Second Summer Laidlaw Scholars, Summer 2022

Scholars: I look forward to hearing more about your summer projects, and to connecting through this amazing online community resource! 
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Below you will find a series of questions that correspond to the weeks of your research or community engagement project. Please plan to respond to one question each week for the six weeks of your Laidlaw project. During that period, please also reply to the summer post of another Laidlaw Scholar as well. Photos, video and multimedia are always welcome, and are a required component of your post for Week Three and Week Six! 

Week One:
As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how?  If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

Week Two:
Does your research incorporate any outside participation, such as interviews or ethnographic observation? If so, how do you plan on approaching research participants or spaces in an effective and, most importantly, ethical manner?  If you are not conducting ethnographic research, what communities do you engage in your research, and how have they informed your project?

How do you find your own self coming through in your research, if it all? Is your project more suited towards the invisibility of the researcher, or is it a project that would benefit from the researcher being more present (whatever ‘present’ means)?

If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

Week Four:
What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

Week Five:
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

Week Six:
For your final post, upload a video presentation to our site. In your presentation, please discuss your project: why did you become interested in it, what was the goal of the project, what was its significance or impact (real or potential). Finally, please consider how your understanding of leadership (curiosity, empathy, teamwork, resilience, etc.) has informed your work or been deepened by your work.

Things to keep in mind while recording: do not speak too quickly! Try to record in a quiet space with minimum background noise. While you should not read from a sheet of paper, practice your speech a few times before recording. Also, be sure that you describe your project in a way that is accessible to viewers who are not experts in your field, and who may not be familiar with your project. Your video should be relatively short–2-5 minutes is ideal!

Comments

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
3 months ago

Week One:
As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

Hi everyone! 

My name is Anna and my topic for this summer is Nuclear Colonialism in the Marshall Islands. 

Because of the nature of my topic (Nuclear Colonialism in the Marshall Islands) and the difficulty of finding sources in the topic, I have found the challenge to be less about saying something that has already been said and more about recognizing what Lauren Hirshberg author of Suburban Empire describes as "academic imperialism" (18). Because of the monopolization of information about Marshall Islanders from the perspective of the US military which occupied the islands for nuclear testing and then missile testing from the 60's to 80's, my project has involved trying to weave together different perspectives, sociological, geographical, medical, and historical to honor the under-represented experiences of the Marshall islanders. 

In terms of historical perspective, I am thinking of approaching it in 4 different levels : impact of Pacific War on the region, Cold-war containment and nuclear strategy being used to justify exploitation of the region, US occupation, and Marshallese de-colonialization. 

One difficulty in the project is the various layers involved (political, philosophical, geographical, scientific) require reading in different fields in order to understand. While this is challenging, it is something that I am enjoying about my topic selection. 

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
3 months ago

Hi Anna! I find all the layers of your project very intriguing; it is well beyond what meets the eye. This concept is what particularly interests me in the world of STEM (my particular domain) and academia more broadly. It is not just the surface or effects that matter, but the method or history of how we arrived. What is all the more interesting in your work is that it appears that the layers transcend disciplines. They range from biological and medical, to historical and sociological. I will be very interested to see the outcomes of your research!

Go to the profile of Ariella Lang
3 months ago

Thanks for your post, Anna! I'm curious how you'll connect with the Marshallese diaspora as part of your engagement with these important questions!

Go to the profile of Rizwan Kazi
3 months ago

Week 1:

I wanted to start off with a reflection of the few hours I've been here. I landed in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, 24 hours ago and already there's been so much to see. As soon as you leave the airport, you are blown away by the size of the massive planned extension to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. As you get on the highway out, you are struck by the fly-over and train line projects that dot the city. The sheer amount of infrastructure construction going on very clearly shows how Bangladesh is developing full steam ahead.

However, there are several notes to make. These construction projects, as beneficial as they are in accelerating Bangladesh's economy, are a facet of China's Belt and Road Initiative (the very one Hassan researched last summer), thought by many to be neocolonial. The portraits of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (the founding father of the country) and his daughter Sheikh Hasina (the incumbent prime minister) are ubiquitous, casting an eerie feel of a cult of personality. Corruption is rampant, so much so that the car that took me from the airport to where I'm staying has the names of the police sergeants in charge of major intersections memorized, as to say "this car is this sergeant's and is free to go." Every month, those sergeants receive a bribe so that the car does not get repossessed, a normal occurrence.

So far, even though it's only been a day, Bangladesh has been an incredible learning experience. I've been looking out the window in awe of what's to come and in disappointment of the status quo.

My research deals with institutional questions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since it's been a universal experience, it feels moot to come all the way here to answer questions that people all around the world have been asking; this summer might just serve as a confirmation of the research going on elsewhere. However, the fact of the matter is this project, by merit of being in the field, takes into account everything going on here (like what I wrote above). I've already looked through so many of the papers we'll engage with, to use their lessons and to build on them.

This year's project is quite different, starting from the fact that rather than working from Broadway Hall at 114th and Broadway, I'll be working out of the Brac Institute of Governance and Development in Mohakhali, Dhaka. Nevertheless, there are many lessons from last summer that have come in handy this summer. Policy questions comes up with both projects, so I'll be able to use the same resources I relied upon last year this year as well. Additionally, I have an incredible amount of support this year in the field, from BIGD to American graduate students and my PI.

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
3 months ago

Hi Rizwan! 

Wow! Your project is so cool! 

I really enjoyed your discussion of infrastructure in Bangladesh. I feel like someone can learn alot about a city by considering the existing and in-progress infrastructure about wealth inequality etc. 

Looking forward to hearing more about your work! 

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
3 months ago

Week #1:

Setting out on a research endeavor fresh of the semester is at once exciting and frightening. While in the semester tests, assignments, grades, etc. provide clear feedback, research is often different. The goals are looser, the methods vaguer. The process becomes, by far, more intriguing, however the theoretical end appears inexistent—this is the slightly daunting part. As a researcher, I hope to use this to my advantage. As the questions research poses are themselves uncertain, it is fitting the process and goals might be as well.

This past summer I worked in a basic Biology lab studying the molecular underpinnings of Mitochondria—the infamous powerhouse of the cell. This work strictly focused of discovering more about these organelles. While there are evident real-world implications (such as treatment of Parkinson’s disease or neurodegeneration), this was not the intent; my work was towards the pursuit of knowledge. This coming summer my project will similarly be focusing on this goal, but from another angle.

This summer I will be working with Professor David Helfand and other faculty at Columbia College to develop a Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) that will be disseminated to as many people as possible. This course will be geared towards those who don’t work in a lab and are not actively engaged in the scientific process. As its name implies,  this course will be for the masses. Its goal will be to teach basic “scientific habits of mind” (as in Frontiers in Science at Columbia) and methods of inquiry. I am intrigued to work on this project as it represents another, often overshadowed, aspect of science: communication. As knowledge is only useful when it is shared, scientific communication is essential.

This past summer my work also focused on developing techniques that scientists can utilize to further investigate mitochondria. This coming summer I will be working to develop tools that everyday people can use to develop skills and knowledge of science. As these projects both focused on the pursuit of knowledge, they equally share the development of skills.

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
3 months ago

Hi Avi! It’s really exciting to hear about the project you will be pursuing, especially in contrast to what you were working on last year. I definitely agree that communication is a necessary component of knowledge production, and really appreciate what you said about scientific knowledge only being useful if it is shared—I feel like that’s true of all disciplines that involve some kind of technical jargon or background. I hope that the project you are working on successfully engages individuals that do not have formal lab experience and/or do not have a super rigorous scientific training, as it sounds like a great way to expand the accessibility and reach of a discipline you are already interested in. 

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
3 months ago

As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

My project this summer is a remote internship at ACLU California Action, where I am working with lobbyists, organizers, and legislative staff to support or oppose state bills based on a civil rights and civil liberties approach. Given that I am the only undergraduate working in the office, I definitely have some worries about not being able to productively contribute to the conversation. This week, I have found myself asking more questions to lobbyists than progressing on assignments, particularly when it comes to legal jargon or background knowledge on bills.

One thing that helped me is expressing these worries with the experienced lobbyists at the office, who reassured me that I was selected not to provide legal or policy expertise, but to provide additional perspective on the issue areas being discussed (e.g., reproductive justice and criminal justice). Even if the main points have already been covered by past lobbyists and organizers, the way I communicate that information and the specific experiences I have had that might be implicated in the policies being discussed could still be valuable.

I also plan to use this opportunity as a chance to get a lot of feedback on how I understand and engage with legal and policy issues; given that I am coming from a place of inexperience, I think it will be a good opportunity for me to follow up with the lobbyists I’m working with to check in on whether my method (whether research, writing, advocacy, or presentation related) is the best way to approach the issue at hand. I also think I will learn a lot from working with other activists and coalition partners, many of whom are directly affected by the policy issues, and plan to actively listen and ask questions in meetings with them.

While my initial approach is far from perfect, I think it could be an example of how researchers and volunteers can overcome (or even work with) these worries. 

Go to the profile of Faith Andrews-O'Neal
3 months ago

Hi Joanne,

First of all, the work you're doing is so amazing and needed especially now with so many life or death policy issues being at the forefront of the American conversation! Your perspective as a young person in that office is so needed because our voices are often not heard nearly enough in that space. The idea of learning as you go is something I have also come into contact with in different environments and can be disheartening at times, but it sounds like you're surrounded by a really inspiring group of people who value your voice and want to see you learn and grow into your position. Good luck! 

Go to the profile of Roberta Hannah
3 months ago

If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how?  If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

This year, I will be working a Destination Tomorrow, a Black LGBTQ+ organization in the Bronx. While I did a research project last year, the educational, economic, and health disparities uncovered in my research last summer motivated this transition into the grassroots world. With Dr. Moore, I work on In the Shadow of Sexuality: Social Histories of African American Lesbian and Gay Elders, 1950-1979. That book project was a rewriting of the previous narratives of what Black LGBTQ+ life encompasses and entails. Through those six weeks, my work highlighted the challenges one faces at the intersection of race and sexuality inequality. Many of the respondents reported high rates of unemployment and mental health difficulties due to inaccessibility to proper academic and health resources and educations. My work made it impossible to ignore the challenges facing the Black LGBTQ+ community. With this, I decided to dedicate my summer working in the queer Black Mecca, the Bronx. The heart of ballroom, activism, and culture, New York City is where the community’s heart is. Destination Tomorrow works to empower all of its clients and students to further develop their community. We provide academic assistance, career development, and health referrals. I hope that the work I do this summer will work to alleviate the gaps I found previously.

Go to the profile of Adina Cazacu-De Luca
3 months ago

Hi Roberta, 

Destination Tomorrow is such a cool organization doing important work, and I'm excited for you! I'm curious as your time with the organization goes on to hear about what are the major obstacles and issues the organization faces. Working with a public health organization in Spain, I am also thinking about ways organizations do the work of community empowerment. Here, emphasis is focused on preventative medicine and communication...for example, disseminating information about health and building patient support groups so that individuals feel informed and empowered to protect their own health. I wonder how Destination Tomorrow balances their educational arm with more action-based projects (SWITCH housing, healthcare clinics, etc). Good luck with your work, and we'll talk soon!

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
3 months ago

Week Two:

Does your research incorporate any outside participation, such as interviews or ethnographic observation? If so, how do you plan on approaching research participants or spaces in an effective and, most importantly, ethical manner?  If you are not conducting ethnographic research, what communities do you engage in your research, and how have they informed your project?

A topic that I have been reading alot about is Marshallese diaspora and have been reading interviews from Marshallese elders and also trying to find Marshallese music as an additional source for my project. 

How do you find your own self coming through in your research, if it all? Is your project more suited towards the invisibility of the researcher, or is it a project that would benefit from the researcher being more present (whatever ‘present’ means)?

I would say invisibility of the researcher is better in my case since I am not a member of the community which I am researching. As I have been reading about in the book How to Hide an Empire: History of the Greater United States, racism deeply influenced the U.S.'s relationship with its "overseas territories" which it treated as colonies through exploiting the local resources and geography of small, isolated regions. This was definitely the case in the Marshall Islands as the U.S. established military presence and segregated the island, causing deep community harm even before irrevocably decimating and then contaminating the region through nuclear testing. 

It was really interesting for me to read more about the history of the colonization of the Marshall Islands, which interestingly started with German colonization then Japanese and then American after Japan was defeated in WW2.  

If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

The last part of my project is going to be more community-oriented. I will be helping create an exhibit about the Marshallese diaspora. I have been trying to look for advice/read about how to sensitively learn about/discuss experiences of a different community. Ultimately, I try to rely on the perspective of the Marshallese community throughout my research. I've also been brainstorming ways to acknowledge the impact of racism in my study and inform myself on Marshallese local community practices/philosophies etc. 

There's still a lot of work for my project and I'm excited to continue learning. 

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 2 months ago

Hi Anna! Your project sounds so interesting. I am especially excited about your exhibit idea, and I am glad that you are looking for advice/reading about how to sensitively discuss the experiences of a different community. As someone really interested in museum ethics, I think relying on the perspectives of the Marshallese community and elevating Marshallese voices rather than speaking over them is an excellent way to make sure your exhibition is as ethical as possible. I definitely recommend looking into famous past museum exhibitions that have tackled this same issue (there are plenty of examples of exactly what NOT to do!). Furthermore, learning about Marshallese culture and practice is definitely a great way to check your prejudices. I hope everything is going well and that my advice is still useful whatever stage of your project you are on (given this was posted 4 weeks ago). 

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
13 days ago

Hey Jacqueline! 

Thanks so much for the curation advice! I notice your page says you have an interest in museum curation. I would love to connect with you to get some advice on my work with the Marshallese exhibit. Would it be ok if I messaged you here or emailed you? 

Thank you!

Anna 

Go to the profile of Suan Lee
3 months ago

Week 1

I'll begin by introducing my project: this summer, I am working with an oral historian and playwright in London to collect the oral histories of delivery workers that we will then use to write a verbatim play for the stage. I arrived in London last Friday—hard to believe I've only been here for a week! So much has happened already. In the week leading up to my departure, I attended a virtual course on writing oral history-based plays, taught by my mentor in conjunction with the Oral History Society. Tragically, these four-hour Zooms began at 4 in the morning because they were on London time. I expected it to be a bit of a torment (and did, in fact, consume an ungodly amount of coffee this particular week), but the discussions and exercises were truly so interesting that I had to pinch myself awake only once!

