Powers first in Texas Woman’s to win Boren Scholarship
TWU student overcomes difficulties through learning
May 25, 2022 — DENTON — Petina JD Powers’ life journey has been long and arduous, much of it at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Homeless. Dropout. Single mother. Domestic violence survivor.
Determination set her on the right track for an education beginning in her thirties. She graduated from high school, became a film major at the University of Arizona, and is now a doctoral student in sociology and a graduate teaching assistant at Texas Woman’s University.
“My life has been about discovery and knowledge,” Powers said.
But next year, Powers will add 10,000 miles of discovery to his life journey.
Powers is the first TWU student to be awarded a David L. Boren scholarship, which she will use to study the Hindi language this summer before traveling to India to conduct research.
The voyage consists of two legs: first, an 800-mile trip north to Madison, Wisconsin, located 75 miles from Lake Michigan; second, an 8,200 mile passage east to Jaipur, India, 500 miles from the Arabian Sea. Talk about culture shock.
In India, Powers will rack up more miles across the country to conduct research on how different socio-economic structures affect equal quality of life, exacerbated by the pandemic. Powers is a COVID survivor herself and has suffered from long-term COVID symptoms.
The Boren Scholarship was established by the National Security Education Program to provide funding for U.S. masters or doctoral students to study languages abroad in regions critical to U.S. interests and diplomacy, including the Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East. Students who receive the award commit to working for the federal government upon completion of their award.
“I’m still stunned,” Powers said after receiving the Boren scholarship. “I have been applying for grants, scholarships, scholarships for two years. The Boren is the hardest I have applied to. Months of research to do so.
“We are cultural ambassadors,” she added. “As a Boren Fellow, one of the most important things I had to discuss was why I would be a good candidate. With the Boren, you really have to prove why your language matters. is important, they have chosen it, but they need the applicant to say why it is important.
But what do Wisconsin and India have to do with each other?
The University of Wisconsin at Madison is home to the Wisconsin Intensive Summer Language Institutes, which are immersive programs teaching 30 languages, from Arabic to Uzbek, Bengali to Urdu, Burmese to Vietnamese.
Powers will learn Hindi, the most spoken language in India. The June-August summer program at Madison will prepare her for the truly immersive experience: the Jaipur Institute.
“We are only expected to speak Hindi,” Powers said. “In India, we go to the institute every day but we stay with families. These families agree to speak to us only in Hindi. They don’t take us to and from school. They will show us how to get there, but then we are expected to find our way there and back. You really have to learn the language.
“I’m so thrilled. Connecting with people and breaking down barriers has been a lifelong pursuit.
Powers has a natural affinity for languages, including Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Thirty years ago, she learned Nihongo, which is the language of Japan.
“When I look at the Hindi syllabary, it reminds me of nihongo,” Powers said. “I watch a lot of Hindi movies. When I hear them, there’s a lot of Hindi that sounds a lot like nihongo.
The Jaipur institute will be followed by an elective language study in the spring in January-May 2023, which will coordinate with Powers’ research program.
How socio-economic structures affect equal quality of life
His research is a marriage of his background and the acceleration of his education over the past 15 years.
As a product of the 60s and early 70s, Powers was exposed to Indian culture, philosophy, food and music brought to the West by pop, Hollywood and hippie counterculture musicians. So if you do yoga or meditation, thank the Beatles. If that sounds weird, well, you just had to be there.
“It kind of informed me in my childhood.”
In her voracious learning, Powers drew inspiration from Amartya Sen’s work on layering and quality. Sen received a Nobel Prize in 1998 for his contributions to welfare economics.
“His work really resonated with me,” Powers said. “I’ve always been aware of inequality, but in the last two years my research has taken on even greater importance. I started this research looking at disparate socio-economic structures before the pandemic hit, then changed it to look at the recovery from COVID. Perhaps by examining these disparate socio-economic structures in India, we can suggest possibilities that we can apply in the United States.
“The most important thing about my research is that it be inclusive and participatory,” she said. “Since I started conceptualizing this, I have had Indian scholars, students and ordinary people give me their thoughts and feedback, and help me develop my questions so that I don’t stick my western point of view on it.”
Powers’ research is rooted in the works of the late 19th and early 20the centuries of pioneering sociologist Jane Addams, recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, leader of women’s suffrage and the first American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize .
“I will conduct a comparative empirical structured investigation at the macro level,” Powers said. “Then, filmed interviews with some participants. The empirical study is translated into a film.
The project will produce two reports: one written, the other filmed. The film, she believes, will bring empirical data beyond academia.
“With the scientific and socially important information we’re disseminating, we need to change the way we present the message and make it accessible, so the average person can understand,” Powers said. “Until we have an enlightened understanding, we won’t have equality. Too much of our information is privileged because we present these highly scientific reports. I’m going to have a science report, but I’m also going to have a movie that everyone can see and get the same socially important information.
Powers begins this journey in June when she leaves for Wisconsin.
For more information about Powers’ program, visit his website at callmeintrepid.com.
Page last updated on May 27, 2022 at 11:34 a.m.