For Professors James Walsh, Justin Conrad and Beth Whitaker, these past three years have involved dedicated studying and heavy research in the hopes of one goal: understanding how natural resources contribute to armed conflict. With the help of an $825,537 grant from the U.S. Defense, UNC Charlotte’s Political Science Department will utilize workers and students to help work on the project.
The research team became motivated in strengthening their application and obtaining the award after failing to receive the grant back in 2011. However this year they have achieved their goal with much help from student volunteers, who will tag along on the research project.
There are seven students total, six undergraduate and one graduate, hired to work on the project at any given time. These students were carefully chosen by Professors Walsh, Conrad and Whitaker, who they have either worked with in the past or whom were above average in their classes.
The students and professors plan on creating global data sets in developing countries, with a main focus on Africa.
There are two other universities that have agreed to contribute to the research. The money will further be distributed in this same fashion to these participating university’s students and staff.
Participating in this immense project allows the participating professors to publish more and better data.
Profesor James Walsh
Walsh originally became interested in natural resources and conflict after writing an academic paper in 2010 using existing data. This off-the-shelf information that Walsh found interesting was far and few between, not to mention scarcely reliable. He became unsure about being able to find more data that would give the results he wanted.
He ended up sending his academic paper into a journal, only to have it rejected for the same reasons he’d expected. However, a spark ignited. The question became interesting to Walsh and made him realize there were many opportunities to do potentially useful research in this field.
In regards to what Walsh wants students to get out of the research, he states, “One of the things that I hope the students who participate in the project or take classes that are related to it would see is that there’s an interesting connection between scholarship and the real world.”
This semester, Walsh was awarded a reassignment of duties, concluding he is not teaching classes this semester. His department wants him to put more time in leading the research project as well as finish his book he is currently writing on drone strikes as a tool for counter terrorism.
For more on this book and Walsh’s other published works, visit www.jamesigoewalsh.com.
Professor Beth Whitaker
As the third year Associate Chair for UNC Charlotte’s Political Science Department, Whitaker was brought onto the research team because of her expertise in African Studies. She has first-hand experience in the country, having traveled and done research there multiple times.
In the late 90s, Whitaker spent two years as a graduate student living in Tanzania, completing her dissertation research on the issues and impact of refugees in her area.
She traveled back to Africa for a year in 2005, but this time with her husband. While in Kenya on the Fulbright Scholarship, she not only studied U.S.-African relations, but she also taught at a local university with her husband. They had the opportunity to hike Mount Kilimanjaro during their stay as well.
Outside of teaching and researching, Whitaker enjoys running, swimming, cycling and spending time with her family. In fact she recently completed her second triathlon!
Whitaker and her husband have a five-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son who she hopes to bring along with her to Africa this summer.
She wants to see more students travel to Africa and hopes to soon start a faculty-led study abroad program in Kenya.
Whitaker first became interested in African studies through her undergraduate classes. For this reason, teaching undergraduate classes is something she thoroughly enjoys.
She hopes even if it’s a small amount that maybe just a few of her students might be turned on to the idea that Africa is a fun place to research and study.
This semester she will be teaching a senior seminar on the politics of humanitarian assistance.
When asked what Whitaker is most looking forward from this research project, she stated, “I am most looking forward to the actual analysis once we have the data collected!”
Dr. Justin Conrad
Conrad was brought on the research team through the already-close working relationship with Dr. Walsh that formed by working together on previous research.
Conrad received his PhD after his experiencing his first career in international business in Columbia, South America. While in Columbia, he ran into clients who had personal experiences with terrorism. The stories they shared were in Conrad’s words “unbelievable.”
It was then that he decided to go back to school to study and learn as much as he could about possible ways to reduce violence in the world. This also happens to be his main goal in the research project.
In addition to teaching here at Niner Nation and on the research project, Conrad is an officer of the U.S. Navy Reserves, where he works with military intelligence.
Although he has yet to be deployed, Conrad loves being a part of the reserves as they are very respectful of his civilian employment. He strongly encourages any students interested in joining the military to look into the Reserves.
In his free time, he enjoys studying international security issues and international terrorism. He is looking forward to the research project because it will be an extension of both his role in the Navy as well as these personal areas of study he enjoys.
A Tampa Bay native, he has grown to love the terrain of North Carolina spending much of his time fishing, hiking, or anything the nature of our state has to offer.
To give back to the community, Conrad often volunteers at a local high poverty middle school by doing educational activities with students.