On Friday, my mentor picked me up from Heathrow and we drove to his house for some coffee, a delicious omelet, and our first in-person chat about the project. The original plan had been for my mentor to get started on collecting oral histories two or so months before my arrival, but he elaborated now on his earlier email to me calling this the most difficult project of his forty-year career. The main problem, he explained, was that the interviewees simply weren't turning up. He'd set a time and place with fourteen different delivery workers—only one had showed up. Others had declined from the get-go. Part of this had to do with the nature of delivery work itself: because it's a gig-based job, every hour of the day we requested from them was an hour they lost of potential gigs. Even if the delivery worker was willing to make this trade, their schedule was so unpredictable that they often couldn't make the time they'd committed to when the day actually arrived. The other major component, though, was that the delivery workers my mentor approached simply didn't trust him. My mentor is white, in his 70s, and sounds like the Cambridge-educated man he is. Most of the people we want to interview are of color, immigrants (some likely undocumented), and perhaps not fluent in English. As my mentor put it, they see him as a face of "the establishment." My mentor explained, then, that I might be part of the solution, which excited me because it truly means this project is a partnership: I am the mentee, yes, but I also have skills, advantages, and insights that are distinctly my own to offer.

On Tuesday, I attended another course, this one full-day and in-person at the British Library, also taught by my mentor. (I'd quickly like to add that I was the only university student in both this course and last week's, which has actually been a privilege because I got to meet professionals from various fields who all want to incorporate oral history into their work and, incidentally, were eager to meet the one young person in the room!) This course gave me a broader introduction to the oral history discipline as a whole and, more pertinently, made me realize that interviewing for this project was going to be far more difficult than I'd expected. I developed the suspicion (and indeed, had this suspicion confirmed when I interviewed my mentor for practice the next day) that my experience in journalism wasn't necessarily an asset—in fact, it could even be seen as a burden because I now had to unlearn all the journalistic interviewing habits I'd picked up over four years. (Who would've thought oral history interviewing was so disparate a practice?) Still, learning about the unique technical and ethnical intricacies of oral history has already been just as fascinating as I'd hoped it would be when I first cold-emailed my mentor about working with him, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see how the rest of the summer unfolds. My last update of the week is that I finally got the green light to go out and scout interviewees of my own, so I walked around an unofficial delivery worker rest spot near the Stratford Westfield mall today and was able to schedule five interviews for Monday. I did jot down phone numbers so I'm planning to call each interviewee the night before to confirm, but only time will tell if the story turns out differently for me than it has for my mentor. 

Final note: I am actually working on my project for ten weeks, all the way through to the end of July. Since I have more time I'll be spacing out my posts a bit more, so bear with me if I skip a week or two—I haven't forgotten!

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
3 months ago

Hi Suan! First off, I just wanted to express how exciting and interesting this project is! I really like that you get to blend creative elements with historical analysis, and also that you have the opportunity to be the sole undergraduate voice in the room—that's very exciting. I was most interested by the point you made regarding how you, despite being the mentee, can bring unique insights into your role because of the disparity that often exists between academics and the individuals they are engaging with. Even though these academic disciplines have been around for (what feels like) forever, it's really interesting and exciting to think about how a lot of them are at a critical turning point, and how, even as students, we can contribute to breaking down their previously monolithic composition. I wish you luck with navigating this project (and with working on interviews of your own)!

Go to the profile of Ava Sanjabi
about 2 months ago

Suan, 

Your oral history project sounds like such an intriguing topic; I am glad you are coming up with ways to overcome the challenges of arranging meeting times. I hope you have better luck with interviewees, as you can bring a fresh perspective into the situation. Perhaps, you could try having discussions over meals? Instead of taking from potential gig time, you could use the fact that everyone has to eat to your advantage!

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 2 months ago

Suan, this sounds like such a cool project! I really admire your cold-emailing a mentor and diving into work unlike you've ever done before for 10 weeks. It sounds like a really rewarding experience. 

I think it's interesting what you said about journalistic interviewing practices being quite different from oral history ones and how that will sometimes backfire on you. I never would have guessed this would be the case, and I'm curious to learn how the two are different. Hopefully the challenge of shifting your strategy will make you an even better interviewer, as it will make you think deeply about each question you ask and how you ask it.

Go to the profile of Jeffrey Xiong
3 months ago

Week 1:

As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how?  If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

In an unexpected turn of events my work with Laidlaw began early! This summer I am working in conjunction with the MetaConscious Lab at MIT and Queer in AI to develop a set of standards of use for Artificial Neural Networks, a particular subdivision of biologically-inspired Artificial Intelligence. Although the field itself diverges greatly from my previous summer's work with trans and nonbinary Chinese-American oral histories, the methods, approaches, and considerations I am using on the day-to-day are heavily inspired by my experiences from the previous summer. This summer's work builds upon models of intersectionality I explored last summer and analyzing how emerging models of artificial intelligence can induce harm through examples from oral histories. I also hope to get back into more oral histories this summer to build better resistance models!

Ironically, in some sense, this week I focused almost entirely on what has already been said. I don't have much familiarity with Artificial Neural Networks so this week was a lot of practicing, listening, and learning how they work and talking to people at Queer in AI to learn about their own experiences with them. From here, I anticipate using this as a launching point to get into the more grounded sociological work analyzing particular models that are common and how queer resistance can foment against them.

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
3 months ago

Hey Jeffrey! 

What an amazing project. I'm really interested to learn more about the connection between gender biases and AI and about how you and others are brainstorming for AI models that don't perpetuate/lead to gender/ethnicity/sexuality discrimination/categorization. Keep up the good work!

Go to the profile of Faith Andrews-O'Neal
3 months ago

Week one: As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

Hi everyone! My name is Faith Andrews-O'Neal. This summer, I am working with Serve the City Paris, a legal NGO in the city doing work helping refugees and unhoused people in Paris. I am working with the organization as a SAVE intern, which means volunteering and attending workshops as well as developing a capstone project (in my case, two or three because I can't pick one!) over the course of your internship. 

The idea of saying something that has already been said is of particular interest to me, as my hope in the development of a capstone project is something both original and impactful for a community I do not know much about. This is why I asked if it was an option to take on more than one, as the issues that I care about do not particularly intersect, and the project they recommended for me did not seem to say/do anything more than what has been done. For my first project, I am leading a workshop for other volunteers on the ideas of formations of racial identity within our respective countries. While I only have a larger body of knowledge of the ideas of race in America, I want to facilitate an open space for discussion of identity on a global scale. I am certainly not the first person to discuss this, but I am hoping that for volunteers (particularly those who are not American), I can bring about new viewpoints and a discussion with different perspectives than what they may have previously encountered. 

What I am coming to learn through my volunteer work and the work I am doing for my capstone is that it is okay if you are not the first person to bring an idea to the table. In fact, the communities we serve benefit so much more from consistency and continuation than constant inundations of new concepts. Every tuesday, friday, and Saturday, Serve the City distributes food to four to six of the same routes and to the homeless encampments in these areas. As such, although we are not the first person to bring them food that week or even that day, coming back and doing the same things over and over allow the volunteers to develop long term relationships with the communities we serve. I am able to discuss literature and gardening, and see the ways in which people make lives for themselves in spite of their situations. It's not the novelty that makes the work worth doing, but the recognition and acknowledgement that this sameness does much more service.

Go to the profile of Ariella Lang
3 months ago

Hi Faith, I am so glad to hear that you've begun engaging with this project / organization, and I can't wait to hear more! 

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
2 months ago

Hi Faith! I really relate to what you're saying about knowing a lot about a topic in the context of the United States but feeling a bit ignorant about what that might look like in a new country. I'm in a super similar boat as I study Indigenous topics a lot, but that's less of a topic in the UK. I also like your sentiment about how being new isn't always the top concern. I think in a lot of ways choosing a topic that has been done before, but bringing our "new" perspectives as people from another country and with a different background can be really valuable. I also think while we might not currently know as much about the local social/racial issues, there are and will continue to be surprisingly many similarities. 

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 2 months ago

Hi Faith! Your first capstone project sounds amazing. As we are both in Paris, I totally understand what you mean about how perspectives differ from America to France. Although I am working in a largely American institution, we have many visitors and speakers from France,  and I often find it interesting to compare my beliefs with them. This cross-cultural exchange is very meaningful and important to me and definitely broadens my understanding of the world. I am sure you will bring (or have brought as you posted this three weeks ago) new viewpoints to the audience of your project!

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
3 months ago

Week One:
As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage? If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how? If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

This summer, I'm volunteering at the Planetarium in Modena, Italy. Before arriving in Italy, I wasn't quite sure what my work would entail. Once I arrived, the planetarium director gave me a very meticulous agenda for my daily activities and how I can help, even as an American who does not speak Italian well. To my surprise, the planetarium is not well funded - it operates with only one paid employee, and the rest of my coworkers are volunteers who put in immense time and effort to make the planetarium run smoothly. 

Each week, the planetarium has a few activities for classes of children on school trips. During my first week, all these activities were organized by my coworkers. During my six weeks, I designed curriculum for several events: a lecture about exoplanets and James Webb Space Telescope, a lecture about black holes (related to the research I did last summer), an activity for children about light and colors, and an observation for the planetary conjunction on June 24th. This week, I helped set up the events, clean, and answer basic questions during each event, but my Italian is still a work in progress! My biggest insecurity is definitely the language barrier. I've never taken a formal Italian class, and have needed to learn quickly because Modena is not a popular city for English speakers. Students learn English in high school, but many adults who work in restaurants, stores, etc. or who attend lectures at the planetarium didn't learn English when they were in high school. 

At the end of this week, I will give my first lecture. I've prepared a slideshow and a script in Italian, and will read from the script. I've found myself wondering about my credentials as a lecturer, because I am (of course) less experienced speaking in Italian than everyone else. I also worried that the topics of my lectures may have already been covered sometime in the past. However, I've realized this past week that any way I can help in the planetarium, even with simple tasks organizing/cleaning, is appreciated. I've also been going into high schools with the planetarium director, who works as a teacher of Engineering, and have advertised my lectures to the high school students. Many showed interest in the events, which was very encouraging. Lastly, I learned that the people here, including my coworkers, really value the opportunity to practice speaking English with me because they all want to improve their English. One of my coworkers studies astrophysics in Bologna, and all of his physics courses are taught in English. 

Last summer, I worked on a programming-based project searching for black hole mergers using data from an X-ray telescope. Though I enjoyed this work, I was eager to switch gears this summer to science communication. Last summer, I learned how to explain my project to audiences of different levels, and how to be adaptive with my explanations. I hope to apply these skills in the planetarium this summer, and teach both students and adults in a way that is engaging. 

Go to the profile of Adina Cazacu-De Luca
3 months ago

Hi Nicole, 

It's so impressive that you, in this short amount of time, have learned enough Italian to give a lecture (and I enjoy seeing your Duolingo level updates)! I have definitely also felt the challenge of the language barrier––Andalusian Spanish is a different dialect than the Latin American Spanish I grew up with, and while I can make myself understood, I sometimes worry that any grammatical mistakes I make reduce my credibility as a researcher and student. Your insight about the ways to help (organizing/cleaning) stuck with me. There are clearly other ways of communicating commitment and service beyond language. I will keep this in mind in the coming weeks. Also, I'd love to hear more about the planetarium's funding...what are its funding sources? How does the Italian government prioritize education and research efforts (have you gotten a sense of this from conversations with your colleagues)? Good luck with everything, and we'll talk soon!

Go to the profile of Adina Cazacu-De Luca
3 months ago

Week 1:

If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how?  If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

Hi everyone! This summer, I'm working with researchers at the Andalusian School of Public Health on three projects. First, I'm translating scientific manuscripts from Spanish into English to reach a broader audience. Second, I'm geocoding the addresses of an epidemiological cohort (looking at social/environmental factors causing cancer) in Granada, Spain. This cohort is part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, which is one of the largest studies in the world with over half a million participants from across Europe. Geocoding is the process of putting coordinates to an individual's street address. With this information, we can investigate spatial factors (such as air pollution, surface temperature, traffic congestion, and so much more) and their role in causing disease. Third, I'm observing a program called the School of Patients, where people successfully managing chronic illnesses lead patient support groups to guide other people through the day-to-day emotional experience of living with illness. I am observing the formation of a school of patients for parents of children with cancer, and so far parents have discussed how to lead discussions with other parents and shared advice on how to stay strong, handle the emotional burden of caring for a sick child, as well as tips and tricks for daily tasks (for example: smoothie recipes for getting your child to eat when they're not hungry). The goal of this observation is to work with Columbia's medical center to start a similar program. 

Last summer, I looked at spatial variation in lead contamination and air pollution in New York City parks, which is most similar to the second part of my current project. I learned from that project that I'm interested in investigating how environmental exposures affect people, and I've adjusted my research questions accordingly. That said, directly interacting with patients (or parents of patients) requires a different toolset than more straightforward data analysis. Through our leadership workshops, I learned the importance of leading from behind and within, and those forms of leadership have been the most useful in my present work. Moreover, everything is in Spanish! Learning medical and scientific vocabulary has been a challenge, but I also learned from last summer to see temporary setbacks less as a sign of failure or shortcoming, and more as an opportunity for growth (I know, how trite). 

I'm excited for this journey and to hear what y'all are up to!

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
3 months ago

Hi Adina! Hope your research is going well, I really enjoyed reading about what you are up to.

I think your focus on environmental exposure's impacts specifically upon people is really important. As a cancer survivor myself, I appreciate how your work is centered on patient wellbeing and emotional support for impacted families, which can unfortunately be overlooked. Good luck with everything! 

Go to the profile of Adina Cazacu-De Luca
3 months ago

Week 2: If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

So far, I have been a fly on the wall. The workshops I have observed are led by patients, with clinical and medical professionals present to moderate and answer questions if asked. That said, since the workshops focus on patient's daily lives and emotional experience, the medical professionals also don't speak often. My interaction involves introducing myself at the beginning of the workshop, explaining that I'm a student hoping to start a similar program in New York, and thanking the patients for allowing me to be there. We connect with each other by sharing about our families, hobbies, and passions in our introductions, and after the workshop, I talk with parents about what books they've been reading recently or their favorite vacation. Our common cause is creating a space for solidarity and support: the parents in this lesson for workshop leaders will go on to create their own support groups in different cities across Spain, and each aims to make the process easier for other parents than it was for them. These parents are rockstars. They are strong, positive, and radically open and genuine. I appreciate their openness, and I try my best to reciprocate their energy (usually through body language/giving signals of active listening). 

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
3 months ago

HI Adina! Although only on the wall for now, that sounds like perhaps the most interesting fly to be! The combination of all your projects is highly intriguing. I am really curious to hear if any of your projects overlap in unexpected ways. In addition, I am really interested in how treatment of chronic illness is different around the world. I am sure the future prospects of bringing this kind of program back to New York—a very different place indeed— will be highly interesting and fruitful. I am looking forward to hearing more about it!

Go to the profile of Ava Sanjabi
about 2 months ago

Adina, 

I love the way you are learning from example! By first observing the patient, professional, and parent interactions, I think you are able to gain a greater understanding of the dynamics so you can apply them in NYC. Excited to hear more about your project.

Go to the profile of Adina Cazacu-De Luca
3 months ago

Week 3: What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

7:30 am: I wake up and head to the panadería below my apartment to get a spinach empanada. I put on a pot of coffee, eat breakfast, and get ready. 

