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Elizabeth Cooper is not afraid of a challenge. In her exploration of the issues surrounding global development, the global studies senior crafted an ambitious course of study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that has taken her around the world.

Cooper chose to attend UNC for its unique combination of an affordable and rigorous education. “I was surprised and happy with my choice after [starting classes],” she said. The academics pushed her to critically reframe her understanding of key global issues. Indeed, she discovered her interest in development through a Geography class she took on the developing world.

“I began to question what [global development] means, what its purpose is, and how we see ourselves

when we propose these ideas,” Cooper said.

She started taking further classes that would help her understand the phenomenon. She studied political philosophy to learn how we imagine a state’s structure and the effect of this rhetoric on the realities of a country. “We can have beautiful philosophies on how we imagine the organization of society, but that does not always work out,” Cooper said. She examined Latin American politics to gain insight into how methods of development functioned on the ground. Meanwhile, outside of the classroom, she participated in organizations such as Farmer Foodshare, the Environmental Justice Network of North Carolina, the Carolina Swim Clinic, and taught Hispanic women English.

Cooper was fortunate enough to receive a Bowles Fellowship from the National Merit Georgia Pacific Foundation. While she worked throughout her time at UNC, the scholarship permitted her to go abroad for research on her own funds.

cooper 2Over Cooper’s freshman summer, she traveled to Bolivia with the aim of studying how indigenous populations were attempting to develop within President Evo Morales’ government, which offered indigenous autonomies through the country’s new constitution. Cooper was able to see first-hand how the election of a President from a larger indigenous group affected smaller indigenous nations.

She worked in the Chapare region for the non-governmental organization Fundación DELPIA—a Bolivian-run, German-funded partnership aimed at providing technical and institutional support for local projects in resource management and ecotourism. While technically, she was hired as a first-aid worker for volunteers in her area—the nearest hospital was several hours away—she actually participated in an educational planning committee hoping to develop expertise in areas with practicable relevance to the the Yuracaré population, and attended five indigenous summits. Cooper was at the center of what she’d hoped to investigate.

cooper 3Increasingly, however, Cooper found herself intrigued by the theory behind the action on the ground. As a result, she began to critically examine the influence of the Western world. “I wanted to understand the post-colonial empire and how their influence is made manifest in the multitude of models of development,” Cooper said.

As she sought to gain insight into development through the lens of the West, the list of courses she took began to read like the transcript of that of a global studies major.

In an effort to explore the issues in which she was interested even further, Cooper spent her junior year studying abroad in Paris at Sciences Po, the premier social sciences university in France. She chose the program for its academic intensity, and indeed, soon found herself immersed in her studies. “It  had a demanding, professional school environment,” Cooper said. But with the opportunity to be in contact with members of UNESCO and French bureaucracy, Cooper found the experience to be a perfect introduction to European governmental life.

Although, she will soon be graduating, Cooper has plans to continue her education. She will intern with the NPR radio show “The State of Things” with Susan Davis, before starting at ERASMUS Mundus. After that, she doesn’t know. But one thing is for sure: for Cooper, what comes next will be no doubt be instructive, containing its own set of challenges she will be well prepared to face.