This month, I wanted to share an experience from Catie Crowley, a student who currently works with AidData and other projects at ITPIR. Her story is a great example of integrated, vertical mentored research, in which an 18-year old can plug into research at W&M their freshman year and subsequently create deep ties between curricula and co-curricula activities to link classroom with application. Catie just returned from an AidData Summer Fellowship in Senegal, and was asked to present on that experience during W&M’s New York For the Bold event in late September. I hope you’ll enjoy her story, and feel free to drop me a note if you’re interested in mirroring it!
It all started my freshman year in Government 204 when Professor Tierney passed back my paper with a note at the bottom saying: “Have you heard of AidData? I think you should apply.”
I spent that next summer as a research assistant tracking Chinese and Middle Eastern aid in Africa. The research was not only really interesting for me, but it gave me the experience I needed to apply for ITPIR’s Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS).
During my internship with PIPS, I assisted Isabel Docampo with her project on the political ramifications of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. With PIPS and AidData under my belt, I was poised to become involved with ITPIR’s Center for African Development (CAD).
The summer after my sophomore year I spent working with CAD on Philip Roessler’s randomized control trial, evaluating the impact of mobile phone ownership on female smallholder farmers in Tanzania. I gained valuable in-country experience living in Dar es Salaam and building the groundwork for the experiment with our local partners.
I had now developed a keen interest in smallholder farming in Sub-Saharan Africa, which was the topic of my project as a PIPS fellow, working with Dennis Smith and Amy Oakes. I produced a white paper exploring the importance of infrastructure investments as conditions for food insecurity worsen in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to develop my own ideas and have the support and platform to present them in my white paper and at the National Press Club in DC.
Meanwhile I was still deeply invested in the AidData Team. Now a Senior Research Assistant, I was able to take ownership over managing a research team, hiring and training new members, and ensuring data quality.
My time at AidData impressed upon me the importance of data, especially geospatial data, for informing development policy. This spurred me to gain some data chops, and take courses like statistics, quantitative methods, GIS, and remote sensing. My data sensibilities along with my experience in Tanzania and my knowledge of all things AidData made me an ideal candidate for the AidData Summer Fellows program.
All of my experiences at ITPIR and AidData culminated in an epic summer in Dakar Senegal, where I was an AidData Summer Fellow with USAID/Senegal. With the Monitoring and Evaluation Team at USAID, I helped make some changes to their data management framework, produced a couple of datasets, and bolstered excitement over the ways that the Mission can use geospatial data in their work.