2007 Boren Fellowships
University of Connecticut
“The things I do have the potential to immediately impact the ways real-world problems are addressed by our commanders and policymakers.” -Dr. Schaun Wheeler
Like many Ph.D. students, Schaun Wheeler considered pursuing a career in academia. However, he decided on a different route. Schaun is currently examining insurgencies and social movements as an intelligence analyst at the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC). A division of the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, the NGIC provides intelligence to war commanders, the Department of Defense, and national-level decision makers. This allows Schaun to impact the real-world problems that first excited him in college and graduate school.
Before becoming a Boren Fellow, Schaun already possessed Russian skills from spending two years in Ukraine. His desire to return to the region came while designing his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Connecticut. Schaun’s research examined how people become actively engaged in social movements. In other words, he wanted to find out what makes a person sacrifice his time, resources, and efforts for the sake of a larger issue such as religion, ethnicity, or a social cause. Schaun chose Kyrgyzstan as the ideal site to conduct his research because it is comprised of multiple ethnic, religious, political, and economic subgroups and hosts numerous nongovernmental organizations.
Schaun’s mission was to interview enough people from enough different places across the country that his findings would be generalizable. As he met more people, spoke with them about their lives, and actually participated in a lot of the events that they personally found meaningful, he had to reevaluate his theory and develop a new, more meaningful, research paradigm. He presented his initial findings to local audiences, many of which were located in the universities, which improved his Russian vocabulary to include technical and scientific terminology. In addition, Schaun learned enough Kyrgyz to be able to manage the bazaars, personal introductions, and other basic conversations. Culturally, Schaun gained a better understanding of Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic factions, Christian-Islamic differences, political dissentions, and economic disparities, as that was part of his research. He also learned everyday norms like how to speak appropriately to people of different ages and positions, what not to do when you’re a guest in someone’s home, and what to expect on certain holidays.
After returning to the United States and defending his dissertation, Schaun found his current position listed on NSEPnet.org, an interactive website to help Scholars and Fellows with their federal job search. He enjoys his current position as a Cognitive Anthropologist and Intelligence Analyst for the National Ground Intelligence Center since he is able to use his background in cognitive anthropology to address crucial issues.
Written: January 2010