8 am: I walk to the Andalusian School of Public Health (about 15 minutes). Siesta is respected here, so the work day goes from around 8 am- 3 pm, when the heat makes it hard to do anything other than take a nap. I'll start on data analysis, geocoding, or translation tasks. I work in a large room with ~5 other scientists, and we'll go back and forth on ideas (about coding, experimental design, etc). 

12-2 pm: School of Patients workshop! (See previous week for description).

2 pm: more public health research tasks :)

3 pm: I walk back to my apartment, stopping at a restaurant in Plaza Larga for a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice. It's siesta time. 

5 pm: Another school of patients workshop! The evening workshops are usually led by a medical professional or patient and are more lecture/presentation style. Past workshops have included: Nutritional recommendations for patients chronic renal disease, information on multiple sclerosis, nutrition and Alzheimers, and a public debate between political candidates of various parties on their public health agendas. 

8 pm: I eat dinner with friends I've made around Granada, and afterwards we might go to a flamenco concert or to an overlook with views of the Alhambra where guitarists play late into the night. 

(I am not sure how to add pictures but as soon as I figure it out I will edit this post!)

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
3 months ago

Hi Adina! This schedule sounds so fun! It's amazing to see how your day seems to be colored with diverse experiences that range from conducting research (whether that's technical or high-level tasks), to grabbing delicious-sounding food, listening to interesting workshops (the political debates are a cool addition to the line up), and even a variety of late-night activities. I'll look forward to seeing some pictures!

P.S. Reading this post makes me think that America should also respect the siesta. Post-lunch / afternoon slump is no joke!

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 1 month ago

Hi Adina, wow this sounds like such a busy day! Like Dennis, I'm very impressed by how you manage to include a mix of public health work and cultural experiences, and I think the siesta is the funniest thing. Do you notice people coming back more energized in the afternoon, or is it a bit of a limbo time between siesta and finishing work for the day?

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
3 months ago

Week One:

Hello! My name is Neely and I am planning to focus on urban sustainability infrastructure in Brussels, Belgium. 

This week, I arrived in Brussels and began my work with the urban geography department at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (referred to as VUB). It has been incredibly interesting and fun to get used to a new city - especially through the lens of urban research and community planning. Here, as a newcomer to an entirely new city, it is important to make sure I engage with my surroundings and local project in a respectful and informed way. Given the amount of urban sustainability research occurring in Belgium (and particularly at the university I am working with), I hope to create a nuanced and well-researched project that works with - rather than overlaps or conflicts with - initiatives already occurring. 

This week, I have really enjoyed learning about the work from other researchers within the department, which has certainly helped me get a better sense of the Brussels community as I acclimate to my surroundings. In comparison to my previous summer with Laidlaw - which was actually during summer 2020 as I deferred my research last summer to now - it has been interesting to engage with a city that I am completely new to. My previous environmental policy focus has been helpful as I look at urban sustainability and greenspace in Brussels; I have enjoyed comparing Belgian versus American environmental initiatives. Here, I am eager to apply a narrower focus to specific sustainability projects rather than wide-sweeping policy.

Go to the profile of Ariella Lang
3 months ago

Hi Neely,

Glad to hear you're getting settled in Brussels! I look forward to hearing more about your sustainability project, and what we in NYC can learn from the very different urban context that Brussels represents!

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
2 months ago

Thanks Dean Lang!

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
3 months ago

Week #2:

Does your research incorporate any outside participation, such as interviews or ethnographic observation? If so, how do you plan on approaching research participants or spaces in an effective and, most importantly, ethical manner?  If you are not conducting ethnographic research, what communities do you engage in your research, and how have they informed your project?

My project this summer focuses on reaching people across all communities and backgrounds. Our goal is to design a course that will be geared towards the masses. While we will not be (as of now) working with outside participants, they are nonetheless vital to the success of the project; these communities must inform the project (as it is geared towards them). This also presents a challenge as our target audience is incredibly broad; speaking to a vast crowd with a range of experiences is perhaps the challenge itself. 

How do you find your own self coming through in your research, if at all? Is your project more suited towards the invisibility of the researcher, or is it a project that would benefit from the researcher being more present (whatever ‘present’ means)?

The most enjoyable part of my work so far has been where I get to put my personal interest in Biology to use. This comes through specifically in the biology focused areas of the course we are developing. This week, for example, I was tasked with decoding an article published in a scientific, peer reviewed, journal that was full of jargon and complex analogies. My task in this was to explain, in as few words (and as many pictures) as possible, what the aim, methods and outcome of this work was. For me, this was an interesting leap from the jargon filled work of this past summer and semester. I find it both intriguing and a challenge to write this same information in a radically different manner.

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
3 months ago

Week #1:

For the first half of my undergraduate career, my pursuits have largely been unified by the central thread of a fascination with genetics. This summer, I’m making the transition from exploring genetics as a researcher- to serving those who are vulnerable in the genetics field.

Last summer, I conducted two types of research. As a part of the Laidlaw program, I conducted qualitative bioethics research on precision medicine research, a field that promises to combine genetic, environment, and lifestyle data in personalizing healthcare. Outside of Laidlaw, I conducted basic biology research on CRISPR genome engineering technologies in the Sternberg Lab.

This summer, my goal is to serve the rare genetic disease community through two simultaneous projects- one in-person and one virtual. First, I will be developing virtual support groups for the parents of youth with sickle cell disease (a rare genetic blood condition) through the Cambridge-based non-profit called NextStep. I was inspired to create these support groups through my past experience leading a NextStep program called STRIVE, which mentors youth with sickle cell. In STRIVE, we occasionally host programs called “sickle cell panels” where our program mentees learn from and pose questions to older folks also living with sickle cell. Youth have always remarked how eye-opening these panels have been, so the basic idea was: why not allow the parents of these youth also connect, share resources, and offer support to one another?

In tandem, I will be in-person volunteering at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center in NYC. The TCC offers both long-term and short-term care in the form of a traditional nursing home, sub-acute rehabilitation program, specialty hospital for youth, and, most famously, a dedicated care unit for those with Huntington’s disease (a rare genetic neurodegenerative brain disorder). The latter is where I will be spending the bulk of my time, where I hope to get a better sense of what it is like working in hospice care and, more specifically, caring for those with a rare neurodegenerative disease.

As different as my aforementioned research might appear from my more service-oriented work this summer, one transferable skill (or tool) that I’ll be taking with me is the ability to navigate an inter-disciplinary, highly collaborative setting. Last summer, whether my colleagues specialized in anthropology, data science, or molecular biophysics, drawing on diverse talents, while clearly communicating what our high-level goals were, allowed me to move research projects forward in a quicker, more organized fashion. This summer, I will similarly find myself in multi-disciplinary, collaborative settings filled with recreational therapists, physicians, and non-profit program directors. It will be really important to continue leveraging diverse expertise to further my project goals!

Go to the profile of Jeffrey Xiong
2 months ago

Hi Dennis! This project sounds like a really interesting way to use your research experiences to work with the people behind the genes. Working between STRIVE and TCC sounds really exciting, especially getting a broad range of experiences working with different disorders.

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
2 months ago

Hello, I really enjoyed reading about your work! It sounds incredibly interesting and engaging with both medical research and community advocacy. I'm actually from Cambridge and would love to learn more about NextStep! 

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
3 months ago

If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

Because I'm doing legislative advocacy work, I have found that I do not spend as much time working directly with affected constituents as I expected. However, I've found that I'm able to engage with my community in other, unexpected ways—that, to me, feel like more of a genuine and productive engagement. I have been in a number of coalition calls between the ACLU and on-the-ground community organizers to think of ways to allow legislation to best meet the demands of community members. For example, on a call about California policing practices, I was able to participation in a discussion over a bill that would reduce police presence in CA schools; while the ACLU perspective was more concerned with pushing forward incremental legislation, the community leader perspective emphasized looking for larger and more substantive changes. Through that discussion, I was able to help draft amendments for the bill that would make it more substantive. I have also found that a lot of legislative advocates and attorneys come from communities that are directly affected by ACLU issue areas. For instance, one conversation I had with a staff member at the office revealed that she was brought into immigration advocacy because of her own background as a DACA recipient. Given the expertise that a lot of these community members are bringing into the policy and advocacy space, I have found that the most effective way for me to engage—as someone who does not have a lot of policy expertise—is by listening actively, and by asking questions to bridge the gap between the state capitol and actual, on-the-ground organizers. The common cause I find is a demand for consistency and candidness from state legislators: even though California is seen as a progressive haven, it still has a lot of the campaign finance and lobbying problems that influence progressive lawmakers into pushing for dangerous legislation. It seems, so far, that the advocates are most concerned with making the legislative process more transparent, as that is a prerequisite to ensuring that community members are kept in the loop and just policy is passed. 

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
3 months ago

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

When I first started my project, I definitely focused most of my time on updating myself on current research in general, but I have now expanded my project to meeting with people with scholarly or personal background in the Marshall Islands. In the latter part of the summer, I will be helping my mentor go through a collection of items from the Marshall Islands to help create a community exhibit. 

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
2 months ago

Hi Anna! I'm really intrigued by the community exhibit you mentioned and (based on your previous post) how exactly you plan to weave together different perspectives on nuclear colonialism in the Marshall Islands. I'm also curious about the role that different forms of media (images, videos, documents, text, music) will eventually play in weaving together the different narratives you've mentioned. Excited to see the final product!

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
2 months ago

Hi Anna! Its so great to hear about your project, I hope its going well it sounds fascinating! Good luck with your exhibit, I think that's a nice way to both highlight your work and engage with local efforts/community members - it will be interesting to see what you choose to showcase. 

Go to the profile of Jeffrey Xiong
3 months ago

Week Two:
Does your research incorporate any outside participation, such as interviews or ethnographic observation? If so, how do you plan on approaching research participants or spaces in an effective and, most importantly, ethical manner?  If you are not conducting ethnographic research, what communities do you engage in your research, and how have they informed your project?

A lot has changed over the past week! Originally, I was hoping on conducting interviews in the Boston area with local queer folks, but as I dived deeper into conversations with my mentors, I think I want to situate this project less on local queer experiences and more broadly on queer experiences interacting between tech developers and creators (since that is the general focus of Queer in AI and I am getting more direction there). I think this is a cleaner and more directed goal with regards to developing standards of use for artificial neural networks.

How do you find your own self coming through in your research, if it all? Is your project more suited towards the invisibility of the researcher, or is it a project that would benefit from the researcher being more present (whatever ‘present’ means)?

This question is a bit challenging to tackle. The invisibility of the researcher (me!) is in some ways ideal, in some ways impossible; in some ways undesirable, in some ways inevitable. The end product of this summer's work is invariably biased by my own experiences in tech, the particular fields and methods I'm interested in, and my own negotiations with identity. This is good to recognize. This also allows me to provide my own ontological perspective of how artificial neural networks ought to be used and endows the standard of use with a deeper understanding of one particular position than a truly invisible paper would. Yet this may also blind the final result to all other positions from which I could have spoken. This is why collaboration with others is key and I'm hoping to ask my mentors for advice in this.

Go to the profile of Roberta Hannah
3 months ago

Hi Jeffrey!

I definitely feel your project shift! I am currently building the curriculum for our financial literacy program that we hope to start and I realized that while I wanted to think in terms of purely New York, it would be more efficient to think of the global, or at least national, queer community. This meant redoing a lot of the statistical and research work I had done, but it does give a more clear path that can then be specified. I am not in the tech world, but I wish you the absolute best and I hope we can talk soon!

Go to the profile of Roberta Hannah
3 months ago

Week 2: If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

For my project, I work within the resource clinic that we have. This requires a lot of interaction with Black LGBTQIA people within New York City. Often times when they come in, they are looking for career and financial assistance so I have to assist with resumes, contacting food banks, etc. In my interactions with our clients, I find myself learning a lot about their lives. They all have lived very full lives and while I help them, we exchange gossip, life stories, and advice. It is extremely refreshing to be able to converse with people outside of my own generation, background, or university. They often ask me how I stay on track, which is interesting given that I am only 20 and still learning about the world, but I realize we have that in common. The intense oppression they face often set many of them back and in the same way I am learning how to navigate as a queer Black woman, they are also. We are all just trying to make our way as unscathed as possible. 

Go to the profile of Faith Andrews-O'Neal
2 months ago

I am working with an NGO in Paris and the communities I work with most closely are the homeless people within the center of the city, during our three weekly food distributions. Mostly, our conversations stem around how we can best help them, whether that is finding out what food they would like to eat, or what articles of clothing they would like if some are available. However, sometimes when people are in good spirits, we will talk about what brought them to France (as most people have come from other countries), as well as their lives and interests in general. For example, one of the distribution routes involves going through an encampment where a lot of people have lived for over a year, and have accumulated libraries full of books, and gardens by the river or little collectible items they stack on the wall. People, especially those who may not face the same level of harsh policing as homeless communities face in New York for example, are able to create lives for themselves in spite of a difficult situation. When they are willing to share parts of those lives with us, that makes the day even better. 

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
2 months ago

Hi Faith! Your project sounds super interesting and a really unconventional but enriching way to explore the city and the multitude of communities it contains. Sadly, I find it pretty difficult to imagine homeless communities that have been relatively protected from high levels of policing, but it's relieving to hear that a lot of people in France have managed to create lives for themselves that are not overly defined by violence and aggression. I hope that throughout your time at the NGO, you're able to have lots of really meaningful and edifying experiences with members of the community, just like you described.

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
2 months ago

Week #2:

One of my projects this summer is to connect with the parents of youth with sickle cell disease (on behalf of a nonprofit called NextStep) and solicit feedback on what type of programming we could offer that would best serve them. While I have yet to talk to these parents this summer, I have done so previously over the past two academic years. As the student leader of a NextStep-associated mentorship organization for youth with sickle cell called STRIVE, we frequently speak with parents to generally check in, answer questions, and ensure that we’re meeting their needs and expectations. Typically, we connect over phone (especially since the parents are often working and would likely be difficult to reach in-person). The parents have always been enthusiastic about the work we do at STRIVE, and I'm excited to connect soon!

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
2 months ago

Hi Dennis! Your work sounds incredibly interesting and impactful. I am sure it is intriguing to go from a student leader in NextStep to your work this summer with STRIVE and developing support groups. In addition, it is really interesting to see how your work aligns with your research interests. Thinking about genetics as a basic biologic pursuit and something that affects countless people's lives. Looking forward to hearing where it takes you!

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
2 months ago

Week #3:

A typical day of my research begins with a run in Riverside Park. Although not inherently connected to my work, I find this helps me focus through the rest of the day as I continue my work. As I settle into my dorm, the library, or any place I find myself at work that day, I always begin ensuring I am up to date on the literature I will be pursuing that day. From here, I quickly transition to the nuts and bolts of course development. From sourcing data and figures, to figuring out ways of presenting material, the rest of my day usually aligns along these lines. While not flashy, I have come to learn that developing a course is, at times, about effort and work. While it doesn’t always appear complex, the simple lessons and ideas presented in classroom are more often than not highly researched, sourced and articulated. A typical day for me has not only been about developing this backbone but learning the structure behind it.

