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Posner Fellowship: Social justice allies

Political science student peers into Africa’s past to inform present-day politics

Kathleen Nganaga and Rachel Reidl
Political scientist Rachel Riedl mentors Kathleen Nganga. Photo by Rob Hart

- Part of a special feature on the Posner Fellowship Program, which offers students a chance to learn research skills with the help of a faculty mentor. 


Kathleen Nganga ’18, was drawn to Northwestern’s political science department even before she was admitted, excited by the department’s emphasis on social justice and inequality. Linking up with political science professor Rachel Riedl was a great fit, Nganga says, because both women are interested in systems of inequality in East Africa. Nganga ended up investigating identity marginalization and political conflict in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania over the summer of 2015.

Rachel Riedl
Rachel Riedl

“Kathleen was able to excel in research and writing and also to articulate why this topic is important,” Riedl says. “It was great fun to see how a student — so early in her scholarly career — analyzes and makes meaning from documents in a way that’s enriching.”

"Kathleen was able to use my mentorship as a substantive guide."

With Riedl’s guidance, Nganga says her research was able to “bloom.”

“At first I was just looking at religious identity marginalization, and by the end of the summer I was looking at religious and ethnic identity marginalization, and that helped me build the theme for my senior thesis.”

Kathleen Nganga
Kathleen Nganga

Riedl says she was impressed by Nganga’s tenacity and eagerness to delve deep into her interests.

“Kathleen was able to use my mentorship as a substantive guide,” Riedl says. “She didn’t depend on me to tell her what she should be doing. I think the Posner program is structured in a way that allowed us to get the most out of our relationship.”

Now a Mellon Mays fellow, Nganga hopes to have a long academic career, and she is thrilled to know Riedl is in her corner every step of the way. Not only is Riedl advising Nganga’s senior thesis and serving as her Mellon Mays mentor, but Nganga also visits with Riedl to discuss graduate programs, research tracks and career options.

“It’s such a joy to work with students like Kathleen,” Riedl says. “I am so excited for her future.”

 - The Posner Fellowship Program began with a seed grant from the Davee Foundation secured by Northwestern alumnus Charles Stern ’52. Soon after, the program was, and still is, supported by the generous contributions of alumnus and Board of Trustees member Brian Posner ‘83.

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