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Student Spotlight: Ieshia Smith '14, ICS Distinguished Thesis Award Winner

May 2014

Each year the ICS Program presents the Distinguished Thesis award to the student whose thesis represents the best work accomplished in the yearlong honors seminar. This year’s winner is Ieshia Smith, who earned highest honors for her thesis, The Plastic Face: Nation-Branding and Personal Branding in 21st Century South Korea

To convey a sense of Ieshia’s achievement, here is the assessment of her thesis by her research supervisor, Professor Cheehyung Kim (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies)

Ieshia’s originality in her thesis, “The Plastic Face,” lies in her contextual and non-essentialist approach to the often exoticized trend of plastic surgery in South Korea today. Ieshia locates such surgery within multiple, interconnected settings: nation-state building; economic development; gendered modernization; and neoliberal social life in which competition and self-branding and marketing have become key components in the transition to a stable adulthood. At the same time, she equally considers the tradition and history of the importance of physical and facial features in Korean society, which have survived to this day as the commerce of physiognomy (or face-reading). 

Especially powerful is Ieshia’s argument that women’s self-branding is part of South Korea’s nation-branding, as the country and its industries transform from a  “masculine” development model based on physical labor and heavy industries to a more “feminine” model based on technology, service, and capital-driven accumulation. The representatives of the nation-state’s advancement are no longer sweaty, thick-forearmed men but slim, cosmopolitan women.

Ieshia Smith’s thesis is outstanding in other aspects, too, especially in her clear prose and use of primary sources such as advertisements, Internet testimonials, and firsthand experience living and studying in Korea. Her work exemplifies the kind of interdisciplinary scholarship that is redefining the meaning of scholarly work today.

We are delighted to congratulate Ieshia on her superb achievement.

Ieshia sat down with us on the eve of graduation to offer some thoughts about her experience as an ICS major and her hopes and plans for the future.

ICS: Ieshia, you just graduated with degrees in ICS and Political Science. What’s next for you?

I must confess that the foolproof life plan I had since the first grade fell apart at the beginning of my senior year at Duke. Prior to this point, I strongly believed that I would attend an elite law school immediately after graduation and spend the rest of my days practicing law. However, after a bout of self-reflection in early October, I realized that my personal priorities had rapidly shifted, and my new life trajectory no longer aligned with my childhood fantasy. Ultimately, I made the difficult decision to forgo law school at this point in my life and focus on gaining work experience before potentially committing to higher academic pursuits.

Now like many of my classmates I’m still figuring out who I am as a person and what I want to do with my future. To judge from the experiences I’ve heard about, the path ahead may be long and daunting, offering a journey filled with slammed doors, missed connections, and dead ends. But I believe in two beautifully simple aspects of human nature: the audacity to hope and the will to push forward. I also believe that graduating from college without a firm grasp on the future is absolutely okay. There are limitless possibilities ahead and with a bit of patience, I expect I will find that special satisfying something.

ICS: What would you say to students thinking about taking on honors projects or other self-assigned challenges?

Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.”  At times when I was working on my thesis I felt like I reached my breaking point and questioned why I had decided to do honors. The work was often demanding; the suggestions my advisors gave were sometimes difficult to understand; the feedback on my writing-in-progress was occasionally hard to take. And no one told me that these cruel brushes with reality would lead to the most rewarding moments in my life thus far. Duke challenges its students to maximize their potential using the vast resources available—and I ultimately felt fulfilled that I had taken advantage of some of these opportunities.

Looking back over all the courses I have taken at Duke, the honors seminar courses were hands down my favorite. However, I would not have applied for the honors program had I not taken other courses in which I was able to explore several of my interests, such as Korean culture, human sexuality, and social media. From these courses, I found the necessary theoretical discourses and research methodology that proved instrumental in conceptualizing my thesis proposal and ultimately completing The Plastic Face.

For students interested in undertaking ICS honors, I highly encourage you to examine your passions and build from there. A successful thesis is born when the writer truly loves the subject matter, and you cannot write a thesis if you lack the internal fire to guide you through the dark spots of the process. Find the lighter that ignites your flame and you’ll realize that you can achieve greatness, whether you want to write an ICS thesis or challenge yourself in another dimension.

ICS: Any thoughts you want to share with your classmates as you look forward?

I do follow some principles that work for me, so here’s an easy, breezy rundown of my advice to recent graduates and young professionals:

•          Avoid measuring yourself against the success of others; in the end, you’re the one who controls your destiny.

