The 2024 IRIS Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork and the BLAC Foundation Awardees Profiles

The Institute for Regional and International Studies is pleased to announce the 7 recipients of this year’s IRIS Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork Award. Each recipient receives $3,000 to support their work abroad in the coming summer field season. The seven recipients of this year’s awards are: Po-Tao Chang, Gabi Fleury, Junda Li, Bidisha Mukherjee, Michael Oshindoro, Andrés Pertierra, and Janaina Saad.

Michael Oshindoro is also the winner of the 2024 IRIS/BLAC Foundation supplemental award which provides an additional $1,000 to to students pursuing international field research in the global south on topics related to art, language, or culture.

These scholars represent a diverse array of disciplines and research interests, highlighting the breadth of the IRIS community.

The IRIS Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork Award opens every year in November and is open to UW-Madison graduate students campus-wide and at all levels in their graduate career to support field research or other work abroad. Click here to learn more and read reports from previous years’ recipients.

More complete information on each of our 2024 awardees and the work they will be doing can be found below. Congratulations to each and every one!

2024 IRIS Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork and the BLAC Foundation Award recipients


Po-Tao Chang (he/him/his), who adopted his Akha grandmother’s clan group name “Laerceguq” in honor of her great importance in his early life, has conducted ethnographic fieldwork with the Akha since 2017 when he first returned to his relatives’ village in Northern Thailand. His ongoing PhD research project, temporarily titled “Being Coffee Entrepreneurs and Direct Traders: Branding Indigeneity and Sustainability through Building Indigenous Entrepreneurship by the Ethnic Akha in Northern Thailand,” looks at the intersection of cultural identity, agricultural production networks/commodity chains (primarily coffee and Pu’er tea), Indigenous entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability.


Gabi Fleury (they/them/theirs) is a conservation biologist and second-year Environment and Resources PhD student in the Nelson Institute. Gabi studies ways for humans and wild carnivores to co-exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and will undergoing fieldwork in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana this summer. They are passionate about intersectional conservation and conservation justice and are fascinated by the complexity of human-wildlife interactions research. Prior to coming to UW, Fleury led a research team in Namibia to test ways to reduce cheetah-livestock conflict and designed a picture-only video game to teach Mozambican villagers different ways to prevent livestock losses. Proud to be a multiracial and nonbinary scientist, they are also actively engaged in science communication and mentorship of underrepresented life scientists.


Junda Li (he/him/his) is a third-year pre-dissertation PhD student in the Political Science Department, planning to start his dissertatorship this summer. Li’s dissertation studies how U.S.-China economic competitions take place at the firm level: specifically, how the interaction of economic statecraft policies (such as sanctions) and industrial policies have changed the behaviors of private firms in China, incurred the reroute of supply chains, and generated distributive consequences and political implications.


Bidisha Mukherjee (she/her/hers) is a PhD student in the Medical Humanities track of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UW Madison. She is interested in understanding the nuances of health and medicine and how they are shaped by prolonged militarization. Before coming to UW, she completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Bangla literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and a subsequent Master’s in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi. Her doctoral inquiries are a cumulative outcome of her experiences during prior degrees when she wrote theses, conducted research, and did fieldwork around questions of gender and various forms of historical violence against women. With the IRIS Summer Fieldwork Grant, she plans to address a similar mode of violence, focusing on an imminent threat to the archives of enforced disappearances in Kashmir. She will be spending time tracing the archive’s movements and afterlives in the Kashmir valley.


Michael Oshindoro* (he/him/his) is a PhD candidate in African Cultural Studies with a doctoral minor in Visual Cultures. His research focuses on the critical analysis of visual forms and practices, like animation, comics, and VFX, as crucial social texts with which we can rethink what it means to be African in the 21st century. His ongoing dissertation, titled “Animating Subjectivity: Making the Subject in the Art and Industry of Animation in Nigeria,” examines how culture-themed visual productions represent and produce their audiences and how the creators of animation are themselves being shaped by their hyphenated social positionings: as artist-citizens and participant-recipients in the politics of industry, state, and global economy. His research is based in Nigeria, where he conducts ethnographic studies and archival research in animation studios.

*Michael Oshindoro is also the recipient of the 2024 IRIS/BLAC Foundation supplemental award which provides each recipient an additional $1,000 to support their summer research.


Andrés Pertierra (he/him/his) is a 5th year History PhD candidate specializing in Latin America & the Caribbean here at UW-Madison. Pertierra has focused his scholarship on post-1959 Cuban history, with his current research grappling with the Cuban Revolution’s survival of the profound crisis of the 1990s, also known as the ‘Special Period’, and its stabilization and partial recovery in the 2000s. Since graduating from the University of Havana’s History program, with the equivalent of a summa cum laude, he has spent over a decade writing for various public facing publications as well as being interviewed as an expert on various television, radio, and podcast programs about current events in Cuba. Among the publications citing Pertierra are the BBC, DW, Financial Times, and Reuters.

Thanks to IRIS’ generous support, Pertierra will be able to spend the summer doing the essential spadework of turning the Special Period from a topic mostly covered by journalists to a period increasingly covered by serious historical scholarship. While political scientists have already begun work on 1990s Cuba and the decades that followed, often this has been limited to analyses of publicly available datasets or secondary literatures that are more journalistic than academic as such. Pertierra’s dissertation, and later book, will be part of the initial wave of basic work by historians to make the Special Period and the government’s survival of it intelligible in ways that not only help us to understand Cuba better, but through parallels to understand the survival – or collapse – of similar systems around the world. A multidisciplinary project, Pertierra’s dissertation will speak to not only history but also political science scholarship, for which the puzzle of the Revolution’s survival of the 1990s is a major case study that is still only imperfectly understood.


Janaina Saad (she/her/hers) is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at UW-Madison. Her current research investigates organizations of informal gig workers in Brazil. Using semi-structured interviews, participant observation and archival material, she examines how different types of labor organizations influence processes of class identity and solidarity. Janaina holds an MA in Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies and an MS in Sociology from UW-Madison.


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