Appreciating Lauren Parnell Marino

The African Studies program could not be more excited to express our endless appreciation for Lauren Parnell Marino, who served our Program from 2015 to 2021. Lauren is a true Midwesterner, hailing from Minnesota. She received her BA from Northwestern University before matriculating UW for her PhD in Development Studies.   

Lauren’s passion for African Studies stems from her commitment to social justice, which she cultivated early in her youth. Her passion originated in a visit she made to a community with a strong solidarity lens in Guatemala, first, at age 16, and continued to visit through 2015, with hopes to return soon. Her interest in social justice inspired her to declare a social policy major at Northwestern.  

During this time, Lauren’s philosophical and political questions guided her into the field of fair trade. She soon applied to go on an interfaith-based trip to East Africa the summer before her senior year. In 2006, she spent a month traveling across Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, learning from coffee cooperatives and other fair trade spaces. It was a transformational trip that challenged many of her perspectives and led her to critically question many of the development themes and their viability she learned in the States. 

Lauren ended that summer in Kampala, where she used an undergraduate research grant to fund her honor’s thesis project on the fair trade craft sector. She started participant observation with Uganda Crafts, a small business founded in 1986. Uganda Crafts originally started as an organization intended to create employment opportunities for women with disabilities but has since expanded to encompass members of different members of vulnerable groups. Uganda Crafts started exporting internationally in the 1990s and has been an accredited business since 2000. Initially, Lauren thought she would take the valuable lessons she learned with Uganda Crafts to communities closer to home, making it a one-time opportunity. Still, she developed an intimate connection with the people she met there and decided to continue working in Kampala. 

 After her undergraduate career, Lauren achieved her MA in Gender, Globalization, and Rights at the National University of Ireland-Galway on a Mitchell Scholarship. 2009-10. She also moved on to the NGO sector, returning to Uganda for a year to work with Uganda Crafts, and later working with Ashoka in Washington, DC before coming to UW. Upon her arrival, she learned about an announcement for an IRIS PAship and immediately applied. After earning the position, Lauren was excited to learn that despite that the position’s funding came from IRIS, she would support the African Studies Program—a space that had drawn her to UW in the first place. Lauren worked with African Studies Program from 2015 to 2021. Until she finished her tenure with us, she was the longest-standing staff member in the Program, our foundation as coworkers.  

 When Lauren started with the African Studies Program, she was the events coordinator, working on hosting African Studies’ annual conferences. In 2016, she was one of the coordinators behind the BIG STORIES + CLOSE (UP) RESEARCH: Health and Science in the African World conference, along with faculty sponsors Pablo Gomez, Neil Kodesh, and Claire Wendland. Over time, her position evolved into advising responsibilities as the office went through a transition in staff. She also supported the YALI program when her skills were needed there, as Lauren, Neil, and Meagan Doll oversaw major transitions in the African Studies Program throughout 2016. She supported Neil as he guided the African Studies Program through a challenging transition in 2016 when both the former Associate Director, Jim Delehanty, and Assistant Director, Catherine Reiland, accepted new roles on campus. Lauren showed flexibility, maturity, and generosity that sustained the Program and continued to develop it through 2021.  

 When Aleia McCord started as the Associate Director, Lauren worked closely with her to continue to develop our Program. Lauren is a mover and a shaker. Her humility is evident in everything she does, including her interview for this appreciation post, where she took the time to thank everyone she had worked within African Studies. She is an incredible coworker and becomes a friend to everyone she meets. According to Aleia McCord,  

According to Aleia McCord,

Lauren served the program from 2015-2021, making her the longest-serving employee in the African Studies Program. She has planned conferences, coordinated outreach, managed communications, and advised our undergraduate certificate students. Lauren has authored several training manuals and helped our center navigate multiple transitions, training and supporting innumerable new staff members – including me! She led the development of multiple new initiatives including our Discovery Box program and the expansion of Day in Africa to include recruitment activities. Lauren authored multiple grants to support this work. Lauren is a thoughtful, patient, and reliable colleague. Her infectious enthusiasm and optimism buoyed our spirits throughout the pandemic. We miss working with Lauren, but can’t wait to see what comes next for her. Thank you Lauren for your generous service to the program and our community.

Lauren’s research at UW has changed over the years, as all of ours do. Yet, for her, the pandemic posed challenges for travel. In 2019, she became a mom, a point she felt was necessary to include in this piece. Lauren wants to see “academia learn how to be more humane for people who have all kinds of different desires for their life outside of the university.” Lauren reflects that the gifts we insist she has offered African Studies have returned to her tenfold—from her support system that includes people such as her advisor Aili Tripp, Aleia McCord, Nancy Kendall, Neil Kodesh, Emily Callaci, Monica Grant, and Katrina Daly Thompson.  

 Lauren encourages her fellow graduate students and candidates to figure out their priorities, be flexible, and not sacrifice a well-rounded life. Staying sane in grad school is hard enough. During the pandemic especially, Lauren emphasizes the importance of caring for ourselves with rest and enjoyment.  

As of Summer 2021, Lauren is directing her energies full-time to complete her dissertation. In service of that, she has taken her intellect, organization, and team effort to a consultancy with the World Bank, in the Africa Gender Innovation Lab, contributing to a project on women’s entrepreneurship in Ethiopia. Her new position is a testament to her achievements over the years. It will also serve to support her research, as she had to defer her fieldwork plans for the time being, for which she was awarded a 2019-2020 Fulbright, because of the pandemic.   

Thank you, Lauren, for your tireless support of the African Studies Program. None of us would be here without your help and dedication–and certainly not with as much ease and community. 

 By Carly Lucas