Undergraduate Awards Summit

I recently returned from Dublin, where I was attending the Undergraduate Awards Summit with our director, Dr. Joel Faflak. The Undergraduate Awards is the world’s largest academic awards program, with an international panel of scholars who blind judge submissions within their discipline of expertise. Dr. Flaflak was the chair of the English Literature category, the same category in which my essay was Highly Commended (top 10% of over 500 submissions). I wrote my essay while on exchange at the University of St Andrews for an honours seminar on “Nationalists and Nomads: Contemporary World Literature” with Dr. Lorna Burns. My essay was titled “Food Figures at the Forks: The Intersection of the Feminist and (Post)Colonial Politics of Food Imagery in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss,” which you can read online here.

In Dublin City Hall at the Awards Gala.
In St Patrick’s Cathedral for the Gala Dinner.

 

The entire trip was generously funded by Western’s Provost and Vice-President (Academic), Dr. Janice Deakin. This meant that nearly all 29 of Western’s Highly Commended and Winning Entrants could attend the Summit, leaving quite an impression on the international stage. What meant the most about this accolade was the recognition that my academic work was not just strong within my small classes, but on an international stage amidst the work of students from universities like Trinity College Dublin, UC Berkeley, and University of Hong Kong. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have been reminded by professors that research should be situated within a broader academic community, engaging in dialogue with the work of other researchers. It was amazing to see this notion of an academic community taken from idea to reality: the entire Summit was filled with opportunities to actually converse with an academic community, rather than merely reading their work from afar.

The mood was rather solemn the first morning of the Summit as Donald Trump had just been elected President of the United States. There was an odd yet hopeful dissonance between the nationalist and isolationist platform that had just won the U.S. vote and the collaborative dialogue occurring across disciplines and nationalities throughout the Summit. The first day was filled with students presenting their research in three minutes. Amidst the immense diversity of disciplines and nationalities, nearly every presentation came back to politics in its simplest terms: as the relations between people. Whether someone was presenting on american healthcare policy, Disney’s Tarzan, or business managements strategies, their research nearly always inspired us to consider how resources, knowledge, and power should be more equally distributed to all people.

Dr. Joel Faflak leading a break-out session at the Colloquium. Photograph by Babs Daly (http://
www.babsdaly.com/).

Professor Fiona de Londras ended the first night with a powerful reminder that we, as academics, have the power to change the politics around us:

Her words grounded what we do up in our “ivory towers” within real, tangible political consequences. We were also constantly reminded by various speakers that “we” (young students and future leaders around the world) are the ones who will “change the world”, especially in the face of rather startling political shifts across the globe in recent months. Yet Dr. Mai Jamieson turned this platitude on it’s head by reflecting on how the current world leaders, like herself, cannot be absolved of their responsibility for the world’s greatest challenges—they, herself included, cannot simply bestow the responsibility upon the next generation. I was struck not only by the urgency with which we must tackle the challenges our world faces, but also by the hope that we can tackle them with support across generations. As the cliché of “senioritis” begins to hit me, I think back to the Undergraduate Awards Summits to remind myself that my work at university is more than just endless typing on my laptop in the library: it is part of a community of inspiring students and scholars across the globe with whom I hope to cross paths with again soon.

Feature Image: At Farmleigh House for the Colloquium. Photograph by Babs Daly (http://www.babsdaly.com/).

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