Dr. Merle Bowen, Academic Director


Dr. Merle L. Bowen is Associate Professor of African American Studies and the Academic Director of the Civic Leadership Institute. A trained political scientist, with over thirty years living and working in Africa, Dr. Bowen is also a talented administrator. For almost eight years (2007-2015), she served as the Director of the Center for African Studies (CAS) at Illinois. She has run a Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center, as well as coordinated summer language programs, and international conferences. Under her leadership, CAS expanded institutional partnerships to universities and research institutions in a host of African countries, and strengthened affiliations with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). An award-winning teacher, Dr. Bowen regularly appears on the University list of instructors ranked excellent by student evaluations.

In addition to having achieved these administrative accomplishments, Dr. Bowen is a scholar with an international reputation, who has a highly visible presence in her field of comparative politics, as well as African and African Diaspora studies. She is the author of The State against the Peasantry: Rural Struggles in Colonial and Postcolonial Mozambique (2000) and For Land and Liberty: Black Struggles in Rural Brazil (forthcoming), as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is also the recipient of prestigious grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal.  Dr. Bowen serves on the Advisory Editorial Board of Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy and the Board of Directors, Association of Concerned Africa Scholars.

As the Academic Director of the Institute, Dr. Bowen is responsible for the intellectual continuity of the program, and together with the Administrative Director, they ensure the smooth operation of all aspects of the program.

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Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, Administrative Director 


Dr. Friedman is the director of the Global Institute for Secondary Educators, a Study of the U.S. Institute at the University of Illinois.  Dr. Friedman is also currently the Program Manager at the Center for African Studies, and has worked at International Programs and Studies and the Center for East Asian & Pacific Studies since joining the university in 2011. He develops and designs international training programs, teaches American Studies Pedagogy for International Audiences, and works with the Area Studies Centers developing new initiatives. Dr. Friedman holds a PhD in International Education from New York University with specializations in Global Education, English Language Education Policy & Practice, and Internationalization of Social Studies Curriculum.  He holds an appointment in the College of Education as an Adjunct Assistant Professor,  has taught Social Studies foundations to pre-service teachers, and developed a variety of professional development programs for in-service teachers. In his previous career as a secondary level Social Studies teacher, Dr. Friedman taught Global Studies, Psychology, History, and English as a Foreign Language. He also holds an MA from Columbia University in American Studies.

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Chekwube Danladi, Program Associate 

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Chekwube is a graduate student in the English department, where she is pursuing an M.F.A. in fiction. She is also a teaching assistant with the department, where she teaches rhetoric to first-year undergraduates. She received her BA in Comparative American Studies from Oberlin College.



Desiree Y. McMillion, Program Associate


Desiree Y. McMillion is a graduate candidate in the College of Education where she is pursuing a PhD in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership. She is also a Visiting Instructor in African American Studies, where she teaches Introduction to African American Studies and the Civil Rights Movement. She holds a BS in Psychology from Eastern Illinois University, MA in Education from the University of Illinois and currently on track to receive her PhD in Education from the University of Illinois in May 2017.  Her research examines the nature and relationship of historic and contemporary educational experiences of Black Women in Leadership Roles in Academia. She is committed to connecting the successes of these women, their voices of these lived experiences and proven frameworks through written and oral documentation via life histories and archival research.  Ms. McMillion was the Director of the Summer Academic Achievement Program and an integral component of its inception via the Provost Office at the University of Illinois until recent budget cuts cancelled the program temporarily. She is also connected with a variety of campus organizations and currently provides advising to many students across many campus disciplines.