•          Be cautious of people who undermine your accomplishments, because these people only hinder your ambitions.

•          Sooner rather than later, cut the toxic elements out of your life and surround yourself with friends and family who uplift and encourage you.  There’s no point in making life harder—it’s already difficult enough!

•          Stay true to your passions and your dreams; there is no right or wrong way to reach a destination so long as you do not lose yourself in the process.

And, as a true Trekkie, I leave you with these words: live long and prosper.

    • ieshia w sorority headshot
    • ieshia w fan
    • ieshia and mom

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Jamie Bergstrom selected as Truman Scholar

This article originally appeared in Duke Today on April 18, 2014 

Two Students Selected as Truman Scholars

Duke University juniors Dominique Beaudry and Jamie Bergstrom are among 59 students selected as 2014 Truman Scholars.

Students are selected based on their records of leadership, public service and academic achievement, and their likelihood of becoming public service leaders. The Truman Scholarship Foundation received 655 nominations from 294 schools.

Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government.

"It is a tremendous honor to have two Duke students selected for this prestigious scholarship," said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. "Dominique and Jamie both exemplify the spirit of the Truman Scholarship, with their passion for social change combined with the intellect and work ethic to effect that change. They have taken full advantage of Duke's extraordinary opportunities and have worked to make both Duke and Durham better. I know they will continue to make an imprint on their communities."

Beaudry, a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar from Concord, N.C., majors in public policy studies and minors in education and psychology. With Truman funding, she plans to pursue dual master's degrees in public policy studies and education at Stanford University. As part of the Truman 2014 Washington Summer Institute, Beaudry plans to work in the district's public school system next summer.

"I want to work in D.C. public schools to gain experience in a large district challenged by racial and socioeconomic inequities," Beaudry said. "I aim to be a high school teacher in a low socioeconomic-status city in North Carolina that is struggling with racial tensions. I believe policy-makers and leaders must experience first-hand how policies affect teaching, students and assessments before they can implement the best solutions."

This summer, Beaudry will teach middle school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in Miami who want to go to college.

A volunteer tutor in Durham Public Schools, Beaudry would eventually like to be a superintendent for a large school district. "I hope to use my leadership to implement and guide education policy that provides all students, regardless of their background or circumstance, a high quality and nurturing education like I received," said Beaudry.

At Duke, Beaudry chairs the Honors Council; is founder and director of Future in Sight, a community group that organizes free eye screenings and exams to elementary students in Durham Public Schools; and is an instructor in the Intergenerational Ethics House Course.

She also has worked as a research assistant at Duke, and has done volunteer work in South Carolina and Samoa.

Bergstrom, from Warren, Mich., is an international comparative studies major, with a concentration in the Middle East. She plans to seek a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University, where she will begin her study this summer as a public policy and international affairs fellow.

For the Truman Summer Institute, Bergstrom intends to work in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

"This experience would allow me to work toward advancing refugee admissions policy and prioritizing global human rights issues," Bergstrom said. "I would simultaneously further my understanding of international displacement and the multilateral efforts already in effect."

On campus, Bergstrom is a peer mentor for 1-G Network, which offers advising and peer mentor for first-generation undergraduates at Duke. She was also editor of "Juhood: Journal for the Middle East and North Africa."

Bergstrom worked as an intern for CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS"; was an elementary school tutor and volunteered as a refugee tutor for the International Rescue Committee, among many other volunteer experiences. She also completed an Iraqi refugee resettlement research internship for Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

Ultimately, Bergstrom would like to become a human rights officer with the United Nations.

"I believe that no one should wake up stateless, fearing for his or her life," said Bergstrom. "My mission is to develop policy that protects displaced individuals and secures human rights."

The Truman Foundation also selected two Duke students last year.

    • bergstrom profile

Read ICS' Student Spotlight on Jamie Bergstrom

Ms. Bergstrom was also awarded the 2014 Oliver W. Koonz Prize for her project, "Beyond the Classroom"

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Senior Spotlight: Leilani Doktor '14

    • Leilani profile

April 4, 2014

You've recently had an article based on your ICS capstone paper accepted for publication in the Sigma Iota Rho Journal of International Relations. Tell us a little about your article. 