Go to the profile of Roberta Hannah
2 months ago

Hey Avi! I definitely relate. I didn't realize how much thinking goes into developing a course until I had to do it. Funny enough, I didn't realize how well you had to understand the material before teaching it. When it came to making the financial literacy materials, I thought I would be fine just making budget templates and whatnot, but so much research and intention has to go into directions, instructional materials, and the handouts. Hopefully, we both can get our teaching certifications by the end of this haha, but I wish you the best.

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
2 months ago

Week Two:

Seeing as my project mainly consists of mapping Brussels or using local geography-based data, it is interesting to examine a researcher’s personal impact upon their own conclusions. Here, how can maps—which may seem (on a surface level) quite unbiased or simple—actually reflect larger issues or biases given their creation or framing? While my data, at least in its earlier stages, is less ethnographic or qualitative, I must focus on how to respectively interact with a community I am completely new to. As I am at a university working with researchers both from the Brussels area and also very new to it, it is important to consider the relationship between academia and the communities it intends to serve. Here, I am interested to see to what degree this dynamic is different from previous work in New York. Interestingly, last night, I went to a cafe with some of my coworkers and one of them mentioned how she hosted an outreach event there for her PhD research. As I am so used to hearing about online surveys or data collection, it was nice to hear about how events like that can engage with the local community  in less formal and potentially more accessible ways. 

Given my position as an American visiting Brussels for only six weeks, I think it is important to consider my own newness to the subject matter. As I hone in on my research and potential public-facing parts of my project, I am not sure to what degree I should include myself or my position—this is an interesting question for a project like Laidlaw which can be so flexible. As I continue to immerse myself in the Brussels area and examine its built environment for my project, I am excited to see how much my own position both challenges or enhances my own conclusions as I coming from an entirely different perspective.

Go to the profile of Roberta Hannah
2 months ago

My typical day includes going into the office at 12. I wake up around 7:30-8 and just do nonsense until then. Normally, I chat the receptionist James when I first get in because he is the "wise old owl" of the organization. He usually comments about the show he's watching and the events we have coming up. I will then go into our computer lab where my desk is and where clients can come in to do work or get assistance with something. I have done less tutoring in these first few weeks as I have been working on our financial literacy program. That project has been taking up most of my day, but around 3:00 pm, we have clients start to come in more. We usually have small conversations about their days and they'll give me advice as the youngest in the office, but it's always really insightful. I finish up around 6:00 pm and head back to campus. 

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
2 months ago

Week #3

Because my work is so closely connected to the California Legislature's schedule, each day is pretty fast-paced and somewhat unpredictable. Usually, I have 2-3 coalition meetings, where the ACLU collaborates with other organizations in similar issue areas to decide positions on legislature (and gaps in the current laws). Today, for example, I was in a privacy coalition meeting that involved the ACLU lobbyist, as well as lobbyists and lawyers from several other privacy-centered organizations, to discuss state bills that were potentially threatening consumer privacy. The rest of the day is spent working on any number of assignments, including letters to legislators, analyses of bills and amendments, drafting bills themselves (which, I admit, is probably the coolest and most intimidating assignment I've received), or doing research on public policy issues. Notably, I've had the opportunity to do a research project on current laws and how they impact the rights of California transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex individuals. I also participate in internal ACLU meetings that discuss strategy for different issue areas and how we might approach particular pieces of legislation.

Because my work is primarily online, my picture isn't super interesting, but it shows me working with a website I've gotten very familiar with—leg info, a bill/law tracker for all California bills and chaptered laws. 

Image Attached Here

Go to the profile of Luiza Diniz Vilanova
2 months ago

WEEK ONE: 

This week I started my work in Mexico City. Many insecurities arise when working in a foreign country, especially as a woman. Although I come from a Latin America, Mexico is surprising me concerning street harassment. Even though the city trying to prevent this from happening (e.g by having all-female train cars), the problem continues to be prevalent--even more so in neighborhoods with fewer tourists. 

My work at Auna Organization as of this first week was to translate their website to both Portuguese and English. This coming week my main project will begin: I will be responsible for creating a novel program inside the organization to support women who were already elected to office across Mexico. First, understanding what are the main challenges they experience to later create an experience that will enable them to achieve their fullest potential. This will be different from my last project because I studied the process politicians go through before getting elected and now I will further explore the issues women face while in office. 

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
2 months ago

Week 2: If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

Apologies for the late posts! Last week, I presented my first conference in Italian about planets and exoplanets. This has been my biggest interaction with the community so far, and I'm happy that everything went smoothly. It was exciting to plan a slideshow with images and videos to explain difficult scientific concepts to the general public, such as tidal locking of a planet or the sideways rotation of Uranus, which they found fascinating. Last Sunday, I organized curriculum for an event for families/children to learn about colors and light, then construct their own spectroscopes to look at different sources of light. I have another conference planned about black holes, along with an observation through a telescope of M87, the galaxy where the first black hole was photographed! I've been having a lot of conversations with children who are curious about science, and I've found that my lower level of the language actually helps make my explanations more accessible to young children. I've found a common cause with all my coworkers at the planetarium in that we are all trying to make science more engaging and accessible for the community. 

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
about 2 months ago

Hey Nicole! That sounds so awesome, while I know almost nothing about planets it all sounds very intriguing. It's really cool how knowing comparatively less can actually be an asset and how you're able to better communicate with children. 

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
2 months ago

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

I typically wake up around 7:30, get ready and pack lunch, and ride my bike to the planetarium by 9. About three times a week, a class of students from the area takes a field trip to the planetarium for a lesson. First, they're given a presentation in the dome, which offers a projection of the night sky and an explanation of the movements of planets and moons solar system, the Earth's rotation/revolution, and the constellations. One of my coworkers leads this presentation. Afterward is a lab, which is typically an arts & crafts project related to the planets or constellations, which I help to set up, assist during, and clean up. My Italian level is luckily good enough to communicate with younger children about the project! When I'm not doing this, sometimes I've gone in to a local high school to speak in their English classes about university life in the U.S., and to help students practice having conversations in English. 

My afternoon schedule varies. Even in my third week, it still involves a lot of training and instruction to familiarize myself with the planetarium and speaking in Italian. But each afternoon, I spend some time preparing for whichever event I have coming up. The steps are: research, write a script, create a slideshow with images, translate to Italian, check the translation, and practice my pronunciation. If I'm not doing this, sometimes I plan curriculum for a lesson or activity that I'm not going to teach here. Because of the language barrier, curriculum planning has been my strong suit. Throughout the afternoon, I take breaks in the director's office for espresso with the other volunteers at the planetarium. 

In the evenings, sometimes I go to a meeting with another astronomy club in Modena: GAGBA, who specialize in telescopes and sky observations, and COSMO, who specialize in space exploration missions and launches -- both topics which I don't know much about but have always wanted to learn. Sometimes, I stay late for English lessons for adults hosted at the planetarium -- it's fascinating to see how English is taught because it's something I never thought about as a native speaker. On other evenings, I go to the city center with my coworkers at the planetarium. I end each evening by going back to my host family, eating dinner, and reading a book! 

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
2 months ago

Here is the link to a photo of me presenting a conference! 

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
2 months ago

Hi Nicole! As I read through your post I cannot stop thinking about language and science. While scientific jargon is often thought of as a barrier, I can only image what a true language barrier is like in learning and  teaching science. Your work at the planetarium sounds incredibly interesting, and participating in a new language I hope is as interesting as challenging. It must also be unique to see how another place in the world engages youth and schools in astronomy and the sciences.

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
2 months ago

Hi Nicole!

It's super exciting to hear more about your project, and how it integrates astronomy research/learning with teaching and working with kids. Like Avi said, the discussion about the role/significance of language in your work is super intriguing to me; it's especially exciting to hear about how you are able to share a lot of your work and interests in English while also putting your Italian to use! I hope that this project continues to offer a wide range of learning opportunities to you, and that you also have many chances to experience the culture. 

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
2 months ago

Week Three: 

During my time in Brussels, I usually wake up, head to the office at the university on the bus or train and get started on work by 9:30. At VUB, I both help out with a specific research team’s project focused on greenspace access and mobility in Brussels and work on my own independent project. My coworkers and I usually get lunch at the school’s cafeteria around noon (where I attempt to try local Belgian food) and then continue working into the afternoon. Sometimes I attend talks or meetings within the geography department during that time. I then head back home via bus or train and spend my evenings going on bike rides/walks to explore the city, meeting up with a friend from Columbia who is also in Brussels for the summer, or getting dinner with coworkers. In Brussels, there seems to be a large bar/”terrace” culture of people sitting outside bars or restaurants in the evenings - there are always a lot of people around taking advantage of the 10pm sunsets. 

Given my research’s urban geography focus, I try to use my commute or free time to really get a sense of the city. As a newcomer to Brussels, it is incredibly interesting to see how its residents enjoy its local environment and how its urban infrastructure promotes mobility around the city. Even just taking the train a couple of stops or going on a walk can be both a fun new experience and chance to further deepen my research. Here I attached some photos from my time in Brussels. One shows the boat canal tour I went on two weeks ago with the geography department, and another humorously depicts some dogs sniffing a peeing dog statue near my airbnb (Brussels is noted for having a main “peeing boy” statue famous among tourists, and a small dog one constructed in inspiration to the confusion of some local dogs),

Go to the profile of Faith Andrews-O'Neal
2 months ago

Hi Neely,

I've also loved having time to explore the city! I'm really glad we live in a city with a comprehensive metro system so the transition hasn't been too difficult. Outside of the fulfilling work we're able to do, the opportunity to be in a new environment and getting to know the people and places around us is such an amazing opportunity. I'm meeting up for lunch with another Laidlaw Scholar tomorrow who just got to Paris and it's so exciting to be able to talk about this new place as well as having someone who's familiar with our idea of home as well, as it was a bit of a culture shock when I first got here for sure!

Go to the profile of Faith Andrews-O'Neal
2 months ago

Week three: What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

Working at an NGO means that every single day is a little different, and all very exciting! My usual routine on a work day involves the food distributions, where we meet at Square Albert-Schweitzer (near the center of Paris) in the morning and go on different routes bringing people without homes food and coffee/tea. There are also weekly language exchanges, in which volunteers and refugees come together to improve English/French language skills, ending with a potluck dinner. However, what makes the work extra exciting is when added opportunities for engagement appear, such as getting to partner with REVERB, an organization dedicated to making tours more sustainable, and getting to see Lorde in concert after volunteering and helping conduct outreach for Serve the City as well as raise awareness about climate change. I also had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to lead a volunteer workshop on global formations of racial identity, which gave me the chance to take some of what I've learned in my CSER classes and share with volunteers from all over the world both in person and virtually (two people zoomed in from Egypt and India!).

While for some reason I can't figure out how to link images, you can see more of the work Serve the City is doing on their instagram

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
2 months ago

Hi Faith, it's incredible to see how diverse your experiences working for an NGO has been this summer! It's really cool to see how you're integrating various facets of your skillset into your day-to-day work. From leveraging language aptitude at the weekly language exchanges to exercising teaching skills at your volunteer workshop, I feel inspired by how you've managed to really personalize and own your experience!

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 1 month ago

Hi Faith! Your average work day sounds amazing! It seems like you were able to have a very diverse and fulfilling experience at your internship which allowed you to see all of the different kinds of work that Serve the City conducts. A potluck dinner for a weekly language exchange sounds like a beautiful way to connect with and help form community, and I can't wait to hear more about your experiences in the Fall. P.S. I am so jealous that you were able to go to a Lorde concert in Paris! 

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
2 months ago

Week Four:
What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

Researching in a community has introduced me to the field of scientific communication. This field, virtually absent from my previous summer’s work, has become a crucial study for me as I think about course production and teaching methods. In the strict world of science, communication and broadcasting one’s work is essential, but the target audience is restricted and often quite narrow. Inherently, this makes the communication aspect easier to work with as the onlooker is, in most cases, informed of the necessary background knowledge. However, when developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), the whole point is to broadcast without narrowing one’s audience. This has greatly expanded my thoughts on where and how science has an impact.

While intriguing, this is also precisely the challenge I have faced this summer: attempting to expand my audience to a degree I have yet to attempt. While inherent to the project, it is new to me in the course of my academic studies. To go about solving this I have worked with different Professors at Columbia who are dedicated to their respective pursuits, whether it be science or education. By working with people who embody different points of view, who canvas different fields, I have learned about different sides of the same coin, both essential for our project’s success.

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
2 months ago

Week One:

As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how?  If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

Hi Everyone! My name is Eva and for this summer I'm working with Tortoise Media through the leadership in action program. My project last summer focused on Indigenous language and I looked at media such as literature, art, academic writing, and social media as a way to learn more. While this summer isn't explicitly related to the topic, the themes of language, media, and how to effectively reach audiences have definitely carried over in my mind. Tortoise Media is a journalism company, but in my time so far they have also hosted "think ins" where experts and community members come together to discuss topics, and they have hosted a music festival!

It's been really exciting that because the company is so multifaceted, because while we are focusing on expanding their community network, we're also able to participate in really any project they're working on that interests us. Our focal point is the community network, which is a network of partnerships with other non-profits, where we provide them and their members free subscriptions to Tortoise, and we work with them to host events. Last summer part of my research included meeting with governmental leaders and language teachers to discuss how to best develop infrastructure to teach the languages, and I like how this summer is similar in reaching out to people and trying to foster collaboration. Everyone at Tortoise I've met is incredibly interesting and comes to journalism for very different reasons and with different backgrounds and It's been awesome just to talk to people at the company and learn more about their work. Working for a startup, I also like exploring so many different sub-jobs and projects at the same time. 

In terms of saying something that's already been said, I've been a bit out of my element being in the UK. Part of our job has been to brainstorm and pitch "think ins" with topics and speakers, and I'm reminded of how little I know about international politics. We've had events discussing Ukraine, relationships with China, and the European Union, and I don't have the same connection to these topics that I do to many social issues in the United States. Sometimes it's hard to know what topics are most important or what nuances to consider when I don't know much about the history and local politics. I think it's been really interesting and important for me to learn more about these topics, and I can also bring a unique perspective because of how I'm a bit removed from them. While there aren't many Native Americans in England, I still think it's very important to bring my perspective on colonialism as I've noticed it's not discussed much at all so far. Tortoise also would like to expand from being so UK centric so I think we can both learn a lot from each other.  

