Masters Thesis

I’m now one week into school and I’m knee deep in research related to my thesis. The great thing about the Waterloo program is that it is very independantly driven. I’m looking forward to getting started, but am slightly overwelmed at the shear size of all my thoughts and ideas at the moment. This will hopefully narrow down in the coming weeks.

I’m interested in pursuing a project in the DR Congo because I have been there twice now and care a great deal for the plight of the country. My research depresses me though because it seems like no policy, no amount of money will be able to bring this country out of the pit of hell it has sunk into. What difference can my itty bitty thesis make?

When I was in the DR Congo the first time, I worked on the master plan for a University in the small city of Beni in Nord Kivu province. While I was there I heard the story of the founder of the University. He, like many other Congolese, dreamed of the chance to escape the country and become a wealthy business man. He actually did get that rare chance, but then when the Congo war began he realized that God was calling him back to his home to found an organization called the Congo Initiative. They have the overwelming goal of seeing a transformed Congo. It’s a huge endeavor, and they are doing the only thing they can do which is to put their trust in God and take it one step at a time. And yet there is progress to be seen. They now have a thriving university of around 500 students that is deeply rooted in the community. These students are becoming educated leaders that are learning that they can make change – even if it starts with the small things.

I am realizing that my thesis might also be more influential at the community scale even though I still want to ask big questions. Could I teach a small community about mapping and analysis and how it can be used to design programs to improve community well-being and local resource stewardship? At the same time could this thesis challenge the existing paradigm of development, asking if, in a global world we should be shifting from an individualistic to a global development perspective? Can technology in mapping and data collection offer new forms of comprehensive visualization and communication? Is there a role for the architect in the design of complex programs that extend beyond the building? Can my work in a local community act as a case study?

So as you can very well determine, I have quite a ways to go! But even though it is intimidating, it is a subject that I’m very passionate about and I know that I won’t want to stop learning more. I’m excited to see where these next two years will take me. The first step of the work is to cast a net of research and create a “thesis cloud”. In doing so I am learning more about an assortment of topics including DR Congo, Nord Kivu province, precedents for mapping and planning models that have been done, resources for data collection, and general theory about development and visualization. I will share more about these topics at a later time, but for now here is a short film that will give you an introduction to the DR Congo. This video is the final installment of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts of the Unknown.

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