James Downs, associate professor of history and American studies, will spend the 2015-16 academic year studying medical anthropology at Harvard University.
The Connecticut College Department of Government and the Academic Resource Center will host Political Transformations in the Middle East, a conference in which students will present research projects, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 4-7 p.m. in Main Street.
The 21 students who will be presenting research are from two courses being taught this semester by Assistant Professor of Government and International Relations Caroleen Sayej, “Middle East Politics” and “The Iraq War: Causes and Consequences.”
“I’ve organized my courses around the theme of Political Transformations in the Middle East” said Sayej. “We take the existing materials for class and study them in terms of developmental junctures in order to understand the changes that are taking place in the region.”
Transformation in the Middle East is particularly topical. The 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war passed in March with little notice, despite the fact that violence in that country is at an all-time peak since 2007, and the country’s rebuilding process has regional and international implications. Sayej’s students are exploring those issues and other repercussions of the war.
Repercussions are also ongoing after 2011’s Arab Spring, and Sayej said her students address the "democratic deficit" argument and the relationship between Islam and democracy in the region in their research presented at the conference.
Her students began working on their research projects on the first day of classes, and they worked closely with the College’s new Academic Resource Center, which provides staff and services to help students reach their highest academic potential. This includes coaching to help students improve the range and fluency of their writing; high-level skill development in math and computational sciences; peer-to-peer learning with a focus on development of subject-specific skills and strategies; workshops to help students maximize their engagement with faculty and the curriculum; and much more.
Sayej said her students worked directly with the director of the Academic Resource Center, Noel Garrett, to take their raw data — numeric data and statistics, leader speeches, legal memos, even pieces of artwork — and craft presentations that reflect their research findings.
“He ran several sessions with them, including research sessions, crafting effective literature reviews, public speaking workshops and construction of posters for the conference,” Sayej said. “This conference is an example of the student-centered approach to learning at Connecticut College, as well as the internationalization of the curriculum. We have seen an increase in student interest in the study of Arabic and topics in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. Many students are self-designing related majors and have been abroad to the region to sharpen their Arabic skills. This conference — and help from the Academic Resource Center — allows them to put their skills to practice.”
The conference was sponsored in part by the President's Fund for Faculty-Student Engagement. It is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Academic Resource Center at 860-439-5294.