by Jena Jibreen

My name is Jena Jibreen, and I am a third-year student studying International Affairs and Psychology. My entire college experience has been very heavily centered on my SPIA degree, and my plans for summer 2020 were no exception. I had planned to participate in the Stellenbosch, South Africa Study Abroad Maymester program, and afterwards, I was supposed to spend the rest of the summer in Washington, D.C., working at my State Department Internship. Both of these opportunities were lined up for me thanks to my SPIA involvements, and I was extremely excited for the respective experiences, but clearly, life comes at you fast sometimes. When it became obvious that both opportunities would be cancelled due to the pandemic, I scrambled to figure out how I else I could fill my summer, and the CURO research process came in to save the day.

Specifically, I was lucky enough to begin a research project under my favorite professor in SPIA, Dr. Maryann Gallagher. Dr. Gallagher knew that my plans for the summer had fallen through, and she also knew that my academic interests lined up perfectly for a particular research project that we could begin together. Accordingly, I quickly switched gears, signed up for 3 hours of CURO credit, and set up a comfortable workstation at my desk in my childhood home, where I would spend the next several months. I was obviously disappointed about my missed abroad and internship experiences, but I decided to stay optimistic about the research experience that I could gain instead. Prior to this, I had not been involved in research in any substantial capacity, but this was not a problem because Dr. Gallagher very patiently showed me the ropes. We decided on an appropriate plan for the summer semester, and thus began my work to gather background and foundational information for our research project, which concerns the leadership traits and decision-making behaviors of leaders according to gender.

Work in the time of COVID is very obviously a challenge for everyone (because how is anyone expected to focus exclusively on their tasks when the pandemic is just, looming?), and though this was very much the case for me during the summer, Dr. Gallagher was extremely understanding and helpful throughout it all. We scheduled biweekly video chat meetings, and, in each one, she would answer any questions I had as well as check in with me about how life was going. She constantly emphasized that she was there for me for whatever I needed, and her mentorship truly did carry me through the summer. Most of my time was spent in front of a computer screen, reading or writing for the majority of my day, but it was an enjoyable endeavor because of Dr. Gallagher’s support and also because the project involves several of my academic interests, in a way that incorporates both my international affairs and psychology degrees.

I learned how to divide my time between this work and activities that supported positive physical and mental health during a time that was so scarily uncertain and unstable. I came to terms with my disappointment over my lost summer plans and saw the good in what came out of the alternative route. For example, I was lucky enough to continue on with this research project into this semester, this time with the additional support of the CURO Research Assistantship. This project has grown to be very important to me, and I am so extremely thankful for the unyielding support of Dr. Gallagher throughout it all—she is such an incredible professor, and she has contributed greatly to my experience as a SPIA student. I am thankful for her, for the research opportunity, and for the support of SPIA.