GDS Becomes Student’s ‘Guiding Track’

February 22, 2019

Charlie Paquette ’19 tackled his Global Development Studies (GDS) research requirement by traveling to Paris to interview policy analysts, retired French military personnel, and political activists — all of which helped to inform a summer Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) that focused on France’s war on terror in its former colony of Mali. 

State department travel warnings prevented Paquette from going to what is now the Republic of Mali to study firsthand the effects of France’s largest overseas military operation in current times. “Paris was as close as I could get to qualified experts,” Paquette says, “and also to Malians who had their own opinions on the conflict.”

Deep Research Leads to Skillfull Articulation of Ideas

Paquette’s paper, “Security Development in the French War on Terror in Mali: The Risks in Supporting Predatory State Structures,” dealt specifically with the civil war in Mali in 2012, France’s intervention at the request of the Mali government, and the vulnerabilities of neighboring French allies in West Africa.

A double major in French and political science, Paquette says the subject matter was so historically complex and politically entangled that his early drafts were twice the required length in order to fully contextualize the details.

“France has come to be in a difficult position,” Paquette explains. “There was a fear that neighboring countries would collapse and create a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks both in the region and on the French homeland. 

“I was seeking to explore the implications behind that fear and how this went on to inform a strategy with unintended consequences,” he says.

Paquette ultimately presented his findings at a conference on sustainability and development at the University of Michigan and at Grinnell after returning from Paris.

Flexibility of GDS Provides Nimbleness in All Pursuits

“What I really appreciate about GDS is that you can specialize in a region, such as Latin America orsub-Saharan Africa, or you can specialize in a theme like security, women’s rights, micro finance, or agriculture,” Paquette says. 

He likens GDS to a filter that provides perspective on his other classes in African politics, French history, and the Middle East. “Some students describe it as an inverted cone, in which you start where you’re comfortable and gradually expand until you have interests in entirely new and different subject fields,” he says.

Genuinely Interdisciplinary

“GDS turned out to be my guiding track,” Paquette says. “It confirmed my interest both in sub-Saharan Africa and in development. I really do view it as genuinely the most interdisciplinary program we have.” 

Paquette says he hopes to pursue a master’s in international affairs or public policy. “Ideally, I see myself getting into conflict analysis, political risk analysis, conflict resolution, or something in the realm of food security.” 

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