Congratulations to the 2018 Graduates!

This semester, a number of students were honored at the SGPIA and Milano Recognition ceremony for their service to the department, their outstanding academic achievements, and their contributions to SGPIA’s academic community.

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Hannah Barrueta Sacksteder and Paw Velling were honored for their service to the SGPIA community. Hannah is an alum of the IFP in Cuba and the Best and Worst Practices in Humanitarian Aid Studio. She was also one of the team members of the Starkids practicum project, travelling to Kenya to do on-the-ground research and present the group’s findings. At graduation, Stephen Collier also congratulated Hannah for her “outsized service role since her first semester at GPIA as the Coordinator for both the International Field Program and the UN Summer Study”. Hannah provided integral support to both programs and the more than 200 students and faculty members involved in the programs. Stephen Collier noted that “the faculty is particularly eager to acknowledge and appreciate Hannah for taking the reins of the UN Summer Study and the International Field Program when our director of international field programs, Fabiola Berdiel, went on maternity leave this past winter. Hannah, we are truly grateful for your contribution. Thank you and congratulations.”  Paw Velling, also a participant in the Best and Worst Practices in Humanitarian Aid Studio, where he completed a field-based analysis of slum tourism, wrote his research portfolio examining the concept of hybrid warfare. In addition to that, Paw was a “cornerstone” of the SGPIA office staff, leading the front desk team and taking charge of some of the program’s most challenging and important functions – especially at a time where the program was experiencing staff transitions. In addition to leading the team, supporting staff, and coordinating the inner workings of many projects, he also made sure that the office snacks stayed germ free. Thank you, Paw!

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Student Awards

Elena Teare earned the award for outstanding thesis, for her work titled “Hermanos del Rey (Brothers of the King): Explaining Mestizo Solidarity and Coalition Building in Nicaragua’s Miskito Secessionist Movement.” Elena’s thesis explored the recent and largely undocumented emergence of a secessionist movement in the southern Rio San Juan region of Nicaragua, grounded in claims to a pre-colonial political identity. She went to San Carlos, Nicaragua and spoke with NGO officers. She said they were eager to discuss the unrest in the agricultural area, brought about by a interoceanic canal project announced in 2013 intended to rival the Panama Canal. The NGO officers also told her about rumors of “an indigenous army that was being built up along with a new identification card that was for ‘indigenous people only’”. Upon further research and investigation, Teare ended up at the office of a small group of mestizo activists who had aligned themselves with the Miskitu people’s secessionist movement (the Miskitu are the largest indigenous group in the country). The movement is led by the Consejo de Ancianos (The Council of Elders), which is largely understudied. Pushing against the very limited extant scholarship on this movement, Elena showed that it is in fact firmly rooted in the political categories of British colonialism, and in the much more recent political forms of the U.S. backed Contra insurgency of the 1980s. She also explored an “intersectional political consciousness” that united indigenous Mistiko and mestizo settlers in opposition to projects of the Nicaraguan state. “The geography of this area was a huge component in my thesis…my whole thesis was trying to provide an explanatory framework in which to situate why a group of mestizos would be allied with what we could call a ‘radical’ indigenous separatist movement in an area that is outside indigenous territory,” Elena explained. ”I had conversations with about six experts in the area of Nicaraguan indigenous autonomy to flesh out my ideas, but what it came down to was that the canal project had destabilized the region, sparking citizen mobilization against the government, providing room for solidarity to grow between two disenfranchised groups: 1) indigenous struggles and 2) poor, rural, campesinos.” Stephen Collier said: “The prize committee noted in particular the theoretical depth of Elena’s work and the ambition and richness of her empirical research. It also admired her critical approach, which combined a central focus on state violence with a refusal to take at face value the political constructions and authority claims of both the state and those who oppose the state.” Congratulations, Elena! To read an excerpt from her paper, click here.

The second award, for the outstanding practicum project, goes to Martino Ozza, for his project on “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems: A Preliminary Study for a First Designation Site in Cuba.” Martino was asked by his client, a Cuban organization working on environmental issues, to assess whether an agricultural area primarily focused on tobacco farming might qualify as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System, a designation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Martino approached this charge through a deep exploration of agricultural production systems in Pinar del Rio in western Cuba, employing historical analysis, interviews with experts, open ended ethnographic fieldwork, and techniques of rapid rural appraisal. Martino ultimately arrived at a recommendation that the designation be pursued, likely resulting in a submission to the FAO by the client organization. Along the way, he engaged in a range of fascinating issues that are critical to both theory and practice in international affairs. How can we make sense of global standards – such as the “Important Agricultural Heritage System” – in local contexts? And how can concepts like “heritage”, which seem to refer to the preservation of something that is received, unchanged, from the past, be reconciled with an appreciation of the dynamic qualities of all human systems? We are very happy to recognize this impressively ambitious practicum project. Martino, congratulations. Click here to learn more about his project in his own words here!

