Christopher Faulkner, a Ph.D. candidate in UCF’s security studies program, was recently awarded a Minerva Research Initiative and United States Institute of Peace Dissertation Write-Up Fellowship for his dissertation on child soldiering.
“It’s an opportunity to … hopefully do something … more ambitious than what I set out to do with it from the beginning.”
More than 200 students applied for the award this year, but only 18 were awarded, with some of last year’s winners attending schools such as Yale, Stanford and Georgetown. The USIP aims to reduce violent conflicts around the world and promote security within the United States and across the global. The Minerva Research Initiative is a project within the Office of Basic Research at the Department of Defense.
“I’m really proud of this fellowship because it’s external validation — not just for me, but also for the program, especially since it’s still young,” Faulkner says. “It’s an opportunity to continue my dissertation research and hopefully do something more meaningful with it and maybe more ambitious than what I set out to do with it from the beginning.”
Understanding Child Soldiering
Faulkner’s paper explores three main topics on child soldiering, which is the use of individuals under 18 for militant purposes. The first focuses on how external state sponsorship of rebel groups impact their recruitment decisions. The second examines gender relations and how militant groups select children as combatants, but exclude females from these roles. The final topic analyzes governments that use child soldiers and are held accountable for their actions.
“It’s sad, but interesting and I think it’s worthy of study.”
Faulkner became interested in the subject during his first semester at UCF. As part of a qualitative methods course, he read Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence, which opened his eyes to the micro-dynamics of conflict that often get overlooked. This led him to write a research paper on child soldiering.
“[That] sent me down a rabbit hole of reading about the experiences of young populations that are struggling just to survive, whether that be lack of educational opportunities or their societies are constantly in conflict,” Faulkner says. “It’s sad, but interesting and I think it’s worthy of study.”
Using Security Studies to Better the Future
Although UCF’s security studies program was only in its second year, Faulkner decided to come to the university in 2014 after speaking with Professor of Political Science Mark Schafer, who convinced him that the faculty at UCF are deeply invested in their students.
“I think being selected [for this fellowship] is a testament to [faculty] helping students evolve as they are in the program.”
“I think the faculty go above and beyond to be a resource,” Faulkner says. “I’ve spent a lot time on campus and feel like I have both a professional and personal relationship with a lot of faculty members and especially those who serve on my dissertation committee. I think being selected [for this fellowship] is a testament to them helping students evolve as they are in the program.”
Graduate students in the security studies program are taught how to communicate security issues to policy makers, the general public, the government and academia. These students may go on to work in fields within the military, government organizations and international corporations.
Faulkner, however, wishes to follow another career path, pursuing a career in research and academia. During his undergraduate experience in his home state at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, he instructed courses and developed an interest in teaching at the university level. While at UCF, his passion for teaching has grown alongside the desire to be involved with research.
“[Teaching] a human-rights course where I have students who are passionate about topics all over the world has been really interesting,” Faulkner says. “To see them bring their opinions and knowledge to the classroom and make me aware of human rights issues that I might not even be aware of [has been] really rewarding as a teacher.”
“The more dialogue and conversation we have about challenging issues the more opportunity we have to improve those social injustices.”
Long-term, Faulkner also wants to work in policy development for human-right issues, but he knows the first step to making change in the world is educating others.
“You don’t want to have history repeat itself if it’s negative history. If there are things you can do to study the consequences of issues, like child soldiering, you can teach future generations about why you should avoid these things,” Faulkner says. “The more dialogue and conversation we have about challenging issues the more opportunity we have to improve those social injustices.”