Revolutionizing Global Citizenship through Undergraduate “Research for Action:”

In the 2022-2023 academic year UCSB undergraduate students were selected from a pool of applicants to participate in the exceptional seminar, Global Studies 196. This advanced class also awarded each undergrad student participant with the honor of serving as Orfalea Center Fellows. The Global Studies Department at UCSB, in collaboration with the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, launched this year-long (three-quarter module) seminar experience to meet the demand of our honors-level undergraduates who have been eagerly interested in preparing themselves better to make the very most of the “adventure” and also the transformational and engagement potential of the Education Abroad (EAP) experience. 

This newly designed learning experience consisted of a field-research training seminar focused on pedagogical ethics and skills of on-the-ground research in international environments and amongst community organizations abroad. The course imparted techniques for action-oriented research and produced outcomes ideal for applied and policy-making results. Omar Mansour, a proud alumnus of the Global Studies Masters program at UCSB, led in the design and implementation of this course. He took insights and experiences gained in the Global Studies Master’s Program, funded by the Paul Orfalea Gift Endowment, to shape the methodology and public-facing spirit of this memorable seminar experience. The course offered opportunities not found in any other undergraduate course or program on campus. 

The students loved the course, as is evident through their feedback.  Leon Barhoum stated, “I highly recommend Global 196. It has been a transformative experience, enhancing my academic interests and research skills. The program offers a fantastic chance to connect with faculty and learn about their research projects. With excellent one-on-one guidance, support, and valuable feedback, one develops an individual research project. The course has a collaborative and supportive environment, providing an incredible opportunity to delve further into your academic passions and grow as a researcher.” 

Rajvir Rai praised the course for her improved writing skills, “The most rewarding lesson from this course was building synthesis skills in writing as this has allowed me to be a complex thinker, effectively equipping me with the fundamentals of all and any research. I am proud to say that I have been communicating consistently with the University of Ghana about my proposed research as early as a year before my program. This would not have been possible without taking Global Studies 196 as a course.” Lucas Bricca said, “This unique seminar helped me tremendously in doing fieldwork in another country. I got valuable feedback on research questions and methodology from several different faculty members, and I got hands-on practice with interview skills and write-ups. Beyond technical skills, Global 196 gave me a network of contacts and resources while abroad. Through faculty I met in 196, I was set up with a human rights organization with a large reach in Argentina, and has put me in contact with important interviewees for my project. Finally, through Global 196, I got crucial help and feedback on writing grants for my project. I had never written a grant before, and through Global 196, I had all the support I needed to obtain funding for my research successfully. Global 196 gave me the technical skills, resources, and professional contacts to conduct a rigorous, independent research project abroad. As I finish my first semester in Argentina, I can confidently say that doing this project has added a layer of academic and social immersion I would not have gotten otherwise.” It should be noted that based on the work Lucas did in this course, he applied for and won the UCSB Winthrop Undergraduate Research Grant for Students in the Division of Social Sciences. Jeff Adler stated, “Mansour’s thoughtful teaching of the techniques and frameworks on qualitative methods helped me make judgments in the field during the UC Human Rights and Cultural Memory Program in Santiago, Chile. I used his methodologies– especially ethnography and other human rights projects that I only got because of my pre-existing interest and framework.  It was an indispensable way to gain an essential foundation in the world of research and piqued my intellectual creativity.” 

A Model for an Enriched Undergrad Experience

This undergraduate seminar treats undergraduate students as mature researchers who have the potential to be young leaders of transformational social change, articulators of policy innovations, and co-producers of new public goods. Moreover, the course fulfills these ambitious aims through a unique design that assists their intellectual growth. The course was designed to build upon the current Education Abroad Program model offered by many universities but inject a more rigorous research model and activist worldview. The course is geared primarily towards students studying abroad in the Global South and East rather than catering to traditional study destinations in Western Europe. The course’s philosophy was not just based on changing the study location but also driving discussion of our role in the world as curious, activist, and justice-oriented individuals and groups. The instructor and students focused on a set of overarching questions: How can we start thinking about what it means to be a global citizen? What skills can be learned to be more action-minded and not passively navigate the world? And, as researchers, how can we implement our projects ethically? This is the mindset the course syllabus develops. The course focused on quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, specifically ethnographic and interview methods. The course explores ethical dilemmas, such as how to avoid “extracting” knowledge from local communities and how to avoid perpetuating colonial practices. 

