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April 2021 - Chinemelu Okafor

April 2021

Chinemelu Okafor

BA International Studies (Political Economy and Development); BA Economics ‘15

Hometown: Umuoji, Anambra State, Nigeria; Lansing, Michigan, USA

University of Michigan Affiliations: Global Scholars Program; Barger Leadership Fellows Program; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated

“I came into undergrad interested in Economics and Development, but my interests became more focused in 2014 while intensely following the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to collectively find 276 kidnapped schoolgirls in Northeast Nigeria. I found myself amazed by the successful collective action of Nigerians and wondered how similar collective action could help solve problems of governance elsewhere. In addition, I became deeply interested in understanding the social construction of governance with the quantitative toolbox I had started to develop. My studies also prepared me to ask questions about the relationship of colonial governance structures to the persistence of weak and exclusionary institutions throughout the Global South.

Around the same time as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, I interned with the Royal African Society (RAS) in London, England through the Program for International and Comparative Studies (PICS). My work focused primarily on reading and synthesizing African literature written by women. African literature often evokes a candid depiction of the social and historical context of contemporary political life, allowing for a rich contextualization of the places at the center of my studies. This opportunity proved to be, by far, the most beneficial part of my time as a U-M International Studies major. My time with the Royal African Society was instrumental in propelling my career as a political economist.

Informed by my time at RAS, I looked for opportunities to incorporate my understanding of the rich heterogeneity of traditional social institutions across clans and cultures with the economic needs of citizens across the African continent. After graduation, I found an amazing opportunity working with the World Bank Group in D.C., before transitioning to academia as an early career researcher through Princeton’s Emerging Scholars in Political Science (ESPS) Program. During this time, I was able to deepen the education that began both during my time at U-M, and during my Master's in Applied Economics.

As an incoming PhD student in Government at Harvard University, I foresee myself pursuing an academic career or working at the helm of an international development organization. As one of few underrepresented minorities in academia, I believe it is imperative to pool resources to diversify the academic and policy professional pipeline. Toward this end, I founded Research in Color, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the number of Ph.D. students of color in academia, and amplifying research by these communities.”

As I reflect on my path, I realize that majoring in International Studies and having access to the department’s resources has been incredibly helpful in launching my career. Thus, I highly recommend others take advantage of the opportunities for learning and interning provided by the department.”