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IAS Undergrads Present Research at Political Ecology Conference

Alejandra Acuña Balbuena, Dr. Emma Colven, Brooke Foster and Maya Henderson at the DOPE conference

On February 26-28, a group of College of International Studies and Department of Geography Environmental Sustainability students traveled to Lexington, Kentucky with OU IAS faculty member Dr. Emma Colven and OU DGES faculty member Dr. Anthony Levenda to present their research at the annual Dimensions of Political Ecology conference, hosted by the University of Kentucky's Department of Geography. It was an exciting opportunity for these OU students—Alejandra Acuña Balbuena, Brooke Foster, Meagan Harden, Maya Henderson, Adam Oberlitner and Maddie Williams—to present their research, receive feedback and network with others in their field.

Meagan Harden and Maddie Williams at the DOPE conference

The students presentations at the DOPE conference covered themes such as digital activism in Latin America; environmental justice issues in Tar Creek, Oklahoma; green cities; urban renewal in Paris; and immigration. International & Area Studies students Meagan Harden and Maddie Williams, for example, co-organized a panel session titled "Imagined Geographies of Movement, Migration, and Citizenship" which brought researchers together to explore "the political ecologies of movement, migration, and citizenship that produce imagined geographies of home."

Brooke Foster discusses her award-winning poster

OU student attendees received positive recognition for their work at the conference, and IAS undergraduate Brooke Foster, a third-year student majoring in Global Energy, Environment and Resources was even awarded first place in the student research poster competition. Foster initially decided to attend this year's conference after her classmate Maya Henderson, who attended in 2019, encouraged her. "[Maya] knew it would be a great opportunity for me to grow as a young researcher," says Foster. It turned out to be even more impactful than she expected. "The conference was an incredible experience because it allowed me to practice research dissemination, network with students and professors, and it introduced me to the wide range of unique and important research on local, national, and international levels," she says.

Senior Alejandra Acuña Balbuena, who is pursuing a dual degree in Environmental Sustainability and Italian with an IAS minor, agreed, calling the conference "an overall amazing experience" that allowed her to network and prepare for graduate school. Encouragement and support from IAS professor Emma Colven prompted Balbuena to attend the conference, and her DOPE presentation came out of research she conducted in Colven's Global Environmental Politics class on digital environmental activism in Latin America. "As an international student from the Latin American region, I was excited to present my research on a topic so close to home," she said. "DOPE provided a very welcoming space to do so."

Balbuena emphasized that this particular conference was special in its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. "I felt so welcome in the conference as an international student, which is something that does not happen too often especially in academia," she explained. "This inspired me to continue working in creating and expanding such spaces so that talented students can present their research."

Adam Oberlitner presents at the DOPE conference
Maya Henderson presents at the DOPE conference

The key word here is inspired, as students returned home from the conference with a renewed commitment to their fields of study and a desire to participate in more events like DOPE down the road. "I returned from the conference energized about my current research," Foster says, "and the array of future opportunities to come."

To learn more about undergraduate majors, minors, courses and research opportunities in the Department of International and Area Studies, visit our Undergraduate Programs page.

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