The power of 3 + 3

NIU ROTC cadetsScholars from NIU, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Southwestern University collaborate on ground-breaking research study

The power of three plus three in a research study has come to fruition as scholars from three different universities in the United States and three different colleges at NIU co-authored a study titled “Borders, Bras, and Battles: Sociocultural Perspectives of Female Scholars of Color in ROTC.”

The design of the study began when La Vonne I. Neal, dean of the NIU College of Education, proposed the idea to her research assistant, Sarah Militz-Frielink, a doctoral candidate in the curriculum studies program at UIC.

Neal and Militz-Frielink began penning the research proposal along with three ROTC undergraduate scholars at NIU. The ROTC cadets/scholars are Maria Colompos and Shanell Walter, undergraduates in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Karina Avila, an undergraduate in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Since Day One of the proposal writing process, Avila, Colompos and Walter have taken the research opportunity very seriously.

Maria Colompos
Maria Colompos

Colompos elaborated on their experience working with Dean Neal, who is the lead researcher on the study. “Dean Neal is a data-driven, mission focused leader who has sparked the genius within us,” she said.

Lt. Col. David Dosier, a professor of military science at NIU, spoke to the beneficial impact that ROTC and scholarly activities at NIU have had Avila, Colompos and Walter.

“Over the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the combination of their scholarly pursuits and ROTC leadership training have a clear, positive impact on their professional and personal growth,” he said.

Their collaborative efforts did not end there.

Alicia L. Moore, a member of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Advisory Board and holds the Cargill Endowed Professorship at Southwestern University, also contributed to the overall design of the study.

“The study ultimately benefits from the expertise of researchers across three different universities and three different colleges at Northern Illinois University,” Militz-Frielink said. “It is truly an interdisciplinary effort.”

The authors of the study recently presented their initial findings at the 99th annual Association for the Study of African American Life History convention in Memphis.

“There is a paucity of research on female scholars of color in the military and the challenges they navigate,” Moore said. “This study is paving the way for a whole new body of literature on women in the military.”

Phase One of the study examined sociocultural perspectives of undergraduate female scholars of color who are simultaneously training in an ROTC program. The study draws upon Black feminist theory, critical race theory and post-colonial studies.

Shanell Walter and Karina Avila
Shanell Walter and Karina Avila

“The first phase of our study involved participatory action research – where three female cadets of color conducted self-interviews and coded the results,” Militz-Frielink said. “We discovered that the military instilled in the cadets a sense of empowerment to achieve high academic goals and skills to effectively manage challenges.”

The second phase of the study will include an analysis of the historical presence of women of color in the military and interviews with female military leaders of color who hold positions in academia.

The authors of the study hope their research will contribute to the larger discussion on social justice and civil rights in America.

“Within the continuous struggle for civil rights, the sociocultural perspectives, stories, and scholarly endeavors of military women of color should be published as salient parts of the historical movement for equality in America,” Neal said.

Currently, the authors have a contract with a publisher; they plan to publish a book that highlights their findings and gives examples of how to engage undergraduates in the research process.

“I support cross-university and cross-campus collaborations,” said Alfred Tatum, dean of the UIC College of Education. “They are important for our doctoral candidates – particularly those who engage undergraduate students in applying research theory.”

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