As many students’ research relates to sensitive topics and vulnerable parts of a country’s population, the course helps students understand how to be sensitive and self-aware in a different cultural context. A crucial aspect of conducting ethical research in international contexts is educating students about the power dynamics prevalent in the research destination. One of the goals is to convey the importance of collaborative work with the community the students are joining for their research, not to “study” them. A breaking of colonial knowledge hierarchies is crucial to successful and impactful research. The undergraduate research seminars took advantage of the enriching resources of both the Department of Global Studies and its engaged faculty members, such as Professors Jia-Ching Chen, Aashish Mehta, Ricado Jacobs, Javiera Barandiaran, Kai Thaler, and Paul Amar, all of whom gave guest lectures throughout the quarters. The seminar students were also integrated as interns within the activities and global projects of the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies at UCSB. The Center draws upon its own vast set of vibrant research partnerships and successful models of “research for action.” Six faculty members from the Global Studies Department, UCSB Area Studies Programs, and Orfalea Center graduate student fellows and affiliated faculty served as mentors and guides, integrating their guidance within the seminar’s classroom modules led by Lecturer Omar Mansour. These mentors exposed the class to a wide variety of research topics and methodologies for ethical research, implemented in the spirit of partnership with communities, those communities most likely to be immediately and positively impacted by the undergrads’ research. Through this process, students modeled their work on the advanced research projects they co-implemented at the Center. This collaboration assisted in their project development and exposed them to radical critical thinking and theorizing, an intellectual benefit in and of itself. Additionally, students saw some examples of how their research or work could have a direct and valuable impact – how they can go out and change the world. 

The engagement between undergraduates and graduate students is being taken to a new level this academic year with the undergraduate students joining the Orfalea Center’s Thematic Research Clusters, namely, Global Carceral States, Environmental Justice & Climate Justice Studies, Social Data and the Archive, Global Genders & Sexualities, and Water & Energy Infrastructures Cluster. The undergrad student fellows work on producing short articles and exciting and timely podcasts and developing and implementing their research projects with the support of graduate student Research Cluster members. The undergraduates are currently working on articles to publish in the global-e journal, an online e-journal focusing on punchy, critical work under the stewardship of the Orfalea Center.  

Engaging the World

Preparing students to go out into the world and begin their journey toward becoming informed global citizens starts with this course and the subsequent field research. However, going out into the world can be intimidating, so one of the best impacts of this course is easing those worries. Easing those worries was done in a few ways. 

One prime example was a collaborative ethnographic assignment with Professor Jia-Ching Chen from the Global Studies department. Students had to each select from various food markets and ascertain how customers engaged with branding efforts (corporate or aesthetic) and if it had any sway over their shopping choices. Students went out to these markets and practiced taking basic field notes – they documented their surroundings, impressions, and any challenges to preconceived notions. In this way, it was a reflexive exercise. Most importantly, this was an exercise where students could practice approaching and talking to people for research. Students then returned to class the following week, and together with Professor Jia-Ching, we conducted a reflection/writing workshop and discussed our results based on different markets.

Another way was through an Oral History/Interview Technique workshop led by course Instructor Omar Mansour. In it, he presented how to do proper background research for an interview, how to set up an interview, and then led a practice interview session between students and had them read through a practice transcript and identify where the interviewer made a mistake and why. 

Preparing Skills, Action, and Impact

When preparing to go abroad, proper knowledge of the country one is visiting and conducting research in, as well as the people one wishes to immerse oneself with, is crucial. As such, one assignment was a Case Study report. The preparation of this report consisted of writing up a country brief related to their research topics, looking at the country’s overall political, socioeconomic, and cultural context, as well as how different state and non-state actors are navigating the research topics of interest. Students learned that doing background research enabled them to engage in a high level of familiarity with the country and the people. This preparation made interviews and interactions with local communities easier, and students were more likely to receive a warmer response. 

