The Independent Study (IDS): A Unique and Life Changing Experience

Guest post by Matt Carotenuto

(Associate Professor of History and Visiting Administrative Director of the Kenya Program)

Independent Study Placements Spring 2016

Independent Study Placement Sites Spring 2016—Click for an interactive map

The culmination of a semester in Kenya for decades has been the independent study. On Sunday April 10th, our 22 students left SLU’s Nairobi campus for placements in four East African countries. From diverse experiences throughout Kenya, to coastal Tanzania, cosmopolitan Rwanda and the shores of the Nile River in Uganda, students will spend a month working with a host organization immersed in topics that relate to their broad academic, personal and professional interests.

For those who know the KSP well, the capstone experience of a semester in East Africa is transformative. Students put their academic and field experience into action and venture off on their own to negotiate life in new communities. As an alumnus of the Kenya Program, I can vividly remember the anxiety and excitement of a month long independent study on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. Tasked with an oral history project traversing the rocky shores of Nyanza province, as a history major I got to experience the joys and challenges of historical research.  Nearly two decades later, I still draw on this powerful independent experience the KSP afforded me. The month I spent conducting interviews and learning rudimentary Dholuo forever shaped my career path as a teacher/scholar of African history.

What is the IDS and what can you study?

Many people use the term independent study as a synonym for an internship. We on the KSP prefer independent study because it reflects more of what we want students to gain from this work place experience. Arranged individually to fit with student interests, we want students to see their volunteer contributions to host organizations primarily as a chance to observe and learn about the broader issues impacting the community where they are placed. During the final month of their semester in East Africa students bring a wealth of interesting new perspectives to their collaborations with host organizations, but see their roles first and foremost as students. By immersing themselves in the daily operations of organizations working on a host of pressing issues, students gain valuable experience and study issues from perspectives often far removed from their own.

On topics ranging from conservation and development to international law, education, electoral politics, professional cycling and chimpanzee habituation, students on the KSP this semester are beginning a month of life changing experiences. The diversity of these experiences are typical of the deep institutional connections and individualized approach the KSP takes to working with students over the past four decades. Regardless of one’s major, personal or professional interest the cosmopolitan and fast growing spaces of East Africa offer countless opportunities to learn about global issues from a distinctly local perspective.

Students often return from their IDS with a new found passion for research which has been transformed into future Senior Year Experience topics, Fulbright fellowships, and even Masters and Ph.D. level thesis.  Many alumni continue to draw on their East African experiences decades after graduation, and cite the Independent Study as a formative inspiration in their personal and professional lives.

A Profile in Diversity: East Africa at Work

Emery Younger with SLU Alumnus and Kenyan Member of Parliament Ken Okoth '01. Representing both his home community of Kibera and helping a student gain some valuable insight into electoral politics in Kenya. Thanks Ken!

Emery Younger ’17 with SLU Alumnus and Kenyan Member of Parliament Ken Okoth ’01. Representing both his home community of Kibera and helping a student gain some valuable insight into electoral politics in Kenya. Thanks Ken!

As students are just beginning their placements this week, it is hard to sum up the range of experiences they will have and the issues they will study. Explore the profiles of these host organizations below and try to imagine how students will approach studying these diverse topics.

  • The Impact of Dam Construction on Nile River Whitewater Rafting
  • International Law and Human Rights in Kenya
  • Chimpanzee Habituation in Nyungwe National Park-Rwanda
  • Archaeology and the Politics of Heritage in Kenya
  • Sea Turtle Conservation in the Indian Ocean (Zanzibar)
  • Sport, Nationalism and the 1987 All-Africa Games in Nairobi
  • Ugandan Education and Development
  • HIV/AIDS and Maternal Child Health
  • The Politics of Development and Urban Poverty in Kibera
  •  Professional Cycling in Rwanda
  • African Media and Journalistic Ethics in Uganda
  • Cycling and Fitness in Jinja, Uganda
  • Midwifery and Birth Practices in Urban Kenya
  • Women and Development in Tanzania
  • Land Use, Wildlife and Conservation in Kenya
  • Baking and Female Entrepreneurship in Rwanda

Laikipia Wildlife Forum (Kimanjo, Kenya)
International Commission of Jurists (Nairobi, Kenya)
Nile River Explorers (Jinja, Uganda)
Kayak the Nile (Jinja, Uganda)
Office of Ken Okoth—Member of Parliament-Kibra Constituency (Nairobi, Kenya)
Team Africa Rising (Musanze, Rwanda)
National Museums of Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Soft Power Education (Jinja, Kenya)
The Women’s Bakery (Kigali, Rwanda)
Kenya National Archives (Nairobi, Kenya)
Academic Model for Improving Access to Health Care–AMPATH (Eldoret, Kenya)
Dare Women’s Foundation (Arusha, Tanzania)
First African Bicycle Organization (Jinja, Uganda)
Mpala Research Center and Wildlife Foundation (Nanyuki, Kenya)
New Life Home Trust (Nairobi Kenya)
Mnarani Turtle Conservation (Nyungwi, Zanzibar)
Fremo Medical Centre (Kawangware, Kenya)
Wildlife Conservation Society Rwanda (Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda)
African Centre for Media Excellence (Kampala, Uganda)

With a growing number of placements throughout East Africa, we hope you will consider supporting the Engaging Africa Initiative which will expand the impact of the Kenya program and provide future students with an even greater diversity of work, study and life experiences across the worlds second largest continent.

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