Dr. Simone Dietrich, who is Assistant Professor of Political Science and also holds an appointment at the Truman School of Public Affairs, studies a broad range of political subjects with a particular interest in international aid allocation and effectiveness. Her field work in international development across the world informs her development of data-oriented inquiries into the political and economic mechanisms of international aid. “Academics don’t explain trees—we explain forests,” she tells us, and in her main projects, she combines many different pieces of data to develop a clear picture of larger trends in the politics of international aid.
Sometimes, in order to see the status quo, it takes a little distance. When MU’s Peace Corps Fellows return to the United States, they bring their global perspectives to the University of Missouri campus in order to open the minds of students, staff, and community members. Nathan Jensen, Jennifer Keller, Amy Bowes, and Andy Craver are among this year’s fellows. Their work in distant countries has changed them, helping them grow. Now they’re sharing their experience and newfound attitudes with MU.
How much do infants know about the world in which they live? At what age do humans begin to develop an understanding of object permanence and of the reality that people act in response to different things around them? These are the kinds of questions Yuyan Luo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, seeks to answer. In addition to teaching cognition development courses—from infancy to toddler—she runs the Infant Cognition Lab, which tests psychological and biological knowledge development through a series of lab experiments. Now in its second year of operation, the lab conducts experiments with participants as young as two and one-half months old.
Dr. Dietrich is currently working on a paper that examines aid and democracy consolidation in Africa. The goal of this study is to understand what conditions make foreign aid likely facilitate national transitions to democracy, and what conditions can lead to “democratic deepening.”
Before earning her PhD Dr. Dietrich spent time as a development practitioner in Bosnia. She tells us that this experience was important in forming her specific interests in political science. In this video Dr. Dietrich explains one of the major initiatives she observed in Bosnia, and tells us how her observations there have developed into a book project on how government ideologies affect foreign aid decision making.
There is a scholarly debate in the world of political science over the effectiveness of international aid. In this video, Dr. Dietrich describes how she entered the literature on this subject by examining the tactics that donors use in allocating and delivering aid.
The Peace Corps experience changed all of these fellows. Each of them plans on continuing to partner with people in other countries, although their specific aspirations are quite different. Jensen wants to work in the area of international development, hoping his experience will help him to deploy funding wisely, while Keller plans to earn a degree in policy and get involved with with non-profit organizations. Bowes hopes to gain a position in a foreign embassy, and Craver aims to pursue a PhD in anthropology and conduct field research abroad.
The Peace Corps experience helped each of the fellows see America differently. Jensen describes his newfound skepticism when he looks at international development agencies. Keller knows that the Peace Corps has influenced her to understand the world from a West African perspective. Craver felt a degree of closeness to his host family that is rare in the U.S. Bowes has noticed the overwhelming choices in U.S. grocery stores. “You’d go into shops in Africa and there would be ten or twelve things on a shelf, and maybe one of each, too,” she recalls. “Here, we never run out of anything.”
In addition to running the Infant Cognition Lab, Luo also teaches cognition development courses at MU, ranging from infancy to toddler psychological and biological knowledge development.