Martha Saavedra Wins 2021 African Studies Association Outstanding Service Award

November 16, 2021

Portrait of Martha Saavedra and text indicating that the ASA awards Martha Saavedra 2021 Outstanding Service Award

The African Studies Association (ASA) has recognized Martha Saavedra, associate director of UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, as the winner of the 2021 Outstanding Service Award. This award recognizes Dr. Saavedra’s lifetime commitment to promoting knowledge about Africa through the training of scholars across disciplines, the teaching of African languages, and engagement with diaspora communities.

Dr. Saavedra was nominated for the ASA Outstanding Service Award by 75 Berkeley faculty, staff, and students along with 55 additional signatures from collaborators, colleagues, and former students around the world. Dr. Saavedra was presented with the award at the ASA’s 64th Annual Meeting on November 16, 2021.

Dr. Saavedra’s academic training and professional career have been entirely focused on Africa. She earned a BA in international studies from Rhodes College in Tennessee after writing an honors thesis on “Theories, Women and the Modernization of Africa.” She went on to earn a PhD in political science from UC Berkeley with a dissertation entitled “Tractors and Transformation: Agricultural Mechanization, Farmers’ Unions and the Decentralized State in the Nuba Mountains, Sudan.”

Dr. Saavedra has been the associate director of Center for African Studies since 1993. She has taught Africa-related courses in Global Studies, the Graduate School of Journalism, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Beyond Berkeley, she has taught at St. Mary’s College of California, Ohio University, and the Escuela de Estudios Universitarios Real Madrid. Drawing on fieldwork in Sudan, Senegal, Kenya, and Ethiopia, Dr. Saavedra’s research has focused on topics such as gender, development, sport, migration, and globalization. She has served on the boards of the West African Research Association, Sport Africa, and Soccer Without Borders. She has also been a member of the editorial boards of Soccer and Society; Sport in Society; Sociology of Sport Journal; and Impumelelo: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Sports in Africa.

Facilitating the production of knowledge

Dr. Saavedra has worked tirelessly to ensure UC Berkeley’s commitment to Africa-focused programming, supporting faculty research, forging institutional collaborations, and advocating for Africana materials through the university library. She is a key resource person for visiting scholars and students who come to UC Berkeley. All these efforts have made it possible for UC Berkeley to remain the only Title VI National Resource Center for Africa in the western United States.

The most important focus of Dr. Saavedra’s work has been in supporting learning and research by students. She has played an indispensable role in helping to expand undergraduate exposure to Africa-related courses. She serves as a vital resource for graduate students seeking fellowship support and embarking on field research across the continent. There are countless faculty in universities today who, as graduate students, secured their first in-country contact or affiliation through Dr. Saavedra’s guidance and intervention.

Dr. Saavedra is now helping to ensure that knowledge about, and for, Africa is increasingly produced by the next generation of African leaders. Since 2012, she has played an indispensable role in UC Berkeley’s successful partnership with the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, which has provided comprehensive financial, social, and academic support to some 120 undergraduate students from 20 African countries. On behalf of this scholarship program, Dr. Saavedra has provided students with holistic support aimed at their inclusion, retention, and graduation.

Enabling the dissemination of knowledge

Dr. Saavedra has been indefatigable in her efforts to make Africanist resources accessible to the public. Drawing on an extensive network of relationships, she actively collaborates with partners in Africa and the United States to disseminate and reinforce knowledge about the continent. For example, she has helped to develop curriculum in K-12 schools by working with UC Berkeley’s Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS) and the ASA Outreach Council. She provided critical support that enabled faculty across UC campuses to set up the UC-wide Multicampus Research Group in African Studies from 2007 to 2012. Working with UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism, she also helped to train journalists to undertake reporting in African countries from 2009 through 2012. And she has served as an advocate for the diaspora community by working with organizations such as the African Diaspora Network and Priority Africa.

Dr. Saavedra has been an innovator in developing outreach programming. Working with Prof. Michael Kevane at Santa Clara University, she helped to create, one of the first online resources for teachers, students, and the media to better understand the complex dynamics that brought increased attention to that country in the mid-2000s. The website became a major international resource that helped to bring curated materials created by knowledgeable experts to the public at large.

Promoting African languages

Dr. Saavedra has long been an advocate for African language instruction on the UC Berkeley campus. By collaborating with faculty in the Departments of African American Studies and Linguistics, she has helped to ensure the continuity and expansion of the African languages program over time, including the professional development of language instructors. As a result of Dr. Saavedra’s work, UC Berkeley currently provides regular instruction in Amharic, Chichewa, Igbo, and Swahili.

Dr. Saavedra’s commitment to African languages goes beyond UC Berkeley. She has long been an active contributor to the community of African language coordinators in the United States. In 2012, she created an online depository to collect and track summer language program information for easy dissemination across universities. She maintained that system through 2017, when she handed it off to the University of Wisconsin.

Service to ASA and the Africanist Community

Dr. Saavedra has a long history of service to the ASA. Both in 1996 and 2006, she served as co-chair of the local arrangements committee when the ASA held its annual meeting in San Francisco. In 2006, she simultaneously served as co-coordinator of the ASA Teacher’s Workshop during the annual meeting. She then served on the ASA Distinguished Africanist Award Committee in 2014-2015 and on the ASA Board Nominations Committee in 2016. She recently worked with an international team of researchers to establish Sport Africa, which is now a coordinate organization of ASA. In parallel to her service to the ASA, Dr. Saavedra has also worked to support the Association of African Studies Programs (AASP).