December 2021

Message from Director Dr. John Waller

This September we welcomed 37 Scholars to campus for the first time. Some are incoming sophomores, the rest are freshmen, and nearly all are able to study in person for the first time in almost a year and a half. We are thrilled to be able to get to know them personally and have the casual or in-depth conversations in Room 307 of which we have all been deprived since Spring 2020. 

We could not be happier with the members of our eighth cohort. Diverse, accomplished, and highly personable, these nineteen students hail from India, Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, Oregon, Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio, the Upper Peninsula, Detroit, Warren, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Deerton, Madison Heights, Livonia, Lansing and East Lansing! Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, they entered a Scholars Program which is stronger than ever. We've very much enjoyed discussion with them in class and look forward (new Covid mutations permitting) to taking them to England for our traditional study abroad trip next summer. Of course, we have also had to say goodbye to the graduating Scholars, who are heading off to jobs, law schools, and graduate programs everywhere from Belfast, Cambridge and Chicago, to Michigan and St. Louis.

Since the advent of Covid, we have developed several exciting initiatives to give Scholars experience in research, community building, and leadership. Many of our students are involved in collaborative Scholars Research Labs which are led by juniors or seniors and focus on significant research topics; the ‘High School History Textbook Project’, for instance, comprises ten current Scholars, three graduated Scholars, and two faculty who are coding hundreds of textbook images in order to quantify the extent to which these books accurately represent the historical experiences of non-white Americans. We submitted an article to a professional journal on the basis of this research in October.

Another 20 Scholars are engaged with the Senior Ambassador Program, a befriending initiative which connects Scholars with senior citizens in the community at risk of loneliness. The website for this program, designed by Scholar Joe Kieta, is here.

Several more of our students have been instrumental in creating and organizing the Town & Gown series: every week MSU academics discuss their research with Greater Lansing seniors who are keen for more intellectual stimulation. Then there’s the roughly 20 students who are involved in the Scholars Policy Research Initiative, a Scholars-based think-tank on which agencies and legislators can call for reliable research on topics of interest to the constituencies they serve. Teams of Scholars have produced or are producing SPRI reports for a state representative, the Office for New Americans, the Michigan Municipal League, the East Lansing Public Library, and the College of Social Science. 

I could go on … but I think it’ll be clear by now that our Scholars are doing so much more than just focusing on and excelling in their classes. They’re also working as part of highly demanding and rewarding endeavors which they have helped to design and manage. Please do read on to learn more about some of our students’ summer internships and our valued alumni donors. And remember that if you are an MSU alumni and would like to be involved in the Scholars Program, we’d be delighted to hear from you.


Meet the new 2021 cohort!

As mentioned in Dr. Waller's introduction, this year, the Social Science Scholars Program welcomed 19 students into the 2021 cohort. Let's give our first-year Scholars a Spartan welcome and celebrate them as they finish out their first semester in the program! 

  • Tazkira Amin, majoring in Social Work, from Warren, MI
  • Sam Barans, majoring Psychology, from Cincinnati, OH
  • Jonah Cumings, majoring in Political Science Pre-law, from Grand Rapids, MI
  • Josie Danielkiewicz, majoring in Criminal Justice, from Deerton, MI
  • Thabo Dube, majoring in Psychology/Actuarial Science, from Zimbabwe
  • Eli Duguid, majoring in Economics, from Kalamazoo, MI
  • Shruti Elango, majoring in Economics, from Reading, UK
  • Ayden Ferris, majoring in History Education, from Lansing, MI
  • Jerome Hamilton, majoring in Political Science Pre-law, from Baltimore, MD 
  • Brennan Haugen, majoring Psychology, from Okemos, MI
  • Katie Heeder, majoring in the James Madison College, from East Lansing, MI
  • Shrishti Jalan, majoring in Economics and Journalism, from Pune, India
  • DuJour Johnson, majoring in Criminal Justice, from Detroit, MI
  • Jilian Kowlachuk, majoring in Political Science Pre-law, from West Bloomfield, MI
  • Anel Robinson, majoring in Political Science, from Brookfield, WI
  • Hunter Rupert-Bass, majoring in Criminal Justice, from Madison Heights, MI
  • Sharmila Suresh, majoring in Economics, from Chennai, India 
  • Zachary Sebree, majoring in Global History, from McMinnville, OR
  • Ofelia Yeghiyan, majoring in Political Science, from Livonia, MI


