By Starla Sampaco, LSJ Communications Assistant
Senior Shweta Jayawardhan said she was surprised to learn she had won a Mary Gates Research Scholarship for her Law, Societies & Justice (LSJ) honors thesis on climate change-induced migration.
A committee of faculty and student service specialists selected Jayawardhan’s project based on several criteria, including the depth of its research and its long-term impacts.
But according to Professor Arzoo Osanloo, Jayawardhan’s honors thesis faculty advisor, Jayawardhan did not produce this project for the recognition or to look good on her CV.
“She comes with a very organic approach to her research,” Osanloo said.
Jaywardhan’s honors thesis humanizes the impacts of climate change.
“When people talk about addressing climate change and climate displacement, the trend is to focus on ecological issues,” Jayawardhan said. “But really my research shows that focusing on issues of marginalization and vulnerability are just as important if not more important when having these policy discussions.”
Jayawardhan is double-majoring in LSJ and political science, and minoring in environmental studies. Her long-term goal is work in the field of environmental law. When she took LSJ 425, a class on U.S. asylum and refugee law, Jayawardhan approached Osanloo with the idea for her project.
“When you’re in a class that you really like, there are always questions that are left opened or unanswered,” Osanloo said.
Osanloo said that students should not hesitate to investigate these questions, just as Jayawardhan did.
Jayawardhan’s thesis argued that the impacts of climate change alone could explain why people might leave their places of origin, but these impacts alone do not explain why people do not return.
She began working on this ongoing project during the summer. Jayawardhan researched census data as well as case studies of environmental displacement in the U.S. Gulf Coast, Bangladesh and Somalia.
Jayawardhan will present her research project at the 19th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, May 20, 2016.
Osanloo, who has advised many LSJ students completing research projects, added that undergraduate research is not just informative for other students. It benefits instructors as well.
“The academic process is a two-way street,” Osanloo said. “We always learn from our students, and being a faculty mentor is one of the best ways I’ve been able to enhance my own education because I’ve learned so much from students who write these wonderful theses.”