One On One – Dana Parke

The college experience can really be all about what you make it. For Dana Parke, four years at Oakland University was a chance to shine. The Nu Omega member was selected to deliver the Winter 2013 Student Commencement Address after an exceptional record. A triple major in International Relations, African Studies and French Language & Literature, Dana is an example of the quality of Pi Sigma Alpha members. We asked her to reflect a bit on her undergraduate days at Oakland and the future.

How did you come to be selected as commencement speaker?

As a triple major with a GPA of 3.94, I managed to make quite an impression during my time at Oakland University. I was an active member of the Honors College, and I also studied abroad in Senegal. My engagement in various research projects with faculty on campus resulted in presentations at three national conferences and two publications in scholarly journals, as well as won me the "Champion of Research" award from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Learning at OU.

I completed several internships throughout my undergraduate experience. In Senegal, I interned for The Association of African Women for Research and Development. I also interned for U.S. Senator Carl Levin where I handled constituent concerns, reviewed the media for current events, and wrote letters of support for community groups seeking federal grants. Finally, I interned for the Global Health Initiative at Henry Ford Health System where I researched access to healthcare in Haiti.

I also participated in a variety of extracurricular activities, including taking two semesters of Arabic classes at the local community college, managing at Papa Romano's Pizza for six years, and working in the OU Accounting Office one summer. I also contributed to the community as a volunteer language partner for Freedom House Detroit, where I taught English to a French speaker from Sub-Saharan Africa who was seeking political asylum within the United States, and who is now on his way to full citizenship status.

What was the political science community like at Oakland?

The faculty at Oakland's Department of Political Science are truly exceptional. All faculty members truly care about their students, both inside and outside of the classroom. At the same time, faculty are actively pursuing multiple research projects on their own and with colleagues at any given time, which maintains a high academic standard in the Department. This also permits a rare opportunity for undergraduate students to engage in research with the faculty members. I personally was involved in three separate research projects with three faculty mentors.

OU students are very involved in the Pi Sigma Alpha Nu Omega Chapter, which recently won the 2014 Best Chapter Award. Of particular note, starting in Fall 2013, the Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Journal of Politics moved to Oakland University. I was actively engaged as an Outreach Editor for the Journal, where in addition to reviewing and selecting submitted manuscripts for publication, I was responsible for communicating with faculty nationwide to encourage submissions, contacting authors during the review process, and managing the Journal's email account. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to further familiarize themselves with the research and publication process-from the reviewer side!

You studied abroad in Senegal. Tells us a little bit about how that has impacted your college experience and shaped your research.

In January 2012, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, the Western-most country in Africa for five months taking courses at the UniversiteĢ Cheikh Anta Diop. Not only was this a life-changing experience that allowed me to combine my knowledge from all three majors (I was in Africa, speaking French, and studying Senegalese culture during the controversial presidential elections), my time in Senegal solidified my educational and career ambitions to pursue International development. In Dakar I interned for The Association of African Women for Research and Development. I was responsible for researching issues faced by rural women in Senegal, writing articles in both French and English for their ECHO newsletter, and organizing activities for March 8th, International Women's Day, which, that year, had the theme of empowerment of rural women to improve food security and reduce poverty within their communities. I also used my time in Senegal as an overseas field research project. Interested in citizens' attitudes towards structural adjustment policies and democracy, and mentored by Dr. Matthew Fails of the Oakland University Department of Political Science, I conducted original interviews in Senegal. In our co-authored paper, we learned that citizens will be more supportive of democratic and economic liberalization when such reforms originate organically as opposed to externally. Our paper, "The Logic of External Reform Resistance: Attitudes towards Economic and Political Liberalization in Senegal", was published in the June 2014 edition of the Journal of Developing Societies.

You had an opportunity to present your research at several conferences. How valuable is this experience at the undergraduate level?

This experience is extremely valuable. I have presented research papers at three separate national conferences. At the Midwest Political Science Association in April 2013 I presented my co-authored paper with Dr. Matthew Fails on structural adjustment, democracy, and attitudes towards the West in Africa's new democracies. At the International Studies Association Conference in November 2013, I presented my second co-authored project with Dr. Byungwon Woo, in which we found that aid from donor countries with higher levels of women's rights will have a more positive effect on levels of women's rights in recipient countries. A third research project, mentored by Dr. Paul Kubicek and co-published in The European Union External Affairs Review, explores the European Union's humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Darfur. Recently, at the April 2014 Claremont-UC Undergraduate Research Conference on the European Union, I presented the final version of this paper as my Honors College Thesis, in which I criticized the EU's large inaction in the face of genocide and demonstrated the intricacies of the underlying politics of international players when managing a global crisis. For MPSA and ISA I had presented co-authored papers with two faculty members at Oakland University, Dr. Matthew Fails and Dr. Byungwon Woo. This permitted me to give oral presentations on faculty panels as an undergraduate student, which was an incredible honor and a valuable experience. The feedback one receives from presenting at conferences provides a wonderful basis for revisions and eventual publication.

Tell us a little about your post-undergraduate plans?

After applying to graduate school for a Masters in International Development and being accepted at George Washington University, American University, and University of Denver, I decided to delay my studies because I recently started a full-time position as a Program Coordinator for the Global Health Initiative at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan, where I had interned since November 2013. I am now responsible for coordinating the Haiti Program, where we have a variety of projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Haiti, and various other stakeholders to improve health in post-earthquake Haiti. For example, our projects include working with community health workers to conduct healthcare utilization surveys, building research infrastructure at Quisqueya University, a major medical school in Port-au-Prince, and evaluating malaria and other acute febrile illnesses throughout the country.