Scholar Roxy Mashkawiziikwe Sprowl: Advancing DEI throughout the College of Social Science

This past November, second-year Social Science Scholar Roxy Mashkawiziikwe Sprowl was recognized as the MSU College of Social Science ‘Diversity Torch’ for her work creating awareness and inclusion for Indigenous students on campus. Below is an excerpt from the feature, in which Roxy explains the research that she and a team she leads are currently working on through the Scholars Program:

"I'm currently leading a research project that is focused on exploring how people of color are represented in popular American history textbooks for high schools. This project is really grounded in racial reconciliation efforts, and the hope is that it will show the importance of teaching American history accurately. 

To do this, we've taken a few different avenues. The former project lead, Erykah Benson, focused on analyzing the text and visuals included in the books, and we've built on that by comparing numerically how often people of color are represented in certain textbooks, versus what percent of the population specific groups actually constituted at different points in time. This year, through primarily visual analysis, we are taking a deep dive into how frequently these representations are racial caricatures, and if the publishers of the books acknowledge those portrayals as stereotypes.

This project is personally important to me because I grew up disconnected from my tribal community, and so it was damaging to me to not have an opportunity in school to learn any of my history. While I was learning my history through my family, what I was hearing in school did not line up, triggering intergenerational trauma."

We are so proud of Roxy and the work she is doing to make the Social Science Scholars Program, the College of Social Science, and the MSU community a more inclusive place! Read the rest of Roxy's feature here.


Meet Program Supporter Vada Lindsey 

Vada Lindsey serves as the Associate Dean for Enrollment and Inclusion at Marquette University Law School. An 1983 alumna of the MSU College of Social Science, Lindsey officially became a part of the Social Science Scholars Program family in 2017 after learning about the program and deciding to get involved. She has served as both a mentor and supporter, and has helped to shape the program into what it is today. 

Below, Vada shares what she loves about the Social Science Scholars Program, and how she hopes to help current students in the program reach their goals both before and after graduation.

What initially impressed you about the Scholars Program? 

I attribute much of my success to the four years that I spent as a student in the College of Social Science. Undoubtedly, my collegiate years were foundational and helped me cultivate my desire for excellence. Shortly after I graduated, I was determined to financially support the College of Social Science when I was able to do so. I knew that I wanted to help students defray the cost of attending the university. I began researching philanthropic opportunities in the College of Social Science and discovered the Scholars Program. I was impressed that the Scholars Program promotes diversity and that many scholars pursue advanced degrees. With the high cost of education, I knew that many of these students might be saddled with excessive student loans, and I wanted to do what I could to lessen the burden for these bright and committed scholars.

What are some of your favorite things about the program? 

I learned about the Scholars Program in 2017, and I have supported the program ever since. There are many aspects of the program that are impressive. First, I read some of the scholars’ research projects, which were quite remarkable. Second, I like the fact that the program provides the cohorts/scholars with a great support system. Third, the transition to college is a challenge for many incoming students. The Scholars Program provides the cohorts with a great network of peers. I think that it is important that the program is relatively small because there are greater opportunities for the cohorts to interact with each other.

What are some of your goals as a mentor to students in the program?

As I reflect on my career, I was fortunate to be the beneficiary of some amazing mentors. Indeed, my first mentor as a freshman was my sister who was a pre-med sophomore at MSU and my roommate for the next three years. My sister and others provided me with tremendous guidance throughout my educational training and professional career. The type of mentorship that I received was invaluable, especially as a first-generation college student. My only agenda as a mentor is to serve as a resource for my mentees. Of course, they will have many other mentors throughout their career, including Dr. Waller as the director of the Scholars Program. Everyone has different perspectives, and I am looking forward to being one of the individuals that my mentees can reach out to for advice or even when they only need someone to listen to them. I am so excited to get to meet my first mentee in person as we plan to get together during the holiday break while she is spending time with her family here in the Milwaukee area.

