Students Shine at Sporting Symposium

On Friday 30th November, nearly 60 students, academics, policy makers, and interested members of the public gathered at Georgetown University’s Mortara Center for the ‘Sport and National Identity in a Global World’ Symposium organized by Dr. Holly Thorpe, a visiting New Zealand Fulbright Scholar with the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies. The aim of the symposium was to create an opportunity for the next generation of sport scholars and professionals to share their work with a broader audience while making connections with others across campus and the Washington Metro area who are similarly interested in understanding the importance of sport in society and creating positive social change through sport. The event featured presentations from outstanding Georgetown University and University of Maryland students who provided the audience with a plethora of fascinating insights into the complexities of sport in global and local contexts in the 21st century.

In attendance were some of the worlds most prominent sport scholars, including Professor David Andrews, Dr. Shannon Jette, and Dr. Michael Friedman from the University of Maryland and Dr. Alexis Lyras from Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution Program. The event was also attended by a number of key individuals working to improve the lives of individuals and communities through sport, including members of State Department, Sports United, and Partners of the Americas.

The symposium began with students enrolled in Professor Thorpe’s course ‘Sport and National Identity’ (INAF310). Constantine Pestallides, a senior in the School of Foreign Services, offered an entertaining analysis of the significance of the Monaco Grand Prix, impressing the audience with his charismatic and confident presentational style. This was followed by a thoughtful investigation of the role of ice hockey in the construction of Canadian national identity by Scott Stirrett, and an interesting discussion by Rohan Muralidhar of Nike advertisements in the creation of Michael Jordan as an American hero.

A strong start: Scott Stirrett (left) and Rohan Muralidhar (right) entertain the audience with their analyses of the significance of ice hockey in Canada and Michael Jordan in the US, respectively.

After a brief morning tea, students of Professor Lyras’ ‘Sport and Peace Building’ (GOVT517) course then treated the audience with presentations on the potential of sports for minimizing gang violence in El Salvador (Sarah Minot), an outdoor adventure program designed to empower immigrant youth in Canada (Kathryn Babin), and a discussion of the power of sports to help rebuild longstanding divisions in a post-war Bosnia (Semir Hasedzic). Deeply passionate about their projects, Minot, Babin and Hasedzic each offered extensively researched proposals for sport-related programs aimed at addressing a particular social need in a specific socio-cultural-political context.

Left: Students of the GOVT517 Sport and Peace Building course with Professor Alexis Lyras (center right). Right: Kathryn Babin presents her proposal for the Noonway Project—an innovative program designed to empower immigrant youth through outdoor education experiences.

In the third and final segment of the symposium, students from the University of Maryland Physical Cultural Studies program presented work from their MA and Ph.D. projects. This included a critical analysis of the ‘Girls on the Run’ program (Amber Wiest), the design of US cities for bicycling (Oliver Rick), and a unique ethnographic project on the development of football players in American Samoa (Adam Beissel). These presentations revealed the depth and scope of scholarship being conducted within University of Maryland Physical Cultural Studies program.

Amber Wiest (left), Oliver Rick (middle) and Adam Beissel (right) represent the University of Maryland Physical Cultural Studies program.

A judging panel, consisting of Nadia Moreno (Program Officer for Sport for Development at Partners of the Americas), Dr. Bonnie Morris (a Professor at Georgetown and at George Washington University who has long taught courses in gender and athletics), and Dr. Jennifer Curtin (a Senior New Zealand Fulbright Scholar in the Department of Government and in the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies), were tasked with the difficult job of identifying the best presentation in each of the three groups. After much deliberation, best paper awards were presented to Scott Stirrett, Kathryn Babin, and Amber Wiess, with congratulations extended to all of the presenters for providing such unique insights into the power, potential and broader social significance of sport for individuals and communities around the world.

Left: The judging panel: Visiting Senior Fulbright Scholar, Dr Jennifer Curtin (left), Professor Bonnie Morris (center), and Nadia Moreno (Program for the Americas)

Right: The Mortara Center at near capacity with a great turnout at the Sport and National Identity in a Global World symposium held on November 30, 2012.

Overall, the symposium was a wonderful event. Trina Bolton, Officer for the State Bureau, Sports United remarked:

“The symposium was a super interesting series of presentations. I’m impressed by the diversity and depth of material that was presented. I love a synergy of policymakers and scholars and bright students and actual ‘fieldworkers.’”

The legacy of the symposium will continue, with new networks established among students, academics and professionals across campus, the District, and internationally. Thanks to the effort and expertise of MA Communications student Nida Ahmad, the event will be available for online viewing in the New Year. For those interested, please contact Dr. Holly Thorpe (hthorpe@waikato.ac.nz) for further details on this event, or for a link to view the symposium online in the near future.