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
2 months ago

Week 4: 

Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

Before my work at the ACLU, I did not know very much about governmental and consumer privacy, or the extent to which privacy impacted both civil rights and civil liberties. Since then, however, I learned that there are many intersections between privacy issues and other areas that I am more familiar with, such as racial and economic justice or reproductive justice, and that technological advances often make it more difficult to forward effective legislation in these areas. I have also learned that while California's legislature is generally progressive on most issue areas, it lags behind on privacy—particularly due to the lobbying influence of big tech. My work has narrowed in the sense that I have begun to develop deeper and more substantive knowledge of my issue areas; for example, while doing an analysis of new proposed regulations in existing California privacy law, I was able to do a deep dive on dark patterns and global opt-outs. I am excited to see how other issue areas I have been working on intersect.

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
2 months ago

Week Three:

A typical day volunteering in the Huntington's disease unit at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center starts in the Recreation Department office. After arriving in the morning, I get debriefed on my hour-to-hour responsibilities. In general, I'll usually start off my day by heading over to where our Huntington's residents live and checking in! I'll then walk over to a different part of the complex to help facilitate activities ranging from word puzzles to horticulture. Throughout the day, I'll also shuttle residents to the outdoor patio area of the TCC. This is often my favorite part of the day because the residents instantly get more lively when they're outside, making the patio a fantastic space to chat with and get to know the residents! I'll usually wrap up each day by checking in one more time with the Huntington's residents and then embarking on a scenic walk back to my summer residence through Central Park, which is conveniently situated right next to the TCC.

I'm attaching a link to the TCC's Huntington's disease unit website here (which includes pictures of Huntington's patients and what the unit looks like)!

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
about 2 months ago

Hi Dennis, I'm happy that you're able to work with patients hands-on this summer! As a scientific researcher, it's incredible that you're getting the chance to experience life alongside Huntington's patients in order to truly understand their experiences. It's also great that you can engage with them outdoors everyday, and that you're exploring new pathways to engage them through puzzles and lessons. I'm excited to see how this project changes your perspective as a researcher! 

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
about 2 months ago

Week Four: Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

As a personal interest, I've grown very intrigued by observational astronomy and have been exploring curiosities about the constellations and ancient mythologies from different parts of the world. My coursework at Columbia for the past two years and my research experiences have equipped me to explain the physical sciences, but I've discovered I'm lacking a lot in historical knowledge. Some of my coworkers are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of astronomy and its cultural significance in different parts of the world, and I've been trying to learn from them and absorb some of their knowledge. It seems that the American educational system places more of an emphasis on pure physical sciences, but lacks the historical and cultural significance, especially in bigger cities where observing the sky is difficult. I've realized how important it is to learn astronomy just to understand how our Earth functions, to understand the seasons, and even to navigate. Children here learn about the significance of the constellations, the moon, and the planets from a very young age, which is something I don't recall learning growing up near a big city in America. My work has definitely narrowed in this sense: I started my internship with an interest in pure science divulgation, and I'm ending with a curiosity about the more interdisciplinary aspects of science and astronomy. 

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
about 2 months ago

Hi Nicole! This is such an interesting topic to think about. My academic studies have also mainly focused on the "pure" physical sciences. However, I cannot agree with you more on the importance, and intrigue, of learning the cultural and historical aspects of them as well. I am also in agreement that these often overlooked aspects enliven and expand the reaches of their respective science. Thinking in terms of astronomy (something I know quite little about) it must be even more fascinating as the stars play such a prominent role in history, society and culture.

Go to the profile of Roberta Hannah
about 2 months ago

Week 4: What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

As the summer progresses, my work became much more independent than it hard previously. My supervisor has been working remote after some family conflicts occurred, leaving my to self-assign tasks to develop our curriculum. At first, I tried to manage it on my own, but I began to find inspiration scarce. Once I reached my plateau, I decided it was time to reach out to my supervisor, as well as other leadership members around the office to see where my work would best fit. The director of trans services actually allowed me to participate in the Pride Month planning events. Some of these were disrupted because our office lost power for a few days, but even remotely, I was able to arrange deliveries for our graduation and other events. My supervisor also offered suggestions to maximize the impact of our course, so my work has begun to pick up again.

Go to the profile of Ava Sanjabi
about 2 months ago

Week One: 

My project this summer involves working at the DLR (German Aerospace Center) in Berlin; through my work here, I am executing a scientific outreach plan to emphasize the importance of space research, and all the ways to get involved. Last summer, I worked purely in a laboratory setting, conducting astrobiology research regarding biosignatures (signs of life on other planets). This summer, I bring with me all of the things I learned and can put them into practice. I will be involved in a field expedition in Vulcano, Italy, where I will work with other researchers, and present findings from my last summer to university students. Additionally, I will be documenting the day-to-day on social media, to reach a broader audience. 

There is a feeling of wanting to do something totally new and innovative in the scientific community. As researchers, I think the only way to avoid saying something that has already been said is to actively communicate with other researchers in the field. Through exposure to the European astrobiology community, I discovered a project that was very similar to a separate project proposal I was writing. To get around the issue of saying something that has been said, I had to come up with a proposal to fill in gaps and supplement the work that is already being done. Research should go beyond insecurities; if we can communicate, we can make better use of resources and broaden our understanding of the world, instead of hyper-focusing on one aspect of a field.

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
about 2 months ago

Hi Ava! Wow, that sounds really interesting, it's nice to hear how you are communicating your findings and working on outside projects in addition to fieldwork. Regarding the pressure of finding new/innovative conclusions, I think you make an important point about communication and working with others. One's pride should not get in the way of advancing our knowledge/research as a whole. 

Go to the profile of Ava Sanjabi
about 2 months ago

Week Two: 

The engagement of different communities in my research is applicable both to the topics as well as to the outreach component. Within planetary research, it is necessary for people from different nations and backgrounds to come together to build technology and come to conclusions that push the field forward. In terms of outreach, this week I had my first virtual lesson with a primary school in Miami. Many of the students came from low income backgrounds, and/or speak english as a second language. Having a diverse group of students for my first community interactions was helpful in developing my outreach methodology for future classes. I have to adapt to different kinds of questions and break down the science into very simple concepts. 

I can find myself coming through my research very literally, since my name is Ava and focus on life in lava tubes. But more importantly, I see myself come through in my outreach and my day to day endeavors. The focus of my outreach is that everyone is capable of doing similar studies, with the right tools; to emphasize this, I think it is important for me to be physically and conceptually present in my project.

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
about 2 months ago

Hi Ava! It's really cool to hear about your experience teaching underserved primary school students! Having taught younger students myself, I'm curious what strategies you are using to keep students engaged, especially since you are teaching remotely. Perhaps music? Videos? Fun images? Teaching such a young lay audience is definitely a different ball-game than communicating with the more senior scientists you're probably used to discussing with. I can only imagine how it forces you to be creative, expect the unexpected, and adapt as you design future lessons!

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
about 2 months ago

Week Four: 

Given the official six week timeline, I have had to work to narrow my project—this has been one of the main challenges of my time this summer. There is only so much you can do in six weeks no matter how enthusiastic or persistent you are! Here, I have made sure to not only limit the scope of my research but also work with other researchers to use existing data sets or sources for my final project. Additionally, another interesting challenge I encountered was how Belgian sources collected or quantified race. Belgium does not officially collected ethnicity-based data, making some of the analysis I was originally planning to do more difficult. It is incredibly interesting to see how other countries perceive racial or ethnic identity in contrast to the US. Speaking with other researchers at the university, they explained how the absence of this data made certain projects quite complicated as they have to either collect original data or look at other statistics that could influence one’s racial identity (eg languages spoken at home, immigration status, etc). Given what data is collected, many projects I’ve seen instead focus on immigration rates to certain areas and the establishment of distinct enclaves within the city for various communities.

In many ways has my time this summer at VUB has introduced me to new fields of interest. Many projects within the department focus on greenspace and mobility, which has motivated me to look more into this for my own project. It has been great to see how others work can both inspire and challenge your own. Further, even just walking around or exploring Brussels has influenced my research questions as parts of the city—like certain neighborhoods or park spaces—pique my interest. It has been great to see how my time here has influenced my own work and curiosity. 

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
4 days ago

Hey Neely! 

This sounds like a super exciting project! Have been enjoying reading about your research process! 

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 2 months ago

Week 1:

(I am posting this reflection a week late because I have been super busy getting settled! Sorry for the delay!)

Hi everyone! This summer, I am interning with the American Library in Paris as an Events intern, and I definitely resonate with this question. My internship is not heavily structured, and I am the only intern in my position with my supervisor. So, on my first day, I was not given an extensive orientation or the guidance that would have immediately situated me within the library's bureaucracy. I spent my first couple of days fumbling around and figuring out what the responsibilities and expectations of my position were. Furthermore, although I had researched the library beforehand, I was not privy to any of the internal conversations or plans that had not been announced to the public. This obviously led to a lot of insecurity about my level of knowledge and comfort in the library and how valuable my contribution would be to the institution. Rather than set aside these insecurities, I decided to embrace them and use them to motivate me to be more observant and curious. As I clearly lacked an understanding of the usual mode of operation in the library, I was not afraid to ask my supervisor and other senior workers plenty of questions, and they were always very accommodating and willing to share their knowledge. I also picked up some more responsibilities at the library (I volunteer every week for the Children and Teen's department!), so I could further acclimate to my new environment. I believe that this is a good way to confront uncertainty and improve your work! 

My project for this summer is different from my project last summer. In 2021, I was researching museum ethics and stolen objects, and now I am working in a library on events programming. Although I am still focusing on public collecting institutions and how they serve communities, I have definitely pivoted my scope, and I am much more involved this year in the community building aspect compared to last year. I think my deep dive into ethical presentations of diverse cultures has definitely impacted my understanding of what kind of events the library should be promoting. I feel very passionate about highlighting marginalized perspectives and focusing on global-facing ideas. As I help plan and execute events, I will be thinking about my research into how cultural institutions help shape one's identity and understanding of the world. 

In terms of tools that I picked up from my new project, as my internship is public facing, I've definitely had to refine my people skills. I have also learned a lot about the logistics of hosting an event and all of the marketing, planning, and writing that precedes it. I've familiarized myself with writing event descriptions for the public, assembling a hybrid Zoom set up, and creating social media material. All of these new tools have helped me conduct my internship to the best of my ability.

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 2 months ago

Week 2: 

I engage predominantly with the American expat community in Paris; however, I have also interacted with French people interested in English and cross-cultural exchange. As an events intern, knowing that my audience is largely fellow Americans or French people with extensive knowledge of English and the English-speaking world has definitely shaped the kinds of events I propose. I want to create experiences that resonate with this community and allow them to interrogate their unique position in both American and French society. Therefore, I look extensively at speakers who are Americans in Paris or creating panels with both French and American participants. I also want to highlight issues surrounding immigration and explorations of French culture and history. 

In my work, I am present although I aim to be invisible. As an art history major and someone passionate about decolonial studies, I am very partial to those topics when planning events. Although I express the most interest in those speakers and books, I do aim to cater to a wide variety of subjects and make sure that the library draws in the largest audience possible. 

My interactions with the public are fairly limited to general questions about the library. I have yet to host an event, so I have not facilitated a QnA or interacted with the audience about the subjects of the talks. In terms of connecting with the community, I believe there is an automatic kind of solidarity between most patrons of the library and I due to our nationality being American. This relationship is only strengthened by our international location. It is very comforting to be around people who understand your background and your accent when you are in the middle of a large foreign city. 

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 2 months ago

Jacqueline,

 

Thanks for sharing this! I certainly resonate with your point about shared nationality conferring solidarity. Even as I waited for my bag at the airport in Accra, I found myself gravitating toward and striking up a conversation with another American student about our age.

When you get to do one, I hope your first event goes well! Decolonization work is important but can sometimes be a touchy subject prone to backlash, so I hope the audience engages respectfully.

Go to the profile of Joanne Park
about 2 months ago

Week 5

My work is directly supervised by the legislative coordinator at the ACLU office, although it is a small enough office such that I'm able to work with everyone directly. My coordinator, Becca, primarily lobbies in the issue areas of gender, sexuality, and reproductive justice, as well as privacy—which are coincidentally the areas that interest me the most as well. Becca has been incredibly helpful in conducting my project because she is candid and straightforward in how she talks about the legislative process; while it is necessary to engage with bad policy (and to work towards better policy), it is also not possible to expect legislators to make the actually necessary, sweeping reforms. Becca has also taught me about the importance of advocating within impacted communities, instead of advocating on behalf of them. For instance, in her work to decriminalize sex work, she has recruited current and former sex workers to take part in the lobbying process. From Becca, I have learned how to be a leader that prioritizes the community over one's personal objectives, and also the importance of being pragmatic and realistic when dealing with problems. Regardless of whether I continue to stay involved in the legislative process, I think that Becca's leadership and attitude towards political change will influence me.

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
about 2 months ago

Week 4:

Volunteering at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center has been a both humbling and exciting experience. As a brief reminder, I am working in the TCC’s Recreation Department and, more specifically, in its Huntington's disease unit.

Huntington's disease causes a fatal and progressive loss of nerve cells that eventually leaves residents non-communicative. As a result, while some of the residents are able to comprehend, formulate, and verbalize coherent thoughts, many are left largely unresponsive. This has made checking in on and engaging with residents particularly challenging, and it's forced me to be more creative and resourceful.

One powerful resource that I came across were "communication books" that were made by speech therapists shortly after each resident arrived at the TCC (i.e. when they were generally very communicative). These books detail their lives, interests, passions, family, etc. Some residents were musicians, some were pediatricians, and some were even rocket scientists! When I'm lucky, mentioning some of the things they hold near and dear to their hearts (or playing a tune they are fond of) can elicit a friendly response. Sometimes that's a just thumbs up. Other times it’s a playful glance. It's not a lot, but it's enough to know I'm reaching them.

I recently learned that many newly admitted residents lack these "communication books.” This is due to a dearth of speech therapists visiting the TCC during the pandemic. It’s really a shame. Not only have the books been helpful to me as a volunteer, I’m sure they are extraordinarily meaningful to both the resident and their family alike. As a result, I’ve taken it upon myself to see what I can do to help make "communication books" for these residents! Stayed tuned.

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
about 1 month ago

That sounds like really important work! Particularly as I'm working in news this summer I've spent a lot of time thinking how important it is to be able to communicate and do so effectively. I'm sure it means a lot to the residents to be understood better and even if it's in small ways continue to communicate. 

Go to the profile of Victor Jandres Rivera
30 days ago

It is impressive that you took the initiative to help the residents in such a meaningful way. It's awesome that you identified an issue troubling the residents and took it upon yourself to make the change you wanted to see. I am sure you will help some of the residents with the effort you are putting in.

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
about 2 months ago

Week #5: What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

This summer I have learned an enormous amount about course content and development. Although always sitting in the back of my mind, the way in which one conveys knowledge in a classroom setting is something I have never delved into. This is particularly interesting to me as it is something I have engaged with throughout most of my life, yet scantly stopped to think about. Adding another level of complexity, the course I am working on will be published online. This is an interesting problem and challenge as I am tasked to think about teaching and learning in a complete virtual (non-real time) setting. For me, this is both a throwback to our year on Zoom and an endeavor into new methods of learning.

This year I have had the opportunity to work with Professor David Helfand and Professor  Ivana Hughes to develop their sections of the online course. While I was familiar with both Professor Helfand and Hughes from Frontiers in Science during my freshman year, through my work this summer I have gained a new perspective and appreciation for them and what they do. By working on developing rather than taking, Frontiers in Science I have gained a new perspective on what this course offers, and more importantly, how it teaches.

Go to the profile of Victor Jandres Rivera
about 2 months ago

Week One:

I am working in Ghana this summer through a GLiA program. The experience has been great, and I have quickly realized how variable NGO field work can be. I have been able to experience the city of Accra, coasts of Gomoa and Cape Coast, and rural communities in the Lake Volta regions. We quickly realized how field work can constantly change where you are needed as well as what occupations you need to fill on a day-to-day basis. After meeting with staff here at World Vision, my project changed to better suit my past experience and qualifications. I am going to work alongside NGO staff engaging with local communities in the Volta region and advocating for the rights of children in both educational and health contexts. This includes engaging with children and their guardians to assess community needs, and I now have the opportunity to meet with community leaders such as the district assembly and chief.  

 As I am starting to work on my community engagement project here in Ghana, my position in such a new environment has made me feel insecure when communicating with people who have been tackling the same issues for decades. However, I have been able to set aside those insecurities by remembering how I am here to learn and engage with both the communities we are working with and the staff as well. I began to recognize how I have a lot to learn but also have my own experiences and knowledge that I can contribute. I was invited to participate in an annual staff retreat where dozens of workers from all over Ghana came together. By putting aside my insecurities around my lack of experience compared to other workers, I was able to engage with experts on health, education, child advocacy, etc. Everyone was very welcoming and excited to discuss their work and experience and help us learn more about the work they do. 

My project last summer focused on obstacles immigrant-origin students faced in New York City. My research analysis and literature review included child advocacy but was focused on racialization and sense of belonging. The work I am doing this summer still centers around education and child advocacy, but it also allows me to explore more work dealing with human rights. I have been using colleagues as a tool because they have been able to help me bridge my past experience and knowledge to the work I am doing now. 

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
about 2 months ago

Hi Victor! It's great to read about your research, it sounds really important. You bring up a really good point regarding working with people who have already been doing this work for so long - I like how you mention how this is an opportunity for you to learn and contribute as much as you are able. Good luck with everything, hope your summer is off to a good start!

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
about 2 months ago

Week 2: 

If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

Most of my work is quite removed from community members because we're focused on bringing in new members to the community network and increasing engagement it's mostly been emailing people and finding people to email. That being said the ultimate goal is to have more people coming to our "think in" events which are events that emphasize conversation especially between experts, our editors, and audience members. Most of our work is increasing participation for later events that we won't actually be at, but it's been really interesting to go to the think-ins and hear experts and audience thoughts on topics like NFTs, batteries and sustainability, what slow news looks like, and if democracy works. I can definitely see how having more people at these conversations would be interesting for everyone. 

A big part of my work is also trying to think about how to connect with these people, and get them to want to come to events and redeem free subscriptions to the news service, so thinking about how I and we connect is a big part of the job. Something I've been thinking about is what we actually offer to these community members, which are people who can't otherwise afford memberships or are coming in through partnerships with charities. While I think it's something the company itself is trying to work out exactly, I think it's important to center these people's experiences and needs if we want to have higher engagement. 

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 2 months ago

Week 1:

As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?

I certainly have found myself facing this fear as I embark on my GLiA project. I'm in Ghana (with Victor at first though now we've been split up) working on WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) with World Vision. I have no WASH background, aside from the brief introduction we received after being admitted, so I'm worried I won't be able to contribute anything innovative. I'll only begin to have an elementary understanding of WASH by the time we leave, so the idea of going several steps beyond that to think of where the field can move going forward while I hardly know where it stands now is daunting.

That said, I'm hoping having an outsider's perspective will bring its own strengths*. Perhaps coming from outside of the WASH establishment will help me see problems those more experienced than I simply take for granted. I haven't met any economists with World Vision yet, so perhaps that part of my background will be useful. I'm already seeing on the ground a lot of what my Economic Growth and Development professor, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, talked about in class regarding the challenges and failures of aid in the developing world. Hopefully I'll be able to draw on some of the solutions he discussed in class here in the field.

*This is a tangent, but coincidentally I downloaded Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath for the long car rides here on a whim, and its discussion of underdogs and the power of coming from outside of the establishment tie in perfectly to this question. It's interesting to feel like I might be able to live out at least a little of what I'm reading at the same time.

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
about 2 months ago

Hi Eleanor, your GLiA project sounds amazing! I think your nuanced take on being an "outsider" of sorts is really insightful- and I have no doubt that your unique positioning will come in handy (as suggested by Gladwell's writing). Most of all, I'm curious as to not only how your economic interests/expertise will fuel your contributions to the project, but also how your summer experience will simultaneously shape your economic beliefs/philosophy. Excited to hear new updates and other reflections in the near future!

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
about 2 months ago

Week Five:

One invaluable new skill I’ve acquired this summer is actively taking notes and reflecting at the end of each day. Heading into my experience in the Huntington's Unit at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Healthcare Center, I was intimidated by all the learning I would have to do on the spot. From remembering so many new names to handling difficult discussions, there was no online guide that would tell me what to expect or even prepare me how to respond to different scenarios. How could I understand the wants and needs of non-communicative residents? What was the best way to engage each of them? With so much going on each day, my solution to feeling overwhelmed was to keep a small notebook and pen on me at all times. I was committed to treating my volunteering experience like a college class- I would capture every detail and review them at the end of each day. X likes country music? Got it. Y only communicates by thumbs down and thumbs sideways? Got it. Z participated in a Huntington's disease therapy clinical trial? Noted.

Actively taking notes and reflecting has undoubtedly enriched my summer experience. Tying this skill back to leadership, creating and taking a few moments each day to review my small "memory bank" has enabled me to take initiative and innovate. I remember that certain residents like going onto the patio and, every chance I get, I bring them outside. I remember that certain residents are music lovers- and blast their favorite tunes on a speaker whenever I can. I remember the life stories of my residents - from their past lives working in the Met Opera to their rocket science research, little talking points that not only function as powerful conversation starters but also starting points for new ways of service that will hopefully bring them joy. In the grand scheme of things, actively engaging and reflecting is crucial for building upon the status quo. It’s a habit that I’ll take with me wherever I go moving forward.

Go to the profile of Avi J Adler
about 2 months ago

Hey Dennis! First, it must but interesting to hear the life stories of the residents. I can only imagine the stories they have to share. Although these things might seem beside the point, I often wonder if reflecting on the past has more meaning to it than meets the eye, especially in settings of older patients and medical care. The practice of taking notes, engaging with, and remembering these stories, then, sounds like it must be quite meaningful to both you and the residents. Although I usually think of notes in terms of class functions, I can only guess that it must be exponentially more valuable here.

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
27 days ago

Dennis, your work this summer is admirable, and I would love to learn more about it! How much you care about the patients really shines through in your post. It's easy to step away at the end of a long day and relax, but sometimes going the extra mile makes all the difference! The stories and details you remember after putting in the time after work probably makes the patients' day and makes you an immeasurably better caretaker. I have to imagine that having someone in their lives who so clearly cares about them as individual people rather than just names on a checklist contributes not just to their mood but to their health, too.

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 2 months ago

Week Two:

If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

Unfortunately, due to a number of scheduling and logistical issues, I haven't been able to work in the field with the community I'm hoping to serve yet. My first two weeks have been spent getting acquainted with the area and introduced to World Vision, along with doing some paperwork in the office. That said, even though I'm not in the field, I have been engaged with the community in other ways. Simply going on a walk outside entails meeting members of the local community. I have yet to see another white person in Damongo, and I am acutely aware of the color of my skin in a way I am privileged not to be at home. Children are particularly intrigued by me, and they point and wave and shout "obroni" at me as I pass. They use the term simply to refer to my being white, but it actually means "wicked man" in the local language, in reference to white people's historic forays into Ghana as slave traders. It breaks my heart to hear a word complicated by such dark history tumble out of their mouths at the same time as I see their wide smiles and friendly eyes lit up with curiosity.

These everyday interactions have not been the only kind I've had here, as meeting the World Vision employees at their staff retreat and in the office to which I've now moved has offered another opportunity to engage with locals. With them, finding common cause generally means talking about the work. They're admirably committed to changing their country for the better: increasing access to resources, dispelling harmful beliefs, and improving children's prospects. Still, even with our shared goals, it's interesting to see our differences in backgrounds and values, especially in terms of religion and gender.

Go to the profile of Neely McKee
about 2 months ago

Week Five:

This summer, I have learned a lot about how to communicate data/findings and collaborate with other researchers in an effective way. Beyond working with GIS or gaining other technical experience, I have learned how to work with people in a team setting, constructively share research findings and methods, and critically navigate geography I am a foreigner to. For my project, I am mainly working with Elsa, a PhD student at the university, who has been incredibly helpful. While she is only a couple of years older than me, it is great to see someone working in the field and enjoying what they do. Elsa is always there to answer minor GIS questions, but also offers advice regarding grad school and future plans. It has been incredibly enjoyable to see her success and willingness to help others in an environment I am completely new to. While my time in Brussels will only be six weeks, it has been great to really get to know (and work with!) Elsa and the other members of the geography department.

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
about 2 months ago

What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

I can't quite figure out how to attach any images but I will describe a typical day!

I usually wake up around 7, although I have found that 7:40 is the absolute latest I can wake up without being late. I make breakfast, get ready, and leave at 8 to take the bus and tube to work. I get in to work around 9 and usually make some coffee/tea. The mornings are typically a bit slower as we get assigned projects usually after meetings and throughout the day as people need help. This morning I'm working on brainstorming "thinkin" ideas. One day last week we started the day with a thinkin at the British library on what journalism is and what slow journalism is, probably the most interesting morning. Then around 12 me and the other Laidlaw people and any other interns will take our lunch break. I've been eating a different place near the office every day but I have had some really good sushi, dumplings, pasta, and falafel! Typically after our lunch break there's more work to be done or we'll have an afternoon meeting. The work really varies but can include writing up tweets to promote events, reaching out to potential network partners, researching events such as movie/music releases and elections throughout the year, helping the data science team cleaning up spreadsheets. I really like that because it's more of a startup and quite a small company every day looks different and really anything going on that sounds interesting we can help out with. At 6 I usually go home unless we have a thinkin that evening. Tonight we have on called "should we ban private schools?", but some other upcoming ones include "Is British democracy working for you?" and "In conversation with PP Arnold, London's First Lady of soul". Sometimes after a thinkin me and the other interns will explore the city area, but on most days I get home around 7.

Go to the profile of Nicole Wolff
about 1 month ago

Week Five:
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

First of all, being in Italy, I learned a lot of Italian! I learned how to carry a basic conversation in Italian, how to understand some spoken Italian, plenty of astronomy/science vocabulary, some regional differences in Italian culture, and how their high school and university systems differ from the United States. As for astronomy, I  learned how to find a good number of constellations, how to orient directionally at different points of the night, several of the myths behind the constellations, and how to find some objects using a telescope. I learned a little about how to control the planetarium's projector, which illuminates the dome with the apparent positions of the stars, planets, and the sun as viewed from a flexible position on Earth. I learned that there's so much I don't know about the astronomy governing basic events in our solar system, like eclipses, solstices, and equinoxes. Once I learned something new, I tried to practice explaining it to the visitors of the planetarium. 

I can't begin to describe how important my project mentor was during my six weeks. She helped me manage tasks throughout each day, practice speaking Italian, practice both of my lectures, and even took me around outside of work to see different sights in the area. From her, I learned the importance of mentorship and how formative it is to have a good mentor - it makes me want to one day mentor someone, too. I learned from her how to communicate science to the public in an engaging, interactive, and accessible way. I also learned from her how to be a true leader by communicating with all your coworkers and addressing disagreements upfront and directly. From my short six weeks here, I've decided I might like to pursue a similar job in a planetarium in the future. 

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
about 1 month ago

Hey Nicole! I am so glad to hear that you're having an amazing experience in Italy so far and have been becoming more and more proficient in Italian. I wish I could say the same about Bulgarian but nonetheless, I definitely can relate to your experience of having locals - in your case, your research mentors and in my case, my fellow interns - facilitate your adjustment to another country. My fellow interns have been instrumental to me seeing new sights in Sofia, pick up a few phrases in Bulgarian, and even telling me where I should be grocery + essentials shopping in the city. So excited to continue hearing about your trip from your reflection posts!

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
about 1 month ago

Week One:
As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage? If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how?  If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

As I wind up my first full work week in Bulgaria, interning at the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, I'm hit by a series of culture shocks. A unique language, a writing system unlike Latin, and the sun staying up till 10pm in the summers - Bulgaria is unlike any other country I've been to. But my first week has been more than just adjusting; on Thursday, I had an opportunity to attend a conference hosted by the European Commission and network with figureheads of the European Union's criminal justice policy on how the EU is experimenting with preventive justice initiatives as part of its Article 12 policy. My personal capstone project is in a separate field though - migrant/refugee advocacy. I'll be writing a series of policy briefs addressed to the European Union and the governments of numerous member states petitioning how specific areas of their immigration and asylum jurisprudence can be altered to enfranchise migrant needs.

More than saying something that someone has already said, though, I find myself worrying about someone saying something to me that I don't quite understand. Just this week, one of the suggestions my manager gave me was to look into "sanctioning and monitoring mechanisms relevant to the European Union." I had no idea what monitoring mechanisms were and on the other hand, my understanding of sanctions has thus far been shaped by American policies and the UN, neither of which translate well into the context of the European Union. But, I've been setting aside this insecurity by framing this experience as a learning lesson - everyone starts somewhere and I have a unique opportunity to learn policymaking and legal advocacy from a perspective other than the one I grew up around.

Both in terms of disciplinary and geographical scopes, last summer's project on China's Belt and Road Initiative is quite different from working for migrant advocacy this summer. But, the investigatory methods of projects from both summers is the same: extensive literature review. Last summer, I was analyzing the agreements China would sign with developing countries to look for flaws and inequities; this summer I'm doing the same with the jurisprudence of the European Union. As such, all the research and analytical skills I developed last summer - from learning how to maximize relevant results from research databases to writing scholarly pieces - has been crucial to my work in Bulgaria.

Go to the profile of Eva Brander Blackhawk
about 1 month ago

What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

I think the biggest difficulty for me was early on just transitioning to a new country and new environment. I was a bit lonely and a bit homesick and it's just a little exhausting always figuring out new systems like where to get groceries, what food is good, how to navigate buses and the tube, just little things like that. I think it was really nice for me being able to connect with the other laidlaw scholars I'm working with and as we got to know each other hanging out more outside of work. 

Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

I'm currently working on pitching a fashion newsletter with some other people at the company and that's been a really exciting project to pick up this past week. We're hoping to engage the student network more as it's an extension of the community network and students have the highest rates of not subscribing to our emails etc. Similarly with the research last summer I think more creative ventures are an unappreciated way to engage people, especially those who might not otherwise. 

Go to the profile of Alisha Arshad
about 1 month ago

Week 1

This summer, I’m part of the Leadership in Action program, a collaboration between Columbia Undergraduate Global Engagement and World Vision. I am working in an office in the Bawku West District of Ghana, exploring the field with World Vision staff and engaging community members in projects like WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and child protection. As a Human Rights major who specializes in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies, I’m very excited to be doing hands-on human rights work in Ghana! 

One insecurity I had was about my contributions to World Vision. What can I, a rising junior in college and someone who has never stepped foot in Ghana, contribute to World Vision? The people in this office have decades of experience while I am just beginning my human rights journey. However, I spoke to Dr. Opong about this worry, and was able to alleviate much of the anxiety I had. He distinguished between “insider” and “outsider” perspectives, emphasizing the significance of both. As an insider, it is easier to connect with the community and to identify prominent issues. However, there are things one may miss simply because of their familiarity with the environment. An outsider looks at situations with fresh eyes and a different perspective, possibly pointing out new/underlying issues that haven’t been addressed. Even World Vision Ghana’s National Director is not Ghanian, partly for the usefulness of an outsider’s perspective. Although I may not have the deepest or most informed insights since I am a student with little experience with World Vision, I am hoping that my perspective is able to benefit staff to some extent. 

Last year, I focused on political science research. I found bills from the 20th and 21st century that addressed the Equal Rights Amendment, gay rights, and abortion rights. Through my research, I attempted to pinpoint times in history where the prominence of these bills grew, the attachment of political parties to these issues, and more. Although I really enjoyed the projects and learned more about the relationship between institutions and human rights, I was hoping to step into the field and do hands-on work advocating for and improving human rights. My project this summer allows me to meet my goals. I’m actively engaging in the advancement of human rights, speaking with community members, and more! 

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
24 days ago

Hi Alisha!

I can relate to your concerns about not being able to contribute to World Vision—I have also been thinking a lot about my place as an undergraduate with an outsider's perspective in Cambodia, and it is definitely an insecurity of mine, too. Your supervisor's words about the value of both insider and outsider perspectives are helpful!

Go to the profile of Alisha Arshad
about 1 month ago

Week 2

In the villages I visit in the north, most people don’t speak English but rather a tribal language. There’s no one primary traditional language in Ghana, so picking up on phrases can be difficult. So far, I know “Akwaaba,” which means “welcome” in Twi, a major language in the south that most people greeted me in when I first arrived in Ghana. Therefore, one-to-one communication can be quite difficult. I rely on World Vision staff to translate and ask any questions I have, and I depend on the few villagers who can speak English to explain certain aspects of the community if possible.

Despite the language barrier, I’ve had many conversations about WASH and the community impact of boreholes, but personally, the most interesting conversations I’ve had are about gender. I’ve conversed with community members, World Vision staff, and even students researching gender in the field, and have learned more about the patriarchal power structures that dominate most villages and about how WASH empowers women to a certain extent (for example, the increased availability of water may allow some women to further develop their shea butter business). This is particularly significant to me, since some of the research I focus on on my Human Rights studies is about women and children. It is interesting to see how World Vision addresses gender differences. One project the office supported was a PhD student's study of gender transformative actions, where husbands and wives attempt to switch traditional roles in order to create a more empathetic, efficient, and harmonious household.

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
about 1 month ago

Hi Alisha, your work in Ghana sounds amazing! This summer, I'm in Bulgaria so I'm also having to face a steep language barrier. Most of my work is done in English and to connect with some refugees, I am able to communicate a bit in Arabic, but I definitely feel like I am not able to appreciate their narratives fully with a translated version. I can only imagine how having the language barrier impacts your work. It is so encouraging to hear how much you are learning through your conversations though!

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
about 1 month ago

Week 1:

Hi everyone! It has been so great to read about the amazing things you are all doing this summer! I arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, last week and am finally getting over some intense jet lag. I am participating in a program for undergraduates run by the Center for Khmer Studies, and I have enjoyed getting to know the other participants, exploring Siem Reap, and eating delicious food. Through this program, I am aiming to directly continue the research I begun last summer by conducting field work in Cambodia. For me, I am less concerned about saying something that has already been said and more concerned about not being able to effectively conduct meaningful research because of limitations that include a language barrier, the time restraints, and my perspective as an outsider, which all makes me feel a bit overwhelmed and inadequate. I am studying Khmer Buddhism, which is so deeply ingrained in Cambodian society that, although I have studied the topic extensively, I know that I have not ascertained all of its intricacies. I find myself being concerned about misunderstanding something and saying something wrong in a way that is damaging to the culture and society that I am studying, or reaching a conclusion that is utterly obvious to anyone who lived through the post-Khmer Rouge era.  I think that this is part of studying cultural history, though: approaching what may be “obvious” through an analytical lens, but also knowing that such “zoomed in” history is difficult to approach and must be handled carefully and thoughtfully. I think that it is vital to think about and address my presence as a researcher and my own outsider perspective and potential blind spots, so my concerns are productive and necessary in this sense. I am also always thinking through a comparative lens, often considering the similarities and differences between Khmer Buddhism after Democratic Kampuchea and Judaism, the religion and culture that I did grow up immersed in, after the Holocaust. I find this comparison really interesting, and I think that it has been quite constructive in pushing my research further, so this could be another way my insecurities about my perspective may be used to my advantage.

Hi Bryley!

Your work this summer sounds amazing—I am so glad to hear that all worked out and that you made it to Cambodia this year, to continue with the interesting research questions you had taken up last summer. Your thoughts on feeling like an ‘outsider’ in studying this cultural history, and the need to simultaneously analyze what we take to be ‘obvious’ historical conclusions while recognizing your own position as a historian in Cambodia, really resonated with me—while my project looks at Indian students so there might be less of a language/cultural barrier, I have moments where I feel like being removed in time, and coming from an American education, certainly does make one feel a bit like an ‘outsider’ in coming to a new place to conduct historical research. It also is so interesting to hear about how you have been thinking comparatively, relating your research back to your own religious and cultural background—which seems to me to be a useful means of working through some of these questions of ‘zooming in’ to conduct an in-depth historical analysis while simultaneously considering how your own perspective and background shapes the way you engage with your location, people, and primary sources. I hope things progress (or have progressed, as this is rather late!) wonderfully in the coming weeks :)

- Mrinalini

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
about 1 month ago

WEEK 2:

My research does not involve outside participation yet, so thus far, my work has taken on a very non-ethnographic research format. Currently, I'm writing a host of policy briefs regarding refugee advocacy causes, so I primary engage with the refugee communities present in the European Union and Bulgaria for my research. For most of this work, I'm relying on literature reviews - analyzing what perceptions of Europe refugees convey to other researchers, newspapers, and other media sources. How they inform my project differs with the topic of the policy brief I am working on at a given time period. 

For instance, last week, my policy brief centered on how the EU-Turkey Statement - an agreement signed between the European Union and Turkey that conjointly diffused refugee responsibility to Turkey - impacted refugees trying to resettle in Europe. For that policy brief, refugees informed my project by sharing with me their perspectives dealing with an overly-bureaucratic asylum process and being in a state of legal oblivion. This week, my policy brief relates to access to housing for refugees, so refugees have informed my project by sharing with me their concerns about their living conditions, the safety of their neighborhoods, and the discrimination and racism they face in the processing of securing homes. 

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
24 days ago

Hi Hassan!

Your project this summer sounds really interesting and important! I'm curious about how you find the literature reviews you use for your research—I've never utilized literature reviews in research, but they sound like quite useful and informative sources. If language barriers are an issue while conducting this research, how do you deal with that?

Go to the profile of Victor Jandres Rivera
about 1 month ago



WEEKS 2, 3, & 4 

Week 4

I am going to start with the week 4 question because it explains why I have to combine weeks 2, 3, and 4. Week 2 of my work in the field, my hotel caught on fire and my room was burned down. I had to travel to the capital of Ghana, Accra, for a little under two weeks to replace most of my things such as suitcases, clothes, hygiene products, documents, medications, etc. It was a significant challenge, but I continued my research by making sure I was still communicating with national staff members in Accra, regional staff members from the field, and conducting research virtually. Dealing with the issue required remaining calm and mechanical about the steps I needed to take to return to the field. I received help from Columbia Global Engagement through Dr. Shannon Marquez and from staff at World Vision, but I tried to minimize my dependence on other people. I made lists of what needed to be replaced to ensure I could proceed by prioritizing immediate needs. I contacted physicians to have my prescriptions sent to Ghanaian pharmacies, found street markets to buy affordable clothing, set up appointments to get new glasses, ordered my own cars to get around, etc. It required an immense amount of tedious research. For example, the contact solution is only carried in a few pharmacies in town, so I called distributors to find where it was in stock. Only one hospital across the city had my medications in stock, so I needed to go through the process of having an American prescription accepted in Ghana. It definitely taught me how to remain calm, meticulously plan the steps I needed to take, and execute those plans in a timely manner. It is quite funny because my co-workers still joke about how I was making phone calls to inquire about getting medications, acquiring funds to replace my lost items, and starting a list of who to call while I was standing in front of the actively burning hotel rooms. Although my attitude towards the fire was perceived as indifferent, I was actually quite panicked. It was the leadership training and independence that helped me find tranquility in focusing on what I could act on and not on a past I can’t change. 

Week 2

I visited communities in West Krachi with the NGO I am observing. I have had the opportunity to engage with community members such as politicians, health professionals, community volunteers, students, school staff, and citizens receiving funding from World Vision. I keep my role as mostly an observational one to prioritize learning over imposing. Working with communities with unique cultures, languages, and customs that are not mine, I understand the importance of not asserting my opinions and beliefs. I am mainly studying the role of Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) in NGO work as a tool for empowering local communities. The World Vision Krachi West Area Program has worked with CVA groups to strengthen local child advocacy projects by enabling citizen engagement, facilitating community gatherings, and supporting local-level campaigns. Although the funding and resources come from the NGO, the goal is to negate the influence of donors and non-community members in community projects. My role is mainly an observational one because I am learning about human rights and child advocacy, and it’s not my place to impose myself onto communities I am not part of. All of the projects by the World Vision Ghana Krachi West office are created by Ghanaians, managed by Ghanaians, and are sustained by local facilitators not associated with the NGO once the NGO leaves. I am here for a short amount of time and successful sustainable development projects can take decades to accomplish, so erroneously claiming I have made an impact would be taking credit for the work of the Ghanaian people and the immense effort these communities have put into contextualizing and sustaining their own successful projects. I shouldn’t even attempt to have an impact in decisions because it’s not my place to try, and it would be imperialist to think I’m able to do so. My interactions with community members begins with having the local community leaders and facilitators agree to welcome me into their community. So far facilitators, chiefs, and community leaders have all been very welcoming and understanding of my role with the NGO. I ask for NGO workers to take the lead in asking questions because most people speak English, but I don’t want to impose myself and my linguistic preferences given that many people in the community are more comfortable speaking one of the ~50 Indigenous languages spoken across Ghana. The questions the NGO asks are all questions I can learn from, and they can provide direct translations given the World Vision staff are Ghanaian and many speak multiple languages in addition to English. I am happy to go through all of these procedure because it is the bare minimum for me as a Western researcher going to foreign country with a history of colonization that I am not culturally or ethnically connected to. 

Week 3

This week, I visited “Kids Club” programs in the Kpatchu, Abujuro, Twesoro, and Nchumuru communities to learn more about how World Vision prioritizes sustainable development and capacity building over imposition. We visited a reading club devised to improve literacy rates in the area while also strengthening childrens’ sense of belonging. Children receive resources that give them the opportunity to attend school and have the opportunity to play together, perform plays, read poetry, etc, because of the centers created with World Vision funds. The area program I am working for is getting reviewed this week by the national office to analyze the sustainability of their community-led projects, so I was able to learn more about “capacity building” from them. I met the individual facilitators from each community to learn more about how the NGO puts projects in the hands of non-affiliated local community members who contextualize the projects to their own communities and sustain their success after the NGO completely distances itself from the operations of the project. I also had the opportunity to learn about how World Vision has allocated funds to pay locals to run training programs with curriculums that promote family unity and child protection. I was present during interviews and data collection indicating that the trainings have been successful in lowering rates of physical and sexual abuse in households registered in the program. My research last summer was on sense of belonging, child advocacy, and education, so it has been interesting seeing it from a sustainable development programming point of view and in a new context. Every day of work is very different because of how varied each community and child advocacy group is. 

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 1 month ago

Victor, your ability not only to keep your basic personal logistics in order but also to continue focusing on the work through it all continues to amaze me in the aftermath of the fire. I've been surprised myself how hard even the little things are (the contact solution is the perfect example. I hadn't encountered that one yet, but it makes complete sense given all the little hurdles I've seen on a daily basis here), so I can't begin to imagine how hard tackling such a big thing was. Bravo for your resilience and keep doing the good work!

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 1 month ago

Week 3: 

At the library, I have a very flexible schedule, and I deal with all kinds of tasks. Typically, I go into work Monday through Thursday from 10 - 5 PM with an hour lunch break (as the French do). Throughout the day, I will work on researching speakers and organizations, proposing events, and creating social media content. I often write descriptions and compile memos for upcoming Evenings with an Author. When I complete my boss' task list, I divert my attention to my larger project analyzing the Library's events data from the past 10 years. On days where there are events, my schedule does change a bit. Often, I will come into work around 12 or 1 PM, so I can help set up and take down the 7:30 to 8:30 PM discussions. I help move tables, arrange chairs, and coordinate the check-in booth. I also occasionally attend the events and socialize with the guests. I am having a very diverse and enriching experience!

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 1 month ago

Week 4: 

Although I generally love Paris and my internship, as expected, I have experienced some challenges in this new city and environment. As I'm sure many of y'all can relate to, adjusting to a different culture and crafting new friendships is incredibly difficult and anxiety inducing. Luckily, many of my Columbia friends are also in Paris this summer studying abroad through the Columbia in Paris programs. I really only had to experience a lonely Paris for a week before some of my closest friends arrived to accompany me on my journey. Due to this great advantage, I believe the greatest issue that I grapple with while here is the language barrier. I can speak an intermediate level of French; however, speaking in a classroom with fellow novices and speaking with real French people is a completely different ballgame. I am often too nervous to speak French confidently, and I have a lot of difficulty understanding fast-paced French people. This makes eating out, shopping, and every day tasks embarrassing at best. Many Parisians speak a functioning level of English, so I have never been severely hindered because of my lackluster language skills. However, in order to make the most of my experience, I aim to speak as much French as possible and it has really been an uphill battle overcoming my inhibitions about making a fool of myself. As time has passed, I have definitely improved in my conversational French, to the point where I can order meals with little to no issue. I found that I could easily improve my confidence by going out with fellow French-speaking friends who could help me in times of language-related crisis. Lots of practice and not letting unsuccessful interactions debilitate my attempts at speaking French were also very beneficial. 