Another vital skill the course imparted was networking. Through the research clusters at the Orfalea Center, as well as the excellent guest speakers from Global Studies teaching methodology models, the students were able to develop solid connections with top scholars. Additionally, students were assisted in developing relations with scholars and activists outside the campus, in the United States, and abroad in their countries of focus. 

Undergrad Students as Transformational Researchers

At the end of the course, each student presented their research proposals, showcasing their growth concerning academic research basics and impressive historical and contemporary knowledge of their destination country. The students presented their research action plans, launched upon arrival in their study-abroad country. Their presentations also identified the internships, volunteer opportunities, and community contacts they had identified in their host country. Their presentations and research projects are described below. 

Student Presentations

At the end of the course, each student presented their research proposals, showcasing not only their growth with regards to academic research basics, but also impressive historical and contemporary knowledge on their destination country. The students presented their research ideas, but also their action plans for when they arrive in the country, talking about internships, volunteer opportunities and other ways of connecting with the community with whom they would be working. Their presentations and research focuses are briefly outlined below. 

Lucas Bricca

Lucas departed for EAP in July 2023 and is finishing his first quarter abroad in Argentina. His project was entitled: “Popular Schools in Argentina: Effects of Standardized Learning Outcomes on Democratic Student-Teacher Relationships in Argentine Popular Schools.” 

Lucas defined popular schools in the context of Argentina as “community-based educational spaces that seek to understand students’ social position and specifically address the conditions of inequality and class stratification that are pretty rampant throughout Argentina.” Lucas provided crucial context for his research questions, informing us about the positives and negatives of these schools receiving government funding. The funds would provide great potential for the school, better student resources, and nicer spaces. However, the initial direction of the school was put at risk, and incoming government officials would edge out early founders of the school.  

From a policy perspective, his driving question for this research is “How can we get these resources (government funding)  for students without sacrificing the autonomy of the school and undercutting the school’s mission statement?” He is interested in the classroom and student experience, and popular schools are built on democratic student-teacher relationships that enable students to bring their own experiences into conversation with one another and learn from those experiences as a basis for social transformation. If you do not have this relationship where you can talk about pertinent issues from your own viewpoint, you fail to become a popular school. So one of his questions regarding this is “How does a standardized curriculum affect democratic classroom practices? When popular schools enter into partnerships with the government, it’s often conditional on the implementation of a standardized curriculum. Standardized tests and externally regulated controls that dictate what students are learning led him to the question, “how does that practice affect the democratic relationship between students and teachers?” He explains that in terms of establishing causality between learning outcomes and democratic student-teacher relationships, it is crucial to establish that learning outcomes always encode specific social values so that people who write a curriculum will base it on certain beliefs about what is good and what is valuable.

Malia Mo

Malia is currently abroad studying in Tokyo. She presented her project, entitled “Growing Sustainability in Japan’s Fashion Industry: A Case Study on Unique Value Propositions in Tokyo’s Slow Fashion Industry.” Malia will have attended a sustainable fashion convention in October called Tokyo Sustainable Fashion Expo, and made crucial connections in her search for an internship at a design organization. To that end, Malia also showcased a website and blog she had created as part of her skill development efforts. 

She provided key definitions to understand her research questions better. She said that sustainable or slow fashion, which are interchangeable, are terms that hold various meanings based on different contexts. However, generally, it includes all actors and processes that aid in achieving a carbon-neutral fashion sector. Value propositions are often used in marketing and are innovative services or features intended to make a company or product attractive to customers. 

Her main question is, “How do actors within Japan’s sustainable fashion industry, those being designers, businesses, consumers, local government, and non-profits, interact and work together to grow the presence of sustainable fashion in Tokyo?” Two of her subquestions are “how do actors within Tokyo sustainable fashion industry appeal to young consumers?” And “who is the ideal Japanese sustainable fashion consumer?” 

