In Areas of Future Conflict, the U.S. Government and World Organizations May Take a Cue from Santa Clara Research Team

In a post-conflict country, when is international participation helpful in forging a long-lasting peace, and when does it become a hindrance?  How does external intervention compare with the more autonomous and domestically-motivated peace processes in achieving a sustainable peace? These are among the core questions that Assistant Professor of Political Science Naomi Levy and her team, which includes a group of eleven Santa Clara undergraduates, will address in a multi-year research project sponsored by two combined grants, totaling $323,054, from U.S. Department of Defense through its Minerva Initiative.  The team’s findings and insights could have great implications for the United States government and other agencies involved in national defense and international peace-building endeavors.

The Minerva Initiative is a university-based social science research initiative launched in 2008 to focus on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy.  By leveraging the resources of the nation’s top universities, the initiative seeks to define and develop its knowledge, vetted by the best scholars in the field, about sources of present and future conflict around the world.  Professor Levy and her two co- Principal Investigators (PIs), Assistant Professor Naazneen Barma and Associate Professor Jessica Piombo, both from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, have received a total of $892,674 from the Minerva Initiative to carry out their project.

The team’s multidimensional approach will seek to achieve a cross-national comparison by studying Cambodia and Laos, and an intertemporal comparison by looking at Uganda in two distinct time periods. The goal will be to observe the variation in external engagement in peace- and state-building initiatives by assessing the countries’ efforts in achieving sustainable peace while improving state capacity and its ability to provide public services and resolve societal grievances at the local level.  The team will focus on outcomes at the subnational and sectoral levels, where the tangible results of peace- and state-building can be best observed.

This summer, Levy relied on her Summer Research Fellows (SRFs) to do the heavy-lifting in the collection of country-specific data from world organizations and NGOs’ websites and other sources; the analysis of qualitative data through the transcription of several dozen interviews performed by the PIs with government officials, NGO officers and government employees from the selected countries; and other important tasks.   The eleven fellows, ranging from one sophomore to several graduating seniors, faced a very competitive selection process to fill the coveted, paid positions. “I specifically designed this project to involve as many students as possible in this kind of original research.  At the end of the day, that’s what this institution is all about, and I do take my role as a teaching scholar very seriously.  I want my students to learn from experience,” says Levy, who applied for and received the secondary grant for nearly $100,000 to cover a summer stipend for ten 20-hours-per-week fellows, pay for her full-time SRF team leader Stephanie Goodman, and salary support for Santa Clara Senior Lecturer of Political Science Diana Morlang to serve as the Program Advisor, as well as funds to pay for a workshop led by subject matter experts to be held at SCU during the coming academic year.

Goodman, a Political Science and Public Health double-major who graduated in 2015, also worked as a research assistant to Prof. Levy during her last three years at Santa Clara.   For her, this experience ignited her interest in the effectiveness of international aid and conflict resolution, which led her to spend a semester at American University, studying peace and conflict resolution, followed by a trip to Bosnia and Jordan to observe the effects of international participation in establishing peace. She is currently applying for a Fulbright research grant to study the limitations and critical needs of public services in Ghana. “I plan to attend graduate school to continue advancing my knowledge in these fields. All of these experiences and plans are a result of Professor Levy's mentorship and the work we have done for the Minerva Initiative. Her passion for her work inspired my love for research,” she says.

For his part, Jacob Udewitz '19, a double-major in Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in History, became interested in this project because “the subject has so much relevance in a world where conversations about nation building tend to be polarizing. If we can contribute something meaningful and informative to the existing literature regarding the most efficient and effective ways to build and restore peace in post-conflict nations, we have a responsibility to do so”, says Jacob, who feels “lucky to be a part of a community that is as thoughtful, intelligent and dedicated to improving the world as Santa Clara.”