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Latin American Studies Internship

— Aurora Chavez, POLS ‘17 

Over the past summer, I worked with social sciences Professor James Keese on a follow-up research study. We evaluated the success of a development project in which Cal Poly students traveled to rural villages near Cusco, Peru, to install improved cook stoves. The installation of new cook stoves improve indoor air quality by replacing open fires inside homes with more efficient stoves with chimneys. Not only does this improve health, particularly for women and children, it also reduces pressure on forest resources.

The development project is run by a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called ProWorld. The survey I helped conduct focused on improved cook-stove adopters and non-adopters, in order to determine whether the stove was being successfully adopted and why. Although the survey was overseen by the Social Sciences Department, the experience was eye opening for me as a political science major. Especially interesting to me was the power structure within the villages, the diffusion of new technologies within those villages, and the relationship between the locals, the local NGO and the Peruvian government.

The project itself allowed me to explore and combine my interests in Latin America, international development and grassroots movements in order to see political science as more than theory, law and politics. My interest in global development was piqued after discovering the success of this project: a whopping 70 percent adoption rate of the improved cook stove. I realized that political science is intricately related to issues of culture, religion, demography and geography. After realizing that the Peruvian government was installing its own improved cook stove in the same villages as Cal Poly’s partner NGO, my interest in the subject increased. I noticed there was a great lack of cooperation between two institutions that share similar goals. I began doing personal research to find out what kind of relationships exist between national governments and NGOs and what role NGOs play in politics. I quickly learned that the increasing role of NGOs, especially in developing and democratizing countries, is raising issues of sovereignty. 

This project epitomized the Learn by Doing motto of Cal Poly. As a political science undergraduate,
I never imagined I would have the opportunity to experience things I had learned in lecture or read about in books. The project was not only crucial in the development of my interest in higher education and research, but also in my love and pride of being a Cal Poly student. 

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