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The student, the spy and the URAP project

June 19, 2013

Nay Yan Oo

From the moment he stepped on campus in 2012, Nay Yan Oo has taken full advantage of every opportunity at NIU.

Originally from Burma (also known as Myanmar), Oo came to NIU after realizing the political climate of his country was drastically changing. After 50 years of military dictatorship, Burma’s 2010 election changed the political landscape.

Oo decided that if he wanted to be a major part of that change, he needed to prepare himself through more education. He was one of a handful of Burmese students to receive a modest grant this past year from Open Society Foundation, which allowed him the rare chance to study abroad. He chose to come to NIU because of its Center for Burma Studies and its program in Political Science.

His undergraduate degree in computer science from Government Computer College in Burma only required 3 years of study, but NIU requires four for undergraduates before they can begin graduate work. So, while he was completing his 4th year of undergraduate study here at NIU, Oo met professor John Hartmann at a dinner party after the 2012 International Burma Studies Conference.

John Hartmann

John Hartmann

When Oo showed up in his Southeast Asia Crossroads of the World lecture, Hartmann approached him about participating in an Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP) project. URAP gives students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences a chance to conduct their own research with a faculty member. Hartmann said, “He was one of those lucky finds. I had all this stuff, and he had the skills to do something with it.”

What Oo did was create a multimedia online space that parallels the journey of Hartmann in 2010 with that of British spy, G.J Younghusband, who made the same trip from Thailand to Keng Tung, Burma in 1888.

On the site, Journeys to Keng Tung, Oo combined text, photos, interactive maps, static maps and embedded MP3 files for the visually impaired in a rich space that brings to life the two journeys taken over one hundred years apart. Oo created an interactive resource that can be accessed from any device and still maintain its visual integrity.

Oo scanned 28 pages of text, integrated more than 1000 pictures with 200 photos streaming, embedded 23 audio files, linked 16 maps and map sketches and digitally scanned over 1000 pages of five major historical volumes published in the three languages. He was not only responsible for the technical aspects of creating the online space but was tasked to critically select the writings from the British spy and the works of historians.

O2o says the project helped him develop his research and technical skills, both of which he will utilize when he returns to Burma and begins his political career. He says that creating sites like this is important for communicating with the public in Burma.

In October, Oo will co-present his “Journeys” project with Hartmann at the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs at Michigan State University, a valuable experience that is another career-building outcome of the URAP project.

by Jodie Butler