Meet the Students Who Won the 2021 DUCIGS Awards

May 31, 2021
Some of the recipients of 2021 DUCIGS Student Awards for Research and Training. Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
Top left to right: Don Nguyen, Brianna Elliott, Christian Culton, Karlee Bergendorff, Sama Elmahdy;  Bottom left to right: Lucy Right, Assaf Harpaz, Wan Ning Seah, Hadeel Hamoud, Rosalind Rothwell

By Meredith Watkins

The Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) is pleased to award 20 graduate and two undergraduate students with grants for research and other academic activities.

Each year, DUCIGS offers Graduate Awards for Research and Training, awards for work on international research topics, for attendance at specialized conferences, or for foreign language and methods training for Duke graduate students, and Undergraduate Summer Awards for Research and Academic Activities, which provide funding for full-time undergraduate students at Duke to complement their classwork with research or academic experience that involves a global or international component.

As COVID-19 has dramatically altered students’ ability to travel internationally for their research over the past year, many students have had to alter their research plans to include virtual conferences, online language training, or purchasing research materials they can access from afar.

Below, we will highlight some of the winners of this year’s grant competition.  

Sama Elmahdy and Hadeel Hamoud

Undergraduate students Sama Elmahdy and Hadeel Hamoud are working with faculty advisors Erika Weinthal and Ekta Patel on a project examining what coping mechanisms and resilience building strategies humanitarian organizations have implemented in order to expand access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Egypt and Sudan.

As part of their research, Elmahdy and Hamoud will collect informational interviews with local service providers, NGOs, United Nations agencies, and civil society organizations in both countries this summer. The funding provided by DUCIGS will allow them to purchase qualitative coding and transcription services to better collect and analyze this important data.

After conducting their research from May 2021 to February 2022, Elmahdy and Hamoud will share their findings through presentations at conferences, including the international environmental peacebuilding conference in February 2022.

Brianna Elliott

Third-year Ph.D. student Brianna Elliott focuses her studies at the Nicholas School of the Environment on the bycatch of marine mammals and sea turtles in tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean. Bycatch, which is the leading cause of human-induced mortality for these iconic animals is believed to be not only pervasive but also severely underreported in this region. Conservative estimates believe that over 4 million marine mammals have been killed through bycatch since the 1950s.

Focusing on the Port of Karachi in Pakistan, Elliott will utilize very high-resolution satellite images to manually count fishing vessels and make bycatch estimates. Her method is a pilot study utilizing a novel approach to monitoring bycatch in fisheries, and will be designed intentionally to be scalable to other regions and fleets.

Funding through DUCIGS’ graduate student grants will allow Elliott to pay for these satellite images for around one year. “Satellite images are not cheap and we are surveying a pretty broad area in the Arabian Sea, so these funds will be extremely useful for me,” Elliott said.

Lucy Right

Unable to travel to Cambodia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, second year Political Science Ph.D. student Lucy Right is utilizing her time this summer by learning Khmer, a skill that will prove invaluable for her dissertation research on authoritarian regimes in Cambodia. 

Right will spend 8 weeks attending an intensive Khmer language training, offered remotely by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI). The premier institute for the study of Southeast Asian languages, SEASSI’s intensive summer language program offers the equivalent of two semesters of language instruction at the college level in only two months.

When she is able to return to Cambodia later this year, she hopes to incorporate extensive qualitative evidence into her research, including interviews with politicians, citizens, and key civil society actors. Additionally, upon reaching her PhD candidacy, Right intends to spend at least a year in Cambodia conducting in-depth interviews, administering a household survey, and developing partnerships with NGOs and research institutions.

Wan Ning Seah

Political Science Ph.D. student Wan Ning Seah will spend the summer enrolled in a ten-week intensive Latin workshop offered virtually through the University of California, Berkeley.

Through the course, Seah, whose research focuses on the philosophical roots of modernity’s break with the ancients, hopes to establish a strong foundation in reading ancient Latin, which will allow her to work directly with the original texts written by the thinkers she is interested in studying, including Cicero and Machiavelli.

“Being able to read Latin fairly well is crucial for my research agenda,” Seah explained.

Moving forward, Seah hopes to continue her study of Latin

Karlee Bergendorff

Karlee Bergendorff is a fourth year PhD student in the department of art history and visual studies at Duke. She focuses on diplomatic art history and international exchanges between different nations, as well as memorial politics. Her dissertation is entitled “Diplomatic Gifts and Cold War Strategies: The Role of North Korean Overseas Art Studios in Egyptian Memorial Culture." For her research, Bergendorff examines the strategic relationship between North Korea and Egypt, through a series of national monuments, panoramas and museums built by North Korea in Egypt.

She will be using the award for research and training to improve her colloquial Arabic, a necessary step to eventually traveling to Egypt and being able to research in archives, as well as accessing museums and monuments.

Don Nguyen

Don Nguyen, a second-year Master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute, will spend two months in Hanoi, Vietnam this summer in support of his thesis, “Detecting Pre-Pandemic Viral Species in Animals and Human Animal Workers in North Vietnam.”

“The money will be used to purchase supplies that I will be bringing with me into the country and helping to train people in Vietnam,” he said about his project goals.

Nguyen's primary interest is in infectious diseases, with a special attention for health communication. He is part of the Duke One Health team.

Christian (Cris) Culton

Cris Culton is a second year Ph.D. student in the History Department at Duke. As an early 20th century Mexico historian who studies culture, art and literature, Culton's research focuses on the relationship between international events and politics and the development of Mexican culture and art.

“I will use the DUCIGS award to go to municipal and state archives in and near Chapala, Mexico and also in Guadalajara, Mexico. Chapala specifically still has a thriving artistic community with people who have private archives, so I hope to conduct oral interviews and view murals in Chapala—murals that haven’t really been studied.”

Assaf Harpaz

Assaf Harpaz is a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) candidate at Duke University School of Law. His research interests are international taxation and contemporary issues in tax policy.

For the past summer and through much of the academic year, he wrote and edited a law review article published by the Yale Journal of International Law about tax challenges of digitalization and international tax reforms to address them.

He will use the award to travel to conferences and to obtain and translate foreign law material.

Rosalind Rothwell

Rosalind Rothwell is a Ph.D. Student, in the Department of History. Her research interest is in visual and material culture in early modern South India, and the circulation of South Indian material culture throughout the British colonial world. As a student of global history, her research depends on learning multiple languages and traveling to archives in multiple countries. 

Tamil is taught at very few institutions in the United States, and she needs to gain proficiency in the language to read early modern palm leaf manuscripts from South India. Last summer, Rosalind completed eight weeks of intensive online language study with the AIIS Tamil program in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. Thanks to the award, this summer she will complete another eight weeks of online study with AIIS.

Watch the highlights of some of the students' interviews: