Social Engagement Thesis

The Social Engagement thesis encourages students to think “outside the box” and incorporate academic work with social entrepreneurship. The thesis requires three parts: academic essay; visual documentary; and policy recommendations.

1.  Academic Essay

Students must write academically rigorous essays on projects that they have established and operate in Africa or the Americas. The Social Engagement thesis requires mastery of an array of disciplinary perspectives. Although each student must have a thesis advisor, he/she must work and consult with several other faculty, since coordinated interdisciplinary efforts are at the foundation of this alternative thesis-writing experience. Students must take courses in the African Language Program for projects outside the United States and for work with immigrant communities in the United States. The thesis requires evidence of thorough research and mastery of relevant scholarship on the specific communities and cultures under study. In many cases this will require not only awareness of necessary methodologies of participant-observation, interviewing, and other fieldwork, but also the Harvard Ethics Training in Human Research (HETHR) certification.

2.  Visual Documentary

Students who write the alternative thesis must document their project in a video or other media format, thus providing a tangible 'deliverable' that is focused on reaching and educating a broader audience. One can imagine a film, a website, a business plan, etc...

3.  Policy Recommendations

Students must present recommendations or information as to the start-up and sustainability of their projects. Social engagement theses have experimental and experiential aspects to them that result in service-oriented research and learning. This should be included in the actual written component of the thesis, such that the thesis becomes an intervention toward helping to solve a specific social problem. For example, social engagement theses have focused on bringing fresh water to a rural village in Ghana or educating underprivileged Nigerian girls.

Featured Social Engagement Theses

Naseemah Mohamed

Zilolonge Arts-Literacy Project - Naseemah Mohamed

The Zilolonge Arts-Literacy Project, which I implemented in a high school in my home town of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, serves as pedagogical intervention against the colonial pedagogical legacy of corporal punishment and rote learning in the Zimbabwean...

Learn more about the Zilolonge Arts-Literacy Project
Iman Taylor

Project Muse - Iman Taylor

MUSE aims to introduce students to multiple aspects of education through the use of creative curriculums and seminars taught by undergraduate college students, and also promotes youth leadership and aspirations of attending institutions of higher...

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Carla Martin

Sounding Creole: The Politics of Cape Verdean Language, Music, and Diaspora - Carla Martin

This dissertation investigates the interrelationship of language and music in the complex cultural domain of Cape Verde and the Cape Verdean diaspora in West Africa, Europe, and North America.

More about Sounding Creole: The Politics of Cape Verdean Language, Music, and Diaspora
Oluwadara Johnson

Project Unveil - Oluwadara Johnson, class of 2010

During an exploratory research project in 2008, Oluwadara (Dara) Johnson learned that Nigerian secondary schools had an extremely high female dropout rate and that a surprising number of the girls were interested in theatre. This discovery...

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Sangu Delle

Project Access to Clean Water for Agyementi (Project ACWA) - Sangu Delle, class of 2010

In 2008, the United Nations-designated “International Year of Water and Sanitation,” two Harvard undergraduates and I co-founded Project Access to Clean Water for Agyementi (Project ACWA), with the goal of providing clean water and sanitation to...

Learn more about Project ACWA