What advice do you have for current students in the program?

There are many nonacademic activities that students can and should take advantage of during their time as undergraduate students. I loved going to basketball games and cheering for the team while sitting (mostly standing!) in the Spartan Spirit section. I joined a sorority. I did not go to many parties. Rather, I spent a lot of my free time with friends doing things like playing (old school) board games. Several of these friends became lifelong friends. With so many distractions, it is easy for students to lose focus of the reasons they are attending MSU. My ultimate goal was to attend law school, and I learned early in my collegiate life that I was not going to let anything interfere with that goal. For example, I selected a job that allowed me to read class assignments or review my class notes while I worked. I worked in the circulation department at the MSU library early Saturday mornings because it was quiet at that time, and I knew that I could spend some time studying while I earned some extra money.

Finally, what is most rewarding for you about supporting the Scholars Program?

I support various charitable organizations, including the Scholars Program, because I believe in their mission. I find it very rewarding to help others, and I embrace the opportunity to help students achieve their goals by lessening their financial burdens. The cost of education is outrageously expensive. It is hard for students to excel academically if they cannot afford to buy course books or eat nutritiously. I have a great sense of pride to be able to provide a little financial assistance to students who are trying to better themselves and to hopefully be in the position to help similarly situated students in the future.


Giving back: Social Science Scholars start - and end - the semester with service

After a tough year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students in the Social Science Scholars Program returned to MSU's campus with a collective goal in mind: to give back to the community. 

Throughout the Fall 2021 semester, students in the Social Science Scholars Program have been engaged in ongoing efforts to give back to others, in addition to their academic and professional commitments. These endeavors were kicked off by a day of service helping seniors in the Lansing area with yard work, and concluded with a scarf-making party that produced warm scarves for Michiganders facing homelessness.

The Scholars Program day of service

Before classes even began, students from different cohorts within the Social Science Scholars Program overcame the sweltering August heat and a barrage of biting mosquitoes and angry bees to help local East Lansing seniors with yard work. The effort was coordinated with the Senior Ambassadors Program, an MSU-affiliated organization which matches Scholars with area seniors in order to combat loneliness and mental health concerns within the local elderly population.

Overall, over 25 students in the program participated in this effort, and 15 area seniors received help with lawn maintenance, yard work, gardening and related projects.

"The gardening done was such a help," noted one senior who received assistance from volunteering Scholars. "[The volunteers] went way beyond in helping transplant some plants for me, especially with the high heat and humidity, as well as helped by cleaning up pine cones and needles, which for me, is a difficult bending job."

Another senior reflected, "The [volunteers] were so wonderful, hardworking, good company and couldn’t have been nicer.  I very much appreciate the yard work they did for me."

Spreading warmth through creative crafts 

Recently, the Scholars Program continued this effort to give back to the community by hand making winter scarves, which were donated to Giving Pack - a non-profit organization founded by Scholars Program alum Michael Marchiori, which he started as an undergraduate at MSU. 

Overall, over 15 Scholars contributed to the cause, making a total of 50 scarves. The scarves will be distributed by Giving Pack to people struggling with homelessness in the Pontiac, Michigan area.

"We love seeing our students working to give back to this community," said Jenn Arbogast, academic advisor to the Social Science Scholars Program. "Their commitment to making time to help others around them is inspiring, and it gives me an opportunity to work alongside them and get to know them outside of academics."


