During the spring 2023 semester, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs offered $10,000 in funding for Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Research and Teaching Awards (UTRAs) to support three faculty-led research projects during the 2022-2023 academic year. Faculty who received these funds included Rob Blair, Dr. Adam Levine and Daniel Jordan Smith.
Junior International and Public Affairs (IAPA) and Economics concentrator Ahad Bashir worked with Levine, the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies director and his research associate Alexandria Nylen on a project studying how military and civilian actors interact during humanitarian emergencies. Sophomore IAPA concentrators Jadyn Ligoo and Keyona Tartt worked with Professor of International Relations and Anthropology Daniel Smith, studying demographic processes among the Igbo-speaking people of southern Nigeria.
Nylen directly supervised Bashir's work studying the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that the project he worked on was "a case overview of the U.S. emergency response framework in terms of how the government responds to pandemic emergencies." Nylen said that having Bashir help with research was essential in creating "the bandwidth to make the research project as impactful as possible."
Bashir said initially, he did background research studying the existing framework for a pandemic response, including the patchwork of state laws that affected government response. He later conducted qualitative interviews with military and civilian public health officials about the government's response to the pandemic.
Bashir said complaints from civilian and military personnel about over-reliance on the National Guard to manage the response were a common thread he found in the interviews. "The term Swiss Army knife showed up in a lot of the responses," said Bashir.
Nylen agreed that one of the key findings was that "over-reliance on National Guard [during the pandemic] led to burnout among the staff and the members of the National Guard who kept getting called back to duty." "It put a lot of stress on the National Guard," she said, "because they were being used to fill preexisting capacity gaps where the system was already strained."
"Nearly every country on the planet used their military in some fashion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the United States," Levine said. "This research has helped us to better understand the situations in which military support was warranted and those in which better-resourced civilian agencies would have served the nation better," he said.