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Oct. 25, 2018

Five MSU doctoral students named Fulbright-Hays scholars

Many academics consider the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad, or DDRA, honor a defining career moment. And in the eyes of Walter Hawthorne, professor of African history at Michigan State University, few universities in the country have consecutively succeeded with the prestigious honor.

“The success of our College of Social Science and College of Music students shows that MSU is the place for African studies,” said Hawthorne.

2018 stood no different. This year, MSU ranked third with the number of doctoral scholars awarded the DDRA — tied with the Ohio State University and the University of California, Berkeley — bearing five candidates from the institution endowed.  

Making the trek to Africa, Akil Cornelius, Robin Crigler, Russell Stevenson, Dawson McCall and John “Alex” Smith will all take their skills and knowledge with them to complete the program’s purposed requirement, which is to conduct their own doctoral research in a foreign country or area and in a modern foreign language for six to 12 months. For these five doctoral students, excitement, as well opportunity, is an understatement.

Cornelius will continue his research, “The Venda Armory: Warfare, Gender and Technology in South Africa, 1820-1903,” by engaging with related ideas of ethnicity, migration, technological change, gendering of culture, authority and peasant resistance in the countries of South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Crigler, another College of Social Science student, will also be traveling to South Africa to further his study of the social and cultural history of humor in South Africa from 1910 to 1961.

Stevenson will travel to in Nigeria to study the nation’s first indigenous university, the University of Nigeria, and how it helped reflect and shape indigenous constructions of knowledge for today. Stevenson mentioned that in the late 1950s, Nigeria’s first president reached out to MSU for assistance in his university project, resulting in an open university in Nigeria filled with a complex staff including MSU originals.

“I will be examining how the MSU-UNN relationship served as an agent of intellectual transformation in the Nigerian landscape,” Stevenson said. “As the first land grant university in Africa (like MSU had been in America), its vision was bound up in the land and the general population of small-hold farmers.”

The fourth student from MSU’s College of Social Science, Dawson McCall, will take his research to Kenya, where he plans to analyze the history of distance running and secondary education within the nation from 1961 until 2012.

“Today, Kenya is undoubtedly one of the most successful sports cultures in the world,” said McCall. “My research will provide a view of African history that highlights the creativity and success of Kenyan athletes, coaches and teachers.”

Smith of the College of Music says will take his percussion talents to Ghana where he hopes to “create an interactive, environmentally friendly, percussion instrument-making business (particularly the marimba) to give consumers an option that allows them to better understand the origins of their musical instruments.”

Gwendolyn Dease, professor of percussion and area chair of brass and percussion at MSU, underscored this significant achievement of Smith.

“This award highlights the strength of the percussion and ethnomusicology programs in the College of Music,” said Dease. “Alex’s research in Africa is groundbreaking and will make a big impact in our field. We are incredibly proud of this achievement.”

This year, the U.S. Department of Education granted more than $4.4 million for Fulbright-Hays International Education Programs.

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