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Summertime Productivity for Graduates

Summer is a special time. It is associated with vacation and no school. Alice Cooper’s song “School’s Out” is timeless. Other songs capture the spirit of the season. George Gershwin wrote “Summer time and the livin’s easy” and Ella Fitzgerald helped make it famous. D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince made “Summertime” a hit. Sure, there is the occasional song like the “Summertime Blues” (which deals with politics and American government, as his member of Congress tells him “I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote”) by Eddie Cochran, but for the most part, everybody looks forward to summertime.  

Harrison Akins (right) speaking with a 90-year-old bread maker at Mahmudabad Palace outside of Lucknow.
Harrison Akins (right) speaking with a 90-year-old bread maker at Mahmudabad Palace outside of Lucknow.

Not everybody, however, relaxes in the summer. We attract interesting and bright graduate students from around the world. They may not be able to play softball, but they know their political science. They do a variety of interesting things – some directly connected to getting their degrees; some a little less so.

Harrison Akins and Jonathan Barsness spent their last two summer “vacations” learning language to help in their research.

Harrison Akins, a third year PhD student in international relations, was a recipient of the State Department's Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for the second time. With the CLS, he spent summer 2017 continuing his study of Urdu in Lucknow, India. His language studies are part of his preparations for his dissertation research on counterterrorism policy with a focus on South Asia. This program was not only a rich opportunity to improve his Urdu language skills, but also immerse himself in the local Lucknowi culture and study the changing political landscape in Uttar Pradesh, the Indian state whose capital city is Lucknow.

Jonathan Barsness (left) with his Arabic instructor (center) and another student.
Jonathan Barsness (left) with his Arabic instructor (center) and another student.

Jonathan Barsness recently completed a yearlong Boren Fellowship in Jordan where he studied intensive Arabic and conducted dissertation research on Jordanian civil-military relations. Boren Fellowships are an initiative of the National Security Education Program and provide funding opportunities for graduate students in the United States to study less commonly taught languages in regions of the world critical to the interests of the United States.

A number of students working on dissertations seek refuge in something else so they can retain their sanity. Many read fiction or other literature when they take a break from their research. One of our graduate students, however, took a more active route to literature. Justin Kinney, a PhD student in our department, has started a side career as an author – writing and publishing mystery/suspense fiction under the name J. Robert Kinney. He published his first novel, Precipice, in 2016. It is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. It was a successful release and earned a 4.5 out of 5 star rating from reviewers. He hosted a few book signings in the Charlotte and Knoxville areas, including one at McKay's Books.

Justin KinneyIn addition, his work in the world of crime literature resulted in an invitation to speak at the Killer Nashville International Writers' Conference last year. He presented lectures on effectively incorporating forensic elements and weapons of mass destruction into fiction writing in a realistic way. He is editing a first draft of his second book, which he is looking forward to publishing soon.

From the back cover of Precipice:
A trail of murders, an unexpected enemy, betrayal and desperation plaguing the friendly, suburban town…A young government agent tasked with solving it, battling his own demons along the way…A new partner with a dicey past, icy exterior, and hidden secrets…An aging ex-military man thrust in the middle of the danger, but determined to atone for a past mistake…And a recent widower grieving while on the run for his life…

A dangerous plot is brewing and they must do everything they can to stay alive and stop the threat, but assumptions get tested, beliefs are flipped upside down, and not everyone is who they appear to be.

PhD student Nourah Shuaibi in Ghana at Elmina District on a mission to educate 2,000 children on hygiene and sanitation-related diseases. The group toured all schools in the district and gave out packs of toothpaste, toothbrush, and soap for each child.
PhD student Nourah Shuaibi in Ghana at Elmina District on a mission to educate 2,000 children on hygiene and sanitation-related diseases. The group toured all schools in the district and gave out packs of toothpaste, toothbrush, and soap for each child.

For one student, being active means something altogether different. Nourah Shuaibi puts her expertise to good use trying to help spread educational opportunities and health care to places where they are badly needed.

In 2014, Nourah Shuaibi established Global Outreach Leaders (GOL), a nonprofit organization that serves the betterment of the underserved communities and extends to the world as its outreach and influence expands globally. Leaders help communities in Ghana and educate children on hygiene and sanitation-related diseases. GOL was also in Zimbabwe for the sponsorship of 47 orphans to help them with their education and in Greece aiding in the relief of the vast refugee crisis. The organization collaborated with the political science department to develop an internship for UT students on campus to help implement the organization’s vision and mission.

GOL is working on a grand project with local artists to spread awareness on the diverse faces of oppression at home and beyond. The interns this semester are working on representing oppression in an art exhibit in Knoxville to showcase the latest project of building a school in Senegal to aid in ending child trafficking, an endemic problem plaguing the Senegalese population. The local governments have come together to graciously donate a piece of land to start one of the first agricultural schools in villages to help families keep their children closer to home as they pursue their education. This project is forecasted to continue until there is a school built along the migration path to make sure the problem of child trafficking stops. We are proud to host students with such initiatives in their quest of creating possibilities for a better life for us all.

Jacob HayesFor Jacob Hayes, his time working for the US State Department was, without a doubt, the most rewarding internship of his life. It was not easy to obtain internship. A long and arduous application process began 10 months prior to his acceptance into the program. He had the opportunity to serve in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation in Washington, DC, during the summer of 2017. He was entrusted with a number of responsibilities and picked up some useful skills including careful analysis of complex policy issues, keen understanding of competing policy interests, and flexibility to work within the Department's organizational structure. He worked on a variety of topics within international relations, diplomacy, and emergency response. A vast network of subject matter experts forms the backbone of the Department, and gaining first-hand knowledge of how these experts supported the process was absolutely invaluable to Hayes. He claims that he caught a bad case of Potomac Fever. He loved living in Washington and experiencing its energy and diversity.


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