By: Diane Stirling

Fleshing out a paper on broadband development in Malaysia, Stephanie Santoso, a graduate student in Information Management reached out to a primary source. Her communication with the director of the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s National Advanced IPv6 Centre of Excellence NAv6 added authenticity to her writing. It also turned research for her Information Policy class into an enriching real-world experience.

As a visiting research fellow at the Centre for four weeks this summer, the second-year Master’s student found that the short stay abroad was long on academic and worldly lessons. Among them: that that the information academic community is receptive to research inquiries, even if a student’s research background is limited; and that the School of Information Studies (iSchool) has a strong network among information professionals in that part of the world.

Stephanie traveled to Malaysia along with Fulbright Scholar and third-year Ph.D. student Andreas Kuehn, originally from Zurich, Switzerland, who also was accepted to the program. Stephanie and Andreas were the first fellows to visit from an American university.

Their exposure provided Stephanie and Andreas with new perspectives regarding how collaborators on the same project can have widely varied approaches to solving issues. The Centre’s focus is on helping Malaysia’s migration from IPv4 to IPv 6 Internet addresses. The staff there, primarily engineers and computer scientists, were examining Internet governance from technical angles. Stephanie and Andreas, both governance-oriented, provided counterbalance. Since their hosts had been seeking policy thinkers to offset their own tech leanings, Stephanie and Andreas’ social-science views provided a reciprocal synergy.

The iSchool students said it was enlightening to see how concepts being studied in their classes at the University were taking shape at workstations there. They sat alongside Centre NAv6 technicians and scientists doing deep-packet inspection and network surveillance policy work -“developing the technology that we were studying,” Andreas noted.

The cultural diversity both experienced in the Penang region left vivid impressions. The 5:00 a.m. call to prayer from the mosque across the street awakened them each day. Since their visit coincided with the month of Ramadan, they witnessed a more vibrant exhibit of culture than likely at other times of the year. They enjoyed Chinese, Malaysian and Indian foods and customs, and saw Mosques alongside Hindu and Chinese temples on the same street. Their cultural acclimation was eased by iSchool Ph.D. alum Nasriah Zakaria, now Program Chair for the Information Systems Lab at Sains, who added some welcome camaraderie.

Back at the iSchool this fall, Stephanie returned to her IM program and work as a research assistant for Professor Milton Mueller, and Andreas to his studies as well. Stephanie’s ultimate goals are to obtain a Ph.D. in information policy, then to work for a multinational organization. Andreas plans to return to Switzerland to an academic position, and eventually would like to consult for governments or business organizations.

Though their visit passed quickly, its academic value endured. Readying to return, both unwittingly collected so many mementos that they needed to buy another suitcase to get all their belongings home. That moment captured the essence of their experience. As Stephanie summarized: “We packed a lot of learning into one month.”