Dr. Waller wins award for AgeAlive

On Friday 2 December, Dr. John Waller, the Scholars Program Director, was the proud recipient of a university award for promoting connections among students and senior citizens in the Great Lansing area. The accolade was presented by Dr. Clare Luz, director of AgeAlive, an MSU initiative which is housed in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and is dedicated to connecting Michigan State University and the community to support and enhance research, education, and services related to aging. Dr. Waller received the annual ‘AgeAlive Award for Intergenerational Initiatives’ for his role in creating and organizing The Senior Ambassador Program and the ‘Town & Gown’ series. Here is the text of Dr. Waller’s acceptance speech:

"Thank you so much Lisa and to Clare and everyone else involved in making these awards and organizing this lovely event. I’m deeply appreciative of AgeAlive for honoring me in this way. I’d like to emphasize, however, how much these programs – Senior Ambassadors and Town & Gown – are collective efforts. They both began as a result of my expressing an interest in doing something to serve seniors in the Greater Lansing areas to Clare as well as to my colleague Jenn Arbogast. It was Clare who then convened the first of many delightful meetings with Lori Strom and the team at East Lansing’s Prime Time – Kelly Arndt and Lisa Richey and volunteers like Marcia Van Ness and Leo Kennedy.

Equal gratitude is owed to the students of the Social Science Scholars Program which I have the privilege of directing. These students are the best I have taught over 20 years and across three continents. And it was Scholars like Haley Nash, Erykah Benson and Emily Saxon, plus several others, who took the concept of an intergenerational befriending program and within months had produced amazingly professional training programs and had coordinated with AgeAlive and Prime Time to recruit students and seniors. Ditto for Town and Gown, which has depended on Scholars like Tyler Hoguet, Wisdom Henry, and Emily Saxon to plan and moderate sessions. And, of course, there are the roughly 40 faculty members and alumni who have gifted their time to give T&G presentations. In short, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable collaborative effort which I hope to see continuing to thrive over the coming years.

Lastly, if I might, I’d like to dedicate this award to my maternal grandparents – Bill and Anne Meadows - who showed me the profound value of intergenerational ties."

Congratulations to Dr. Waller on receiving this award – and thank you to the many Scholars who have now taken the reins of leading these initiatives (Issi John, Stella Weinberg, Kate Frieden, Schweta Adsul, Emma LaBarre) and those who meet each week with their senior hosts for mutual enrichment.

Remembering Scholars Program Alum Harris Bunker

On October 19, the Scholars Program received the devastating news that alumnus Harris Bunker passed away at the age of 24. Harris was an integral part of the second Scholars cohort and had graduated in the Spring of 2019 with a degree in Economics, and was pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of California, San Diego.

In response to his passing, Dr. Waller had the following message:

"Strikingly kind, witty, and intellectually brilliant, Harris was also a person of the highest moral caliber, an Economics student of the first order, and a brilliant quiz bowl player. Jenn and I have many cherished memories of Harris: talking earnestly about his lawn care business during his interview; watching a video of the standup comedy routine he performed in his first week on campus, a very funny display of dry wit and sharp observation; the sweet gentleness of his manners which meant that he always insisted on calling Jenn ‘Mrs Arbogast’; the enthusiasm with which he embarked on a very challenging study of the (un)fairness of US tax policy under the guidance of Dr. Tony Doblas-Madrid; his excitement at spending a semester doing research in Zurich, Switzerland; and the passion for Economics which saw him start a PhD in the discipline at UC San Diego upon graduation.

My most vivid recollection of Harris dates from his freshman year when I speculatively asked the class who coined the term ‘the banality of evil’ in reference to the Holocaust. Without hesitation, Harris said (rightly) ‘Hannah Arendt’ and proceeded to explain the term with the clarity of a person of the deepest intelligence who already had considerable wisdom about the human condition. Long after graduating, at the height of the COVID lockdown, he was still kind enough to offer his services as a Quiz Bowl chair for Scholars in order to ease their sense of isolation. By virtue of his generosity of spirit, his loyalty to others, and his love of intellectual discussion and debate, Harris formed the strongest friendships in the Scholars Program. He will be very much missed, and the world will be a poorer place for the loss of his personal decency and academic excellence."