Rajvir Rai

Rajvir’s project is entitled “University Basic School: A Case Study of Public Ghanaian Language Education.”  She will be studying at the University of Ghana and conducting her research at the University Basic School, a primary k-6 school located within the university and one of the few locations that provide opportunities for primary/elementary school students to study Ghanaian languages. 

She provided some background for her choice of topic, discussing the large agricultural sector of the national workforce in Ghana and how we see many dropouts after primary school due to the lack of English requirements in those agricultural sectors. However, this leaves the English language to dominate higher levels of education and the sectors that accompany this. This creates an elite minority of English speakers, as Rajvir put it. She will also be looking at concerns about teacher training and resource scarcity.

This leads to the development of her questions: “How do contextual factors shape language education at University Basic School (UBS), and what do they address about the development of public Ghanaian language education and the elite minority?”

And her sub-questions being: “How is public language education at UBS shaped by its teacher training, resource use, and locale?” and “How are teachers at UBS trained and how, if at all, does this training differ from teacher to teacher? Do Ghanaian language teachers have a L1 (mother-tongue) match with students?”

Jeff Adler

Jeff is researching while studying abroad in Chile. His project was entitled, “Echoes of the Condor: A Journey into Chile’s Constitutional Crisis.” He began by explaining the significance of the term “Condor” in his title – Operation Condor refers to the US-backed campaign of political repression and state-sponsored terrorism that occurred throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s in South America, and none, arguably, of countries more affected than this campaign was Chile. So while this story or this collection of events happens or starts prior to 2019, it really starts in 1973, he said. 

Jeff explained the history of the most recent constitutional election process, beginning with the 2019 revolution the failure of the progressive left to pass the constitution in 2022, and the resurgence of Chile’s right wing. This sets up Jeff’s research questions: “How are Chilean leftist groups adapting their strategy after the failed 2022 plebiscite to a) ensure the inclusion of progressive reforms and b) facilitate the successful passage of the 2023 plebiscite?” “To what extent have Chileans been conducive to these adaptations in rhetoric, and further, what role does cultural memory of the political violence of the 1973 coup and Dirty War play in this emerging conflict?” 

In addition to this, Jeff is currently working with Professor Richard Widick, the faculty lead of the Orfalea Center’s Environmental Justice & Climate Justice Studies research cluster, on a project entitled “Violence, Archive, and Memory in the Making of Chile’s New Constitution — a study in Media, Politics, and Environments in the Era of Energy Transition.”  

Jeff stated that he hopes his research will subsidize the growing literature regarding catalyzing urban social movements and group efficacy in social-movement participation, identify collective consumption, defend of cultural-territorial identity, and local government as a target for political mobilization, as well as a better understanding of interactions between media engagement and voting patterns.

Leon Barhoum

Leon presented his research project, “Jordan’s Syrian Refugees – Access to Formal Employment & Empowerment.” He presented on the importance of understanding the European Union’s Jordan Compact, an agreement whereby the EU sought to provide the Kingdom of Jordan with financial support, funding, and trade concessions to support Jordan’s Syrian refugee population and expand their access to formal employment and the labor market. Part of this access was through work permits. However, this came with a host of issues, including bureaucratic obstacles, limited access to only Syrian refugees, and limited options as to what types of work constituted “formal” employment.

Leon identified gaps in the knowledge, such as policy reports on this topic not capturing refugee agencies, refugee experiences, and what they want out of employment and their lives in Jordan. The human experience and the personal narratives of Syrians are missing.  This informed his research question, which is, “What barriers do Syrian refugees face accessing formal employment in Jordan, and how are they navigating, challenging or reacting to government labor policy?”


The course offered new and unique opportunities for undergraduate education, and the students who have taken the course so far no doubt had an intellectually and academically enriching experience. “Research for Action” was the driving philosophy for this course, and it is evident through the types of projects that the students are currently doing abroad, driven by a desire to do good and to make an impact. These project successes and this new form of student educational experience have evolved out of this partnership between the Global Studies Department, the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, and the Paul Orfalea Gift Endowment, all of which see a positive impact on the world as the driving force behind education. 

Page Editor

Omar Mansour
Omar Mansour
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Print Friendly and PDF

Leave a Reply