Student Spotlight: Iván Chaar-López

by Sheila Waterhouse, Alumni Engagement Officer, Rackham Graduate School

Not many people went to college when they were 5, but Iván did. Granted, he was in kindergarten at a lab school at the University of Puerto Rico. He was ready for a change when it came time for graduate school, but he kept going, finishing his Master’s in History while his partner finished her law degree.

Iván delivered a paper in 2009 at a history conference in Ann Arbor and was drawn to the intellectual community here, recognizing a strong cohort of people who share work with one another and offer meaningful feedback. He recalls, “I was craving that. I was really looking forward to being part of that kind of dynamic and engaging community. I know people say that about Michigan, but I really truly mean it. It’s been what I expected. I am part of a space where I can learn as much as I can, where I can collaborate with others in imaginative and exciting ways. When I got the offer from U-M I was stunned. It was a really good offer.”

Iván transitioned from History to the Department of American Culture when he came to U-M: “It’s an incredible program. You get to make it your own; there is so much freedom in terms of the classes you take. I feel like I have a hyperactive mind, sometimes to my own detriment, but that means I love exploring and learning and trying new things. In American Culture, you’re given that space to experiment by only taking two core classes while the rest you take in whatever you want (consulting your advisor, of course).”

Iván’s research interests evolved from his original intent to study social movements and digital media. This change was the result of his studies at Michigan, the influence of faculty advisors and his passion for Latina/o Studies and issues affecting Latino communities in the U.S. During that process, he says, “I was thinking and collecting articles, and I stumbled upon unmanned aerial systems or drones. My advisor, Dr. Lisa Nakamura, suggested I should start a tumblr account and treat it as an archive by posting any article I’d find, but I had to stop at a point because there was so much, and I wouldn’t ever get to do any actual work.” The byproduct is the blog Drone On.

Combining drones with his training in Digital Studies and Latina/o Studies led Iván to research the history of drone use in the U.S.-Mexico border. “I’m focusing on military drones for now. It is interesting because 98% of the conversation around drones involves drone strikes, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa. When I saw military drones being used on the border, it dawned on me this was generally left out of conversations around unmanned aerial systems. That there was military drone use in U.S. territory, I wanted to know how that came about, what did it mean and how people dealt and continue to deal with it. These became research framing questions for me.”

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