Alumni Spotlight | Winter 2019-2020
KU major: African & African-American Studies, French; Class of 2009
Current occupation: English as a Second Language Teacher
Research mentor while at KU: Samira Sayeh (French)
Describe the undergraduate research/creative experience that you had while at KU: During my senior year at KU, I traveled to Cayenne, the capital of the French overseas territory (Département d-Outre-Mer) French Guiana in South America. Over the course of a week, I conducted semi-structured interviews with tour guides, librarians and local youth. After transcribing the interviews, I wrote my Honors Thesis in French about personal and social notions of Creole identity (créolité) in French Guiana.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: The most important thing I learned while doing this research was to redefine my central question as I learned more about the subject. For instance, I began by reading In Praise of Creoleness (Éloge de la créolité) by three authors from the island of Martinique, also a French overseas territory, and thought about conducting my fieldwork there. But my research mentor, Dr. Sayeh, encouraged me to search for gaps in the critical literature. Compiling a more detailed annotated bibliography allowed me to spot this gap with respect to French Guiana.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: Think about the strategies and tools your instructors are already encouraging you to use. By the end of my junior year, I had already completed several small research projects based on texts, works of visual art, and films for my majors. During my junior year, I kept a running list of big questions in a research journal. I was able to consult with several professors from various departments during office hours to explore which of these questions I could most feasibly respond to in a departmental honors thesis.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: I use the research skills I learned at KU every day as a language and literacy educator. Working across 5 different grades in an international elementary school with students from many different home and academic cultures demands an enormous amount of flexibility. I cannot become an expert in each content area at every grade level, but I can use research skills to learn more about the critical questions in each discipline and the materials other educators have developed to support students in conducting their own inquiry-based projects.
Q: Many undergraduate researchers are making decisions about what to do after they graduate from KU. Having been in those shoes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Do you have any advice?
A: Life takes many turns! Be kind, work hard, stay open. By graduation day, I had plotted a course for the next five years. When a bicycle accident in West Africa derailed these plans, my family and professors at KU helped me see new pathways. Six months later, I was on a plane to New York to study education.