Occidental Student Presents Research at Oxford University

Kayla Nolan '11 was the only undergraduate student to present an academic paper at Oxford University's March 7 conference on women's sports in Africa.


The diplomacy and world affairs major gave a 40-minute presentation on her paper, "More Than a Sport: Empowerment of Women Through Running in Ethiopia," at the international scholarly gathering.

Her paper, which explores the rise of female Ethiopian distance runners at the Olympics and other elite sporting events--and of running as an avenue for Ethiopian women to enter government, politics, and business--also has been conditionally accepted for publication in the International Feminist Journal of Politics, a scholarly peer-reviewed journal. Running is Ethiopia's national sport, and many of the world's top distance runners are from the east African country.

"Kayla wrote a report that was worthy of a graduate student," said Peter Dreier, Occidental's E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics. "Oxy should be incredibly proud of her accomplishments."

Nolan's paper was based on a 2-month summer research project in which she interviewed 43 Ethiopian female runners-ranging in age from 12 to 22 years-as well as coaches, scholars, journalists, and officials on the growing number of girls and women entering the sport and how running has improved their lives. In the paper, she connects the advent of female runners in Ethiopia with the country's new democratic government and constitution. Ratified in 1994, the constitution includes a provision recognizing the equality of women.

A native of Bellevue, Wash., Nolan was 19 when she conducted research in 2009 as a recipient of Occidental's Richter Scholarship. The scholarship funds independent study abroad for up to 12 weeks in the summer. She lived in Addis Ababa with a host family, used translators to help her interview runners, and ran with some of the younger female runners as part of her research.

Nolan's research was sparked by her own personal experience. She ran cross country and track in high school and college, and the experience boosted her self-confidence.

"Running was really helpful for me," Nolan said. "It gave me a community to be in, and I found confidence in physical strength and in achieving goals."

After she graduates in May, Nolan aims to work in the field of environmental security and human rights before going to graduate school. She plans to return to Ethiopia in the coming year to conduct research on water security and development, and will apply for a Fulbright grant to do so.