One day, Eyako Heh sees himself as a research professor heavily involved in community outreach and activism, bridging divides and helping to fix some of most pressing systemic issues we face as a society.
It’s a vision inspired by his experiences and relationships at Ohio State.
“Ohio State is a fantastic institute,” says Heh, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in political science and a minor in geography in 2021. “I had a wide breadth of experiences at Ohio State and I’m really thankful I was able to dip my toes in many different disciplines outside my own. It’s as important to figure out what you don’t want to do as it is to figure out what you do want to do.”
Heh, who completed the International Affairs Scholars program, is currently completing research as a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). Recently, he spoke with us about his future and Ohio State’s role in shaping it.
What would an ideal career situation be for you?
I see myself working in a university system as a professor advancing critical scholarship, looking into how technology impacts social mobility, spatial mobility, amplifies discrepancies, but also looking into how technology can bridge divides, fix systemic issues in society along race, gender, class lines. So working within that in a scholarly institution is where I see myself. But also keeping ties with a community, working with community organizers, bringing them into my classroom.
What experiences at Ohio State propelled you down this path?
A lot comes to mind. First of all, I was involved in advocacy through student government from my freshman year and running the (presidential and vice presidential) campaign for Roaya Higazi and Caleb Hineman in 2019-20 was a transformative experience. It made me realize I have the skills to be a leader on campus. Before then, I had never led a meeting with 100-plus students in it, trying to convince them that this was something that can have an impact on campus.
On top of that, writing my thesis really solidified that I wanted to become an academic because I have this love for writing and research and going into communities and doing the field work. Professor Joel Wainwright, in the Department of Geography, sparked that in me. He became my thesis advisor; he always had my back and was very encouraging. A great mentor overall.
Corey Efron (former program manager in Ohio State’s Undergraduate Fellowship Office) was another great mentor. I wouldn’t have my current fellowship if it wasn’t for him. He always gave me that extra push and guidance I needed.
What research opportunities did you have at Ohio State?
My research experience at the Kirwan Institute was critical in providing a lot of knowledge and skills but it’s also where I started to really enjoy research. We looked at issues related to data bias and surveillance on Black and brown communities and how we can advance equitable technology policy.
Before that I was at the Canadian Parliament through STEP (Second-year Transformational Experience Program) and I started researching issues pertaining social media hate against immigrants, for example, in Europe. That really mobilized my interest and advocacy surrounding the nexus of technology and social justice.
Also the research I did with Amanda Robinson (associate professor of Political Science). We looked into race-based discrimination against African immigrants to the United States. So a lot of my research has involved race, social justice, technology, surveillance and state power.
What about your academic experience here?
Through the political science department, I gained a great number of skills, one of which being my data visualization skills. I really saw the value in being able to program, for example, and how empirical research and data-based research can provide a credence to public policy initiatives.
And then the geography department was critical in my development. I didn’t even understand what geography was until I took a class; I thought it was just cartography, map making, but it’s way more than that. You have subdisciplines of critical geography, human geography, political geography. Seeing the world through the lens of space and power really transformed the way I see myself in space and how I see others around me.