Junior Medina Talebi Accepted to Prestigious Ralph Bunche Summer Institute
By Gina Myers
April 5, 2021
Each year the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute (RBSI) brings together a small, talented group of undergraduate students from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities with the goal of encouraging them to pursue academic careers in political science. The intensive, five-week program, named after the first African American to receive a doctorate in political science, is highly competitive.
College of Arts and Sciences junior Medina Talebi is among this year's cohort, a first for a Drexel University student. Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Amelia Hoover Green, PhD, was overjoyed to learn news of Talebi's acceptance.
"I literally shrieked when I got Medina’s email with the news," she says. "Although the work is all Medina’s, this feels like a big win for the whole Politics department. RBSI is also recognized across the discipline as an incubator for some of the brightest lights in political science. Some of my most admired scholars, like Nadia Brown at Purdue and Vesla Weaver at Johns Hopkins, have come through the program."
Hoover Green, who has helped advise Talebi on a research project about the genocide of Shia Muslims, sees great promise for Talebi in her future endeavors. "Medina is brilliant—but brilliance is only the first requirement for an academic, and I’ve had a lot of brilliant students," she explains. "What makes Medina special is her creativity and persistence. She has been working on the same incredibly difficult, fascinating body of independent research since she was a Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Scholar in 2019, considering the #StopShiaGenocide movement from every social science angle. So, like a lot of the best political scientists today, she’s actually at the intersection of many different fields and questions: issues of framing, social movement studies, global power politics, ethnic politics and so on. I can’t wait to see where she goes."
The RBSI is sure to be a formative experience for Talebi. The program introduces students to the world of doctoral study through a focus on enhancing writing, research and analytical skills; developing statistical skills for data analysis; exposing participants to significant questions in the discipline; introducing participants to leading political scientists; and educating participants about political science career opportunities and encouraging their application to doctoral programs in political science.
Talebi recently took time to answer questions via email about this exciting opportunity, why she wants to pursue political science, and her research project, among other things.
Can you begin by telling me a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m from South Jersey, right across the bridge from Philadelphia and Drexel. I’m a junior Political Science major with a minor in War and Society, and I am about to start my Co-op this Spring-Summer cycle at Drexel’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Enrichment Programs (UREP). I’ve also been working with the Union of Concerned Scientists by collecting data for a democracy reform project. I’ve really been missing campus, running into classmates coincidentally and frequenting all my favorite food trucks.
When did you know that you wanted to study political science and pursue it as a major?
Deciding on political science as a major wasn’t a straightforward path. Like most students applying to college, I initially thought to apply as a major that I thought seemed marketable, and I was even accepted as a biomedical engineering major. It admittedly took a lot of introspection and talking with biomedical engineering majors to see that my passion truly lied elsewhere, and just like that, a few weeks before Fall term even started, I switched to political science. Upon receiving my syllabi for my first set of classes, I felt truly excited and couldn’t wait to get started, a feeling that reaffirmed my instinct that I had in fact made the right choice.
As I began to learn more about political science and what degree holders go on to do after graduating, it demonstrated to me that there are so many opportunities and directions that I could pursue depending upon what I was drawn toward. It was this versatility that I appreciated and made me grow to love the subject even more. But my absolute favorite thing about political science is how it encompasses every facet of our lives. While many find politics to be tiresome and frustrating to talk about and engage in, there’s a reason why it becomes such a contentious subject of discussion. The relationship between theory and practice, namely policy, is also something that has consistently proved fascinating. Who gets power and how is that decided? How do we make rules and how should they be enforced? These fundamental questions come up not only in core classes outlining political history, but also seminars on civilians in armed conflict. From electoral to environmental politics, and from theory to evolving international relations, there is something that piques everyone’s interest. For me, it was understanding the power dynamics that shape the world in which we live, and a desire to shift the paradigm in a more equitable direction.
When did you know that you wanted to go to graduate school for political science?
My interest in graduate school stemmed from my first forays into research. The summer after my freshman year, I was able to participate in STAR, and that was a really unique experience that gave me some exposure into what it’s like to design and conduct a research project. My mentor, Dr. Amelia Hoover Green, provided excellent guidance whenever I was uncertain about some of the finer points of the overall process. Since STAR, I’ve developed the project by presenting it at several conferences and refining it over the past Winter quarter, in large part thanks to a grant I received from the UREP Office here at Drexel. Having that allocated time has given me the space to think about this project more deeply, and I can hardly believe that it’s been almost two years since I first presented it. The fact that I have yet to tire of revisiting the same subject matter after all this time speaks volumes. This realization makes me think that political violence and diaspora studies, the themes around which my project revolve, might be an area in which I’d like to concentrate if I pursue graduate school.
Can you tell me about your research project?
My research project is entitled “Mapping the Narrative of Shia Genocide,” and again, it feels almost coincidental that this topic would be the subject of my first scholarly endeavors. It was in the spring of 2019 that I attended a conference held at Columbia University that was called “Marginalization of Shia Narratives.” Despite having grown up as a member of the diaspora, it was during this conference that I heard about the violence against the Shia described as genocide for the very first time. Around the same time, I was accepted to STAR at Drexel and there was almost no question as to what I wanted to spend the rest of my summer investigating in further depth. After realizing there was virtually zero literature written about this movement, and being as uniquely situated as I am in reference to this research, I knew that this was something I wanted to explore and dedicate myself toward learning more about. By interviewing different groups of stakeholders from around the globe, including academics, activists, religious leaders and ordinary people, I became familiar with experiences of discrimination and violence against the Shia to which I would not have been privy otherwise. Qualitative analysis of the data I collected was undoubtedly the longest part of the process, but with the continued support of the Shia community and the willingness of members to share their stories, Dr. Hoover Green, and the UREP Office, I have been lucky enough to complete a manuscript for a journal article that I am currently in the process of refining with the hopes of submission.
How did you find out about the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, and what was the application process like?
It was purely coincidental that I found out about the Institute when I did. After weighing my options about my future and mentioning my thoughts of pursuing a fellowship to Dr. Hoover Green, she recommended I speak with Leah Gates, senior associate director of the UREP Office, to discuss my options. In my meeting with Leah, she mentioned RBSI and how I’d be a strong candidate for the program. Afterwards, I looked into it further and realized how it seemed almost too good to be true: RBSI looks for traditionally underrepresented juniors studying politics and I fit all the criteria, not to mention that I still had ample time left in the application cycle to draft a personal statement and reach out for letters of recommendation. Getting feedback on my personal statement from multiple people was incredibly helpful, particularly from past RBSI alumni I connected with through professors in the Politics Department. Because this was one of the more subject-specific programs I have applied to, it was refreshing to be asked about the classes I have taken and a brief proposal for a research project I hope to pursue in the future.
What did it feel like to find out that you had been accepted to the program?
Amazing! I admittedly tried not to think about it too hard the closer it got to when announcements were to be made, but I was definitely thrilled when I saw the email pop up in my inbox. I immediately emailed everyone who helped throughout the process and they were just as excited for me which is always encouraging.
What do you hope to get out of the program?
My understanding of graduate school has unfortunately remained relatively superficial, so I’m really hoping RBSI will deepen my insight and give me a more complete picture of what to expect of graduate school. If anything, it will help give me more information and access to resources that will help me decide which future path I’d like to pursue. Also, getting to know other students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds with a keen interest in political science is something I’m looking forward to as well.