Steen Fellowship supports student-initiated projects
When Lerato Mensah-Aborampah ’22 was growing up in the Kingdom of Lesotho, reading and writing were two of her favorite pastimes. Yet most of the Basotho authors that she read in school were from an older generation of writers, and it was difficult to learn about the modern authors writing and publishing within the country. So in high school she created her own Facebook page called “Young Basotho Writers,” which grew into a small online community.
As she started college, she wanted to take this resource even further. Her idea was to create a one-stop author directory that would enable people to filter their author search by genre or most recently published books, which any Basotho writer or reader could contribute to. She knew the idea would require time, work, and resources. That’s where St. Olaf College’s Steen Fellowship Fund came in.
With the support of the Lynn and Mary Steen Fellowship — which aims to support student-initiated projects that demonstrate independent scholarship, investigation, and creativity — Mensah-Aborampah created the directory. She spent months reaching out to different authors, roaming through social media hashtags, visiting the national library in her home city of Maseru, and working with a web developer to create the actual website.
“I really enjoyed just connecting with people, I enjoyed the reception I got from other authors, and authors felt happy to be seen,” she says. “It made me feel that in the grand scheme of things, this little directory in the corner of the internet, for a writing community in a small country like Lesotho, has a potential that can help people.”
I really enjoyed just connecting with people, I enjoyed the reception I got from other authors, and authors felt happy to be seen. It made me feel that in the grand scheme of things, this little directory in the corner of the internet, for a writing community in a small country like Lesotho, has a potential that can help people.Lerato Mensah-Aborampah ’22
The Steen Fellowship was established in 2016 by Associate Professor Emerita of English Mary Steen and her husband, the late Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Lynn Steen, to support undergraduate research at St. Olaf. Steen Fellows pursue their projects independently of faculty mentors, undertaking independent scholarship, investigation, or creative activities in any field related to their college studies.
Fellows design and carry out the project, and then provide a public report, presentation, performance, or display. Students’ projects are of their own direction and are only limited by their imagination.
Steen Fellowship alumni include students such as Shaquille Brown ’19, who led a project investigating how Patois could be integrated into the English curriculum in Jamaican public schools, and Kgomotso Magagula ’21, who examined the impact of Swazi marriage law on women in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
Hanane Idihoum ’23 worked on a Steen Fellow project titled “Amazigh Identities in the Wake of Pan-Arab Nationalism in Morocco,” which included interviewing Amazigh artists and examining the archives in Rabat. During her time at St. Olaf, Idihoum had realized the increasingly frequent recognition of Amazigh artists, musicians, and people who speak Amazigh in the media. As Amazigh herself, she wanted to critically examine the ideologies behind the national revitalization of Amazigh arts and scholarship as a key instrument in rebranding Morocco’s “Africaness” and constructing an Amazigh-Moroccan national identity.
For Idihoum, her project was a topic that is rarely discussed in academic settings — even within the field of sociology and anthropology, she says, there is very little scholarship studying Amazigh people through a critical lens. “I think we’re often seen through our cultures, languages, traditions, jewelry, etc. Our material conditions, the lack of access to schools, hospitals, and clean water in Amazigh villages, the fights against European colonialism, and the marginalization enacted by the monarchy are often left out from the narrative,” she says.
One of the aspects of the Steen Fellowship that Mensah-Aborampah really appreciated was its open-ended possibilities. “I like that the fellowship allows for more creative research projects, things that are more passion projects,” she says. “When working with passion projects, even with school funding, it’s just really important to remember that your ideas are very valid.”
When discussing her project’s impact on her hometown of Tiznit, Idihoum highlights how it would further the expansion of viewpoints on Amazigh culture in Morocco. “One thing that this project does is that it contributes to existing literature on Amazigh identities in Morocco — it’s a shift in how the Amazigh liberation movement is talked about, as it doesn’t just focus on cultural recognition.”
One thing that this project does is that it contributes to existing literature on Amazigh identities in Morocco — it’s a shift in how the Amazigh liberation movement is talked about, as it doesn’t just focus on cultural recognition.Hanane Idihoum ’23
Idihoum appreciates how the Steen Fellowship has allowed students to be critical of what they study within their academics, especially when outside the Global North sphere of countries, and pursue projects outside of the Western world.
“We tend to just talk about culture, customs, traditions, and I feel like everything outside of the U.S. is just culture. As a sociology/anthropology student, I appreciate when we have a chance to be critical of colonialism and its continuous legacy in how governments function,” Idihoum says.