University of Mississippi

Doctoral Student’s Fellowship Allows for One-of-a-Kind Research

Perseverance and a unique research proposal led to a Boren Fellowship for a University of Mississippi political science student.

Matthew Becker visits the location of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand I in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Matthew Becker visits the location of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand I in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The Boren Fellowship is a highly competitive, national competition,” said Matthew Becker, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science. “Being awarded this fellowship is truly an honor, for it shows the importance of my research; this is because the Boren Fellowship focuses on geographic areas, languages and fields of study deemed critical to U.S. national security.”

The Boren Fellowship provides American graduate students with an opportunity to add an international and language component to their education. The fellowship will fund one year of Becker’s dissertation research in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as intermediate-level Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian language study. While overseas, Becker will be visiting approximately 24 cities and towns, where he will give surveys to high school seniors.

“My dissertation is on the role of schools and history textbooks in the political socialization and ethnic identity formation of high school students in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Becker said. “My research will be the first quantitative, Bosnian-wide research of its kind on this topic.”

A Florida native, Becker holds master’s degree in international affairs and a bachelor’s in political science, both from Florida State University. He will leave for Bosnia and Herzegovina in July 2012 and will be there until July 2013.

Before he goes overseas, Becker will study Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages at the Critical Languages Institute, or CLI, at Arizona State University. His goal is to reach the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages proficiency level of B2 “Vantage or Upper Intermediate” in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.

“CLI is an intensive summer language program that offers several critical-needs and less commonly taught languages,” Becker said. “I have also been awarded a U.S. Department of State Title VIII Fellowship as part of my domestic language study this summer. I studied elementary-level Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian last summer at CLI, which was funded by a Title VIII Fellowship.”

Cooper Retreat2

Dr. Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper, associate professor of political science, was Becker’s adviser at UM.

“Matthew Becker has a wonderful opportunity to conduct original field research in Bosnia for his dissertation,” Cooper said. “He plans to conduct a survey of attitudes toward each of the three main ethnic groups in Bosnia – that is, the survey respondent’s own ethnic group and the other two. He will also be able to gather numerous primary sources that are available only in Bosnia.”

Cooper feels that Becker is deserving of the fellowship because of his unique research interests.

“From the time he arrived at the university, Matthew has had a very strong interest in issues of ethnicity in post-communist Eastern Europe in general and the former Yugoslavia in particular,” Cooper said. “He has invested substantial time and energy into study of the languages spoken in Bosnia. His dissertation topic is original and well ‘off the beaten path.’ With the Boren Fellowship, Matthew is in an excellent position to pursue unique research.”

Becker is eager to begin his research overseas.

“I am very excited about advancing my language proficiency and acquisition via total language and cultural immersion, as well as the opportunity afforded to me by the Boren Fellowship to conduct original field research that is relevant to the academic and policy communities,” he said.

Cooper believes that Becker’s fellowship says a lot about the overall work of graduate students in the political science department.

“The doctoral work of students in the political science department is on an exciting upward trajectory,” she said. “Graduate students receive excellent training in the department, and we are happy to see it culminate in their dissertations.”