform their research," adds Afeworki."I would like to see more collaboration across the disciplines because I think it leads to more insightful research and, overall, more interesting scholarship."
Sanborn concurs that the conference is an opportunity to foster cooperation. “It's a chance for students to see things from a new point of view, through the lens of different field of study [that uses a different] methodology,” she comments.
Conference panelists are as diverse as the research they will present, coming from such departments as ecology, Spanish, community health services, sociology and biology. The organizing committee made a point of urging students unaffiliated with the International Institute to participate. Potential attendees can be assured that anyone — whether they study on North or South campus — will be able to find a panel that interests them.
In addition to planning the conference, Dickson and Sanborn will both present papers. Dickson will discuss her research on HIV prevention in Tanzania, while Sanborn will analyze refugee violence in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.
If you’d like to attend the conference, visit the event’s website or Facebook page for more information and to register.
The 2017 conference is sponsored by UCLA's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Graduate Division, the Graduate Student Association, Office of Interdisciplinary and Cross-Campus Affairs, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, the Campus Programs Committee of the Program Activities Board, and the Departments of Geography, History and World Arts and Cultures/Dance.