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UC Davis

UCD prof set to train new generation of ‘scholar-activists’ in Middle East

By August 4, 2011

Special to The Enterprise

As uprisings continue in the Middle East, a UC Davis professor plans to travel to the region later this year to teach young Middle Eastern graduate students in how to advocate for change through research and public policy.

Suad Joseph, a professor of anthropology and women and gender studies, will lead a team of international scholars from six countries to train approximately 25 students a year during a two-year period to write proposals and learn scientific research methods. The course will begin with intensive workshops lasting four to five days.

The training will draw students from Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine and will take place in Cairo and Beirut.

“This is truly an international effort. It’s very important, especially at this time in world events, to train these young people
how to identify researchable questions, thoroughly formulate the plan for data gathering, then carry out the research and data analysis and finally to publish, disseminate and engage in policymaking,” said Joseph, who also is founding director of the UCD Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

“We need to bring these scholar-activists together to help them develop the skills for evidence-based analysis, which can inform public policy and change. This will help them have an informed impact on their countries and the world.”

Each student will be assigned a mentor from among the international group of faculty to guide them for one year through the proposal-writing and submission process and to help them carry out their research and write up their results. The second year, a new group of students will be trained, with some of the first-year students returning to mentor their fellow students.

Joseph said teaching research skills to future Arab leaders is critical now, as 60 to 70 percent of the population in Arab countries is 29 years old or younger. Students in the program will be trained in writing, problem-solving, critical thinking and proposal-writing — all in English — so that their work can be funded and shared throughout the world.

“We help them identify and develop a key idea: If you are well-trained in writing a research proposal, you have the skills to market an idea. Knowing how to market an idea with evidence-based research empowers the young to work more rigorously for change,” Joseph said. “We want to share this model of knowledge-making to help train young scholars and activists to become disciplined data-gatherers, sophisticated theory-makers and scientific change leaders.”

The project is a continuation of the work of 16 interdisciplinary scholars from six countries who make up The Arab Families Working Group, which focuses on expanding knowledge and research of the Arab world by working with families and youth, core institutions of the Arab world.

AFWG was founded by Joseph in 2001 and is co-hosted at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and UCD.

AFWG scholars at UCD include Omnia El Shakry, an associate professor of history, and two of Joseph’s former students — Nadine Naber, now an associate professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Zeina Zaatari, now program officer for the Middle East and North Africa, Global Fund for Women.

Other AFWG members come from England, the Netherlands, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine.

In a greater effort to share knowledge of the Arab world, the research the students produce in the current project will be posted, along with past and current research and resources, on the AFWG website, http://www.afwg.info.

Much of the knowledge, history and theories about the Arab world have been written in the western hemisphere, Joseph explained. “We are strongly committed to the idea that theory can and should be produced locally.”

The project is funded in part with a $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. AFWG has received more than $1.5 million in outside support since 2001, including grants from the International Development Research Center, the Population Council, UNICEF, the American University in Cairo and UCD.

— UC Davis News Service

Karen Nikos

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