The third award, for an outstanding Research Portfolio, goes to Carmen Smith, for her portfolio “Implementation: Synthesizing the Top-Down and Bottom Up.” She told us, “in both papers, specific policies are brought into question by analyzing the approach used in their implementation. The tendency of top-down methods to be authoritative and technocratic is underscored along with the inconsistency that occurs without proper engagement from target groups and service deliverers in the design phase and throughout actualization. Both pieces promote a synthesis approach to implementation that unites all stakeholders to influence policy and participate in its realization.” The first paper in Carmen’s portfolio, written for Chris London’s Political Ecologies class, developed a critical analysis of the Green Revolution in India, documenting how this top-down approach produced dependency on external expertise and inputs. She found that “the culture of dependency that emerged had unforeseen consequences, including the unsafe and excessive use of agrochemicals, degradation of the environment, and greater indebtedness.” Her suggestions to combat this include safe use education programs for agrochemicals and affordable water purification devices,  and government level calls for a change in the macro environment to increase the market for organics and the profits available to farmers. Carmen’s second paper, written in Maxine Weisgrau’s Gender and Development course “contends that mainstreaming gender ineffectually reduces sexual and gender based violence by providing instrumentalist solutions to gender as opposed to transformative changes in the social and institutional structures that influence behavior.” Focusing on the case of the abuses committed by UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Carmen argued that the failure to consider contextual factors and the disregard of local voices and capacities has undercut gender mainstreaming. The awards committee was impressed by Carmen’s exploration and distillation of large scholarly and policy literatures, her sharp diagnosis of the profound disconnects between global norms and local implementation across multiple policy areas, and the cogent, concrete prescriptions that she offered. Click here to read the abstracts of Carmen’s papers!

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The Michael A. Cohen Award

The Cohen award recognizes exceptional students who brought to GPIA the qualities that Mike Cohen instilled in our program as its founder, and through his many years of leadership. The award recognizes a multi-disciplinary and multi-perspectival approach to international affairs; a commitment to blending theory and practice and to engaged learning; a sense that there is a political and social urgency to our work; and finally, a commitment to serving and building our community.

At the ceremony, Stephen Collier announced “this year the faculty is thrilled to give the Michael A. Cohen award to two students, Julia Waldruche De Mont Remy and Mia Marzotto “for their essential and pivotal role in helping to launch the Migration Studio in Fall 2017.” He went on to say “Julia and Mia were exemplary…We can point to many specific initiatives they worked on, either together or individually: helping to design and build a web platform for the studio; working on podcasts connected to the studio; creating a network of scholars working on related issues around the university; and interviewing potential participants. But it is the bigger picture that is most important. Julia and Mia treated the studio as their own project from the start and made the investments of effort and enthusiasm that make a difference in this kind of endeavor. In this sense, they helped build something that really will ensure after they graduate, and from which the faculty and future students will benefit.” Both students participated in the Balkans IFP project in the summer of 2017. After a month of group travel along the migration route, Julia volunteered on the island of Lesvos with several NGOs. Mia continued to Kosovo to conduct independent research on post-conflict reconciliation. When the students returned to New York, “it became clear that we all wanted more time to explore migration related topics”, said Mia. Inspired by the infinite angles and issues to look at through the lens of migration, Julia, Mia, along with classmates Georgina, Alex and professor Everita Silina conceptualized and launched the Migration Studio with the intention to “create a flexible structure centered around a particular topic (migration) and under the supervision of a faculty member (Everita Silina) in which all participants would function as a node in a network, with internal but also external connections, links between them but also with external individuals, organizations, experiences and questions. All of this to allow students to take their preferred angle on the topic and work in a cooperative way.” After this first semester of the Studio, Mia says: “I hope that other students will want to continue this journey of exploration and experimentation, of learning by doing and of pushing the practice boundaries of critical thinking.”

Congratulations to all the graduates! If you missed the recognition ceremony, you can view a recording here.