My article, “Defining Democracy in Algeria: The Continuity and Change of Post Colonial Political Representation,” focuses on the democratic moment of Algeria from 1988 to 1992 that immediately followed the Algerian Revolution. During this democratic moment, there was an outburst of uncensored freedom of speech. For this article, I analyzed the documentary The Bloody Years which was directed and produced by Thierry Leciere, a pied noir:  a French national living in Algeria. This film captured the democratic moment I was interested in and the ensuing violence. Through analyzing the film and the relevant history I was able to see how French constructions of kabyle, the prevalent social hierarchy in Algeria, dictated the decentralization of government and ensuing civil war. This analysis led me to discover that it was French definitions of the kabyle, and moreover French ideas of modernity and the democratic state, that had divided the Algerian population. This divide then led to the civil violence and in its most extreme form—guerilla terrorism—throughout the Algerian civil war. In conclusion, I discovered that Algeria was a very specific case due to its depth of colonial occupation in comparison to other colonial entities in North Africa.

How did you first become interested in this topic, and what led you to picking it for the subject of your ICS Capstone paper?

I am a fluent French speaker and my region of interest has always been Europe, specifically France. I began to turn towards the effect of colonization on the colonized nations, and after studying in France, the deep-seeded effects of colonization on Algeria and the strong presence of Algeria in the French memory led me to become deeply interested in the country. Then with the recent events of the Arab Spring, I was interested in looking at how democracy is formed and in my research came upon this moment which is significantly overlooked in global memory.  I decided to delve into this and see what I could find about democratic state building in North African states.

What was your research process like?

The beginning of my research was very nebulous. I knew I was interested in involving politics with the theories of identity that I had been working with through ICS, and I knew that I would really want to look into French origins because I had recently become fluent in French. While exploring possible areas of interest that had been colonized, I began to focus on the relation between France and Algeria. Then in our capstone course we watched the film Caché (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005), which further inspired me to investigate the topic of France’s influence on Algerian politics, so I began to look into the democratic process in Algeria and came upon this moment of 1988 to 1992. When I found that moment, I contacted the Duke University librarian for Middle Eastern Studies, Christof Galli, and he helped me enormously in finding preliminary materials and research to see what kind of question I could form about the topic.

What materials did you use, and how did you locate them? 

After reading several different genres of literature, such as US originated international relations articles, political science research papers, historical accounts, foreign policy briefs from the US, and even French newspaper articles on Algeria and North Africa in general, I found the effects of French colonial social constructions seemed to be much stronger in Algeria than I expected, and so I began to do some research for primary resources and came upon a gem of a source called The Bloody Years, which I mentioned earlier. From this film, I was able to pull the inferences that I outlined in my paper as well as back those inferences up with historical sources on French colonial influence in Algeria, and through a combination of that secondary research as well as an in-depth analysis of that primary source, I was able to find some very interesting conclusions about the violence that followed the 1991 elections in Algeria.

What were you most surprised or intrigued by in your research? 

Probably the most fascinating turn of my research was when I began to analyze the violence that came out a democratic moment. Specifically using the text of Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (2005), and Talal Asad’s On Suicide Bombing (2007) I was able to see a first-hand experience of how creating a democratic state can create exclusion, and within that exclusion is a structural violence, which in Algeria manifested itself in physical violence.  While I couldn’t make any conclusive statements about the prevalence of terrorism in Algeria, I could definitely see how the process of state-building during their democratic moment contributed to the civil war.

What inspired you to submit your capstone paper for publication? What was the publication process like?

I was inspired to submit by a call for papers on the ICS major listserv. I was really supported by Professor Namakkal when I told her I was considering publishing. The process was surprisingly blind, and I mean that.  I went through and edited with Professor Namakkal and submitted my paper to this anonymous e-mail of the journal, and I didn’t even receive an e-mail that they were reading it, just that they received it. Then suddenly four weeks later I received an e-mail that I had been accepted! When I received this e-mail, I was ecstatic and relieved--but that was only the beginning of the process. After they accepted my essay for publication they informed me they would send my article to multiple peer institutions for editing over a two-week period, and that I would have to sort through these edits and refine my paper according to all of these critiques from senior undergraduate students from other universities. I had to deal with some harsh criticism in those revision requests, but I went through and reconsidered my evidence and re-wrote some parts of my paper,  then resubmitted my final draft, which was approved.

Any advice for ICS Capstone students on choosing a thesis topic?

What I think I found most valuable in choosing my thesis topic is that it combined a variety of things I was very passionate about, even though the topics that I wanted to explore didn’t necessarily connect. Through my preliminary research I was able to find intersections of these interests, which made my paper not only interesting to other people but interesting to me. What’s most important is that you find what you’re curious about and something that you don’t know everything about, so that you will experience a continuous learning process throughout the writing of the paper. That way, you’re still learning and interested by the end of the semester.

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