Alumna Receives Prestigious National Dissertation Award

Alumna Suban Nur Cooley, who received her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC), won the highly competitive 2021 James Berlin Memorial Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation, titled Carrying Culture: Temporal and Spatial Constructions of Somalia Among Women in the Diaspora.

This national award is presented each year by the Conference on College Composition & Communication and honors a graduate whose dissertation improves the educational process in composition studies, or adds to the field’s body of knowledge through research or scholarly inquiry.

Dr. Suban Nur Cooley

“I’m still in shock as I know it’s a very prestigious award in my field,” Nur Cooley said. “It’s been a really surreal experience and I’m very honored and thankful to the committee for selecting my work.”

The award committee hailed Nur Cooley for her ability to apply the methodologies curated in her work, including her ability to expand research methodologies in rhetoric and composition.

Nur Cooley’s research follows the story of displaced Somali women and their preservation of culture through memory and spatial construction in an effort to explore how migration and displacement can affect how one engages with one’ culture and identity, especially after a civil war.

Suban Nur Cooley with Somali author Shirin Ramzanali

“I conducted oral interviews with women over 65, elders in my community, so we could talk about the Somalia they remember before the war in 1991,” Nur Cooley said. “I really wanted to talk to people who knew Somalia and had roots there.”

The research was inspired by Nur Cooley’s Somali heritage and a visit to her parents’ new home in Australia, when she was taken aback by how her mother’s Somali decor made the residence feel familiar, warmer, and more welcoming.

“When you walk into a Somali home, no matter where you are in the world, it feels like you are in Somalia,” Cooley said. “The way Somalis decorate, the way the house smells, the language they’re speaking, it beckons forth a Somali-ness about the space. It emphasizes how displaced people – or people who have migrated – interact with their memories to make a place feel like another country.”

I’m grateful that WRAC allowed me to step out of rhetoric to build upon and learn from theories and methodologies in other fields that really supported and bolstered my work.

Dr. Suban Nur Cooley

Thanks to the fluidity of her program, Nur Cooley’s research focused on subjects outside of rhetoric and composition as well, such as sociology, cultural studies, international development, access to travel to Africa for language acquisition, and more.

“I’m grateful that WRAC allowed me to step out of rhetoric to build upon and learn from theories and methodologies in other fields that really supported and bolstered my work,” she said.

Nur Cooley also is the 2018-2019 recipient of MSU’s TIAA Ruth Simms Hamilton Graduate Merit Fellowship. She used the $32,000 from that fellowship conducting research in Italy, Kenya, and her country of Australia. Through similar grants and fellowships, she was able to learn Swahili, a language commonly used in many African countries.

Suban Nur Cooley at a Somali Studies Conference at Harvard University in 2019.

“People don’t realize how many funding opportunities there are at MSU for graduate students,” she said. “You’ll get rejections, but I encourage people to apply to all of the things. Receiving a funding opportunity can really change the trajectory of your work and support you through school.”

Since completing her dissertation in 2020, Nur Cooley has worked as an Assistant Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Ball State University. She said it was her doctoral program at MSU that allowed her to engage with students and consider equity and feminist ethics more concisely.

This fall, Nur Cooley will move into her new role as Assistant Professor of English at New Mexico State University where she will continue her research and teaching.

Written by Alec Parr