September 8, 2010
Research Opportunity Supports Critical Thinker
Awards like the LeBovidge Undergraduate Research Scholarship recognize the importance of giving undergraduates special opportunities to work with faculty. Stipends, funded by Alan LeBovidge ’64 (economics) and his wife Carol, support 10 hours a week of substantive research assistance on a semester-long research project. This past spring five students received these scholarships. Among them was Helena Taye ’11 (political science) whose project this fall will focus on sub-Saharan Africa with Professor John Brigham.
“Receiving this scholarship is a wonderful opportunity because it allows me to focus on producing independent research,” says Taye. “I’m specifically interested in comparative democratization and economic development in those regions. Finding a supportive and knowledgeable mentor who can guide and assist you in achieving your goals is really important and makes for a very productive undergraduate experience. Professor Brigham, whom I first met in his Intro to Constitutional Law course, has filled that role for me.”
“Helena is an impressive student,” says Brigham. “Last year she won a fellowship to the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute in Political Science at Duke University, the first UMass student, I believe, to receive that national recognition. I’ve advised her on a number of projects and her scholarship is exceptional. I have great confidence in her research and writing. She is very smart, hardworking and socially skilled.”
Taye’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa stems from her exposure to a diverse range of political settings, which include living and attending high school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for nearly two years and later completing high school in suburban Boston. “These distinct political and economic environments revealed immense disparities in the economies and modes of governance between Western and underdeveloped nations,” says Taye, who is fluent in Amharic. “Even to a high school student in Ethiopia, it was evident that the country’s political and economic status was in a precarious state. Later I discovered that historical circumstances, namely the initial conditions set by colonizers or occupiers, shaped the trajectories of economic and political progress in countries like Ethiopia. I want to think more critically about and identify the elements that produced such vast differences.”
While at UMass Taye has completed internships and various programs that offer insights into potential career opportunities and academic interests. Last year she interned with State Representative Ellen Story in Boston, Taye’s home base. Story invited her back for the summer, but the Bunche fellowship was too good to pass up. When that ended she worked at Harvard as a research assistant in the Political Science Department. Taye also did a summer internship in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, doing research for court cases and assembled reports and case evidence notebooks.
Brigham notes that last fall he brought Taye to a talk by President Obama. “Helena really represented UMass very well in interactions with many political figures,” he says. “She also helped me with a fundraiser for A Better Chance in Amherst. She’s energetic and did far more than I expected, given her rich and challenging academic life as well as her ongoing interactions with a large group of family and friends.”
“My experiences as an undergraduate have helped me better understand my own areas of interest,” Taye notes. “I’d advise other students to take an active role in seeking out opportunities that interest them as well. I chose UMass Amherst because it’s a large school with myriad resources—but students must find their own niche.”