Working at the library has expanded my conception of cultural institutions and made me more interested in event-planning/intellectual discourse. The library often invites very diverse and interesting speakers who cover topics from journalism to technology-based philosophy. This interdisciplinary approach has not only been very enlightening in a broad range of subjects but has also made me more appreciative of having an open dialogue between scholars and the public. It is so wonderful to have a free forum for members of the community to learn about and participate in discussions that are often trapped in academia. Although I have always been interested in increasing accessibility, this experience has really reinforced my dedication to making the frontier of research more democratic. As a side note, I have also picked up a newfound interest in poetry since spending 28 hours of my week in a library with an expansive poetry collection. 

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
15 days ago

Hi Jacqueline,

First of all, the work you are doing at the library sounds so enriching and interesting. I'd love to hear more about the open dialogue initiatives and how the institution makes academia more accessible to the public. Secondly, overcoming language-related inhibitions is definitely challenging, and I'm so impressed by how you've pushed yourself to speak French and have grown more confident during your time in Paris!

Go to the profile of Jacqueline Yu (she/her)
about 1 month ago

Week Five:

I have gained a litany of skills and knowledge from my summer experience. Due to the varied tasks I work on at the Library, I have learned how to create memos, edit videos on Adobe Premier, use Adobe InDesign, analyze events data, plan/host events, create marketing on social media, and, most importantly, work well in a multi-faceted, bureaucratic cultural institution. Being in another country has also helped me learn/practice French, adapt to new cultures, and gain more confidence in my ability to be independent. My boss has definitely been instrumental in helping me adjust to France and make the most of my internship experience. She is actually a Columbia alum, and she had so much amazing advice for me about my remaining years in college. As a leader, she really gave me the freedom to be creative and make my own schedule. Although she still provided guidance, I appreciated her hands-off leadership style which allowed me to come into my own and be more assertive/confident about my abilities. She clearly trusted my capabilities which allowed me to flourish in my tasks. I am definitely more of a control freak when it comes to being a leader, so it was great to experience a new style from the perspective of the one being led. In the future, I will remember the freedom and enjoyment I had from a more laidback leadership style and make sure to incorporate elements of that behavior into my own work. 

Go to the profile of Victor Jandres Rivera
30 days ago

The skills you picked up from your summer experience seem so valuable and amazing. I really like what you said about incorporating a more laidback leadership style into your own behavior. Sometimes I definitely feel like a control freak and appreciate more rigid work structures at times. In my own summer experience, they definitely laughed at me the first day when I thought I would receive a tight itinerary and instructions on how the following 7 weeks would proceed. Being given the chance to decide my own schedule and how I would occupy that time to accomplish my own goals has also helped me appreciate the benefits of a hands-off leadership style.  

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 1 month ago

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

Apologies that I'm a week late in writing this, but I think waiting will have paid off! This week I was finally able to start some WASH work in the field, so I'm hoping that this day is more representative of what I'll be doing for my last two weeks in Ghana.

The day here starts pretty early for college students! While many of the locals wake up even earlier, I generally wake up between 6 and 7 am, eat breakfast, and am ready for my manager to pick me up by 8:30. It's nice to have plenty of time getting ready in the morning! 

Then we ride on her motorbike to the office, which is not far from where I'm staying. We get organized for the day, and then she stays back at the office while I ride with a local volunteer (again by motorbike-that's really all anyone drives here!) to a nearby school. We spend a couple of hours there answering questions about menstrual health and asking the girls questions about how World Vision's menstrual hygiene management interventions have impacted them.

Then we might visit another school first or go eat lunch. After, I'll come back to the office and write down some notes on what we found and a plan on how we can improve interventions moving forward. 

Around 5 pm or so we pack up and head out for the day. I come back to my hotel room, do some exercise and talk to friends or family from home, take a much needed shower after being out in the field, and go to bed around 9 in preparation for another day!

I'm having trouble figuring out how to upload photos, but if anyone has any tips I'm all ears and would love to share some!

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
24 days ago

Hi Eleanor!

It is so exciting that you were able to start doing fieldwork, and it's great to hear about the work that you are doing with WASH surrounding menstrual health education and hygiene management. I would love to learn more about how what World Vision's interventions are and how they are implemented (is it through the schools?). I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Ghana!

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
23 days ago

Hi Eleanor! Your work schedule sounds so amazing and balanced. Not gonna lie, I am slightly jealous you're able to be up so early because some days I am struggling to get up at 9am. I am so happy to hear you have an opportunity to interact with so many locals! For your work, do you re-visit the same group of schools to meet with different groups of students from there? Or do you visit new schools each day?

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
about 1 month ago

Week Four:

What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

The main challenge I've faced here was getting involved in the work I set out to do. My first couple of weeks I spent more on administrative tasks than the field work I had hoped for, which left me feeling anxious both that I wasn't having the kind of impact on local communities I should and that I wasn't getting out of the program the leadership development I should. 

At first I didn't know what to do, as at the same time I felt guilty about not doing field work, I also felt guilty about raising any difficulties for World Vision. I'm here to help them, after all, not to add to their burden! 

Part of the Columbia GLiA program is an ongoing Collaboratory while we're over here in our separate locations. Luckily they asked us to post about our experiences and current challenges two weeks ago, so I was able to raise this concern in an arena that felt appropriate. The program administrators saw my concerns, and one of them set up a call so that he, a World Vision manager, and I could all meet to discuss how I could actually get involved on a WASH project. I was able to share my interests and went out into the field that very day!

Go to the profile of Victor Jandres Rivera
30 days ago

It's great that you were able to use another support network to help you find a solution to the challenges you were facing. I also grappled with the same question of whether I should speak up if I felt as if I am not working in a way that makes me feel productive, so you're definitely not alone in that. I am glad that you are finally getting to do some field work!

Go to the profile of Victor Jandres Rivera
30 days ago

Week 5: 

One of my co-workers at World Vision Ghana, Bryte, has taught me about capacity building and when it is appropriate to be a leader. The work the office does is meant to empower the child protection and education advocates and the local leaders within the community by amplifying their voices. We shouldn’t attempt to lead them but instead give them the tools and platforms necessary to accomplish their goals in the ways they desire. He can serve as a leader within the office, but he has taught me that leadership is also knowing when to take a step back. I really enjoyed working in this office because of the success it has had in developing sustainable projects that put ownership in the hands of those from the community. It has been a valuable experience that taught me to recognize how leadership can quickly become imposing and unethical. In my future endeavors, I hope to continue exercising leadership ethically and recognizing the importance of capacity building in advocacy work. 

Go to the profile of Alisha Arshad
29 days ago

Week 3

It’s difficult to explain a “typical” day, as every community engagement day is different from the other. Sometimes I’ll be out for 4 hours, sometimes 10. Sometimes we’ll speak to community members one-on-one, and sometimes we will present at a community event. However, one concept in particular stands out to me and never changes despite the different activities we do: sustainability.

World Vision places utmost importance on sustainability. They operate, as I’ve been told, that “[they] will not be there forever.” Sustainability is especially important for development work. Simply providing a community with a borehole, for example, is not enough. Communities need to be able to “own” the project, investing into facilities and ultimately improving them. Thus, when they speak to community members, World Vision doesn’t impose their own thoughts or actions onto them. Instead they have discussions with them, and ultimately community members point out issues that need to be addressed and plan with World Vision on how they will take action. They form committees among themselves for various projects, and even create a community bank account for people to contribute to for maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. 

The community is not dependent on World Vision, but can depend on itself for development.

Go to the profile of Alisha Arshad
29 days ago

Week 4

Because of mixups with scheduling, ⅙ of the weeks we’re here for GLiA ended up being during World Vision’s Spiritual Retreat where staff from around the country travel to Accra to attend workshops, bonding events, etc. Since our office was up north, another GLiA student, Polina, and I traveled to north Bolgatanga, a city about a 16 hour drive from Accra. In Bolgatanga, World Vision staff from different countries were working on attaining WASH certification from Drexel. So, we stayed with them at a conference center, attending lectures and programs. However, since this was an entire week out of our short stay, Polina and I were worried about missing out on possible field experiences.

Although we couldn’t connect with staff from our assigned offices since they were at the retreat, Polina and I spoke to Dr. Opong, one of the GLiA program coordinators, and were able to plan a few visits to the field. Although it wasn’t World Vision specifically, it was still amazing to go and see field work in action. We visited a primary school, a secondary school, and a Widows and Orphans home, and were able to experience the impact firsthand while having insightful conversations with people who have given their lives to development work.

Go to the profile of Eleanor Campbell
26 days ago

Week Five:
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

Other people have touched on the language barrier being something they've struggled with and adapted to during their time away. Although I would have with other countries, I didn't think about it much before coming to Ghana since I knew the official language is English. Even so, I've been surprised by how difficult communication can be here at times. It has nothing on a country where the official language is something other than English but still has taken some adjustment. Many of the young children or adults who never went to school speak only their native language (usually Gonja). There's not much to do about the language barrier given how short our interactions usually are, so I've been paying more attention to gestures, body language, and other non-verbal cues to convey my gratitude for their hospitality and my interest in their concerns and well-being.
I've also been surprised by the accent barrier even between other English-speakers and me. Sometimes it seems like we're speaking in two totally different languages! My family has told me for years that I talk too quickly for other people to keep up; now I see they're right, and I've been practicing speaking slowly, deliberately, and as deeply as possible. Usually this is enough for World Vision staff to understand my strange American accent, but when I go to junior high schools a World Vision volunteer usually has to translate my English...into English. It's been humbling and I think has made me more patient. I know the students are very eager to please and that their nodding doesn't necessarily mean they understand, so I've been much more careful not only in my delivery but also in confirming they understand me.

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
23 days ago

Hi Eleanor! It is so beautiful to hear the ways that you are bridging linguistic barriers through non-verbal cues and body language and it so fascinating to hear how even the different in English dialects and accents creates a communication gap. You seem like you're doing great though! So excited to follow your adventures through these posts!

Go to the profile of Alisha Arshad
25 days ago

Week 5 

An important lesson I learned: Development is slow.

During my time in Bolgatanga during the World Vision National Retreat, Afrikids, a local NGO, was kind enough to let us do a field visit a primary school. They were working on their Digitalization Project where students in grades 1-4 studied literacy and numeracy on tablets for 45 minutes on certain days of the week. Students could select their grade level, with the questions becoming more complex as they proceeded. However, this was the most personalization the program received. The tablet could not track any unique progress, so students could possibly be solving the same questions in two separate sessions. The only way teachers could mark possible progress was by making note of which tablet each child used (which was different each time) and quickly writing scores before they had to be reprogrammed for the next class. 

I was curious about the potentiality of tracking progress through the software, perhaps by students inputting or selecting a certain name before starting the program. Then, the Digitalization Program could be even more impactful than it already was. After asking about this, I was quickly informed why my suggestion would be practically impossible in the present time. Besides the cost of upgrading the software, the timeline of development had to be considered. 

I was told that the children and their teachers had most likely never seen a tablet before the program. There had been little to no exposure to smart technology in their lives, which made the project already difficult to implement. It took almost a year for students to become comfortable with the tablets. When the tablets were first introduced, students wouldn’t even touch them at all, fearful of the noises they made when powering up and scared that touching these foreign objects would make them ill. Once they began using them, the students needed to learn how to use gentle taps for a response rather than hitting the tablets, how to connect headphones to the headphone jacks, and how to adjust the volume of the tablets with their side buttons. After a year, their fear has turned into excitement, and they look forward to using the tablets in class. As new students come into grade 1, the process repeats itself, and more students are slowly exposed to the tablets.

Overall, students took months to develop current technological skills, so complicating the software would only serve to slow progress since it requires more input before starting the software. Perhaps as more students in rural areas learn about smart technology, technological literacy among their generation and the future generation will increase and software can be more personalized. However, currently, kids are making the best progress through current software. 

Development requires smaller steps toward an overall goal. When doing development work, it is exciting to think about future potential and possibilities, but it is important to collaborate with the community and keep its culture and progress in mind. Attempting to rush development can result in adverse effects, possibly slowing it instead. 

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
24 days ago

Week 2:

My research plan has changed a bit, so interviews are no longer central to my project, but I still plan on interviewing some people. Last summer, I read an article by anthropologist Anne Guillou about the intersections of memory, religion, and powerful places in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia that really impacted how I think about conducting ethnographic research. Guillou did not ask participants directly about Democratic Kampuchea or use biographical methods; rather, she asked about significant places, which then led to people sharing other stories (partly because of the centrality of place within Khmer Buddhism). Guillou took this approach so as to "avoid the imposition of such Western categories as genocide, violence, suffering and trauma" (208). For me, this approach may look like asking about Khmer Buddhist practices in general rather than asking specific questions related to ritual during and after Democratic Kampuchea. I also want to be careful not to ask leading or forceful questions that center my own assumptions and instead follow participants' lead. I think that in general, this project is more suited toward the invisibility of the researcher, but I also know that I am always going to be present in my research, so I want to be aware of the ways in which I am visible, especially considering the dynamics of me as a non-Cambodian interviewing Cambodians or any assumptions I may hold (or, as Guillou says, biases toward frameworks of analysis that do not necessarily fit within this context) that could come through in my research process.  My summer program is also a group program, so I have been engaging a lot with fellow undergraduates from the US, Cambodia, and France. This international and multicultural environment has been so enjoyable and interesting.

Guillou article: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23752538?seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents

Go to the profile of Dennis Zhang
23 days ago

Hi Bryley, it's so interesting to hear about how you've grappled with your positioning as a researcher while conducting ethnographic research. In particular, I was struck by your nuanced decision to strive towards the role of an unimposing, 'invisible' researcher while acknowledging the ways that your own biases and interpretations shape meaning. In taking an open-ended approach to interviewing, you leave space for the emergence of new ideas - one that might even surprise you.

Simultaneously, I am curious if there are productive ways that you can embrace your biases and positioning (whether that be as a researcher, or a Laidlaw scholar from Columbia, etc.) that actually strengthen the insights you derive. For instance, are there interesting comparisons/juxtapositions that you can make between what you are observing in Cambodia and other religious dynamics in America, etc.? Looking forward to hearing more about your research- and your adventures in Cambodia.

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
24 days ago

Week 3:

I can't figure out how to attach a photo, but here's a description of my typical day! After waking up and eating breakfast, I will join my group either for a discussion or a field trip. For instance, this morning we spoke about post-war reconstruction and reconciliation, and later this week we will visit the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. After our morning session, I will find somewhere to eat lunch and then will turn towards my own research project in the afternoon. This week, this involved visiting the Buddhist Institute, the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, and Wat Phnom, a major temple. Though my program is based in Siem Reap, we are currently in Phnom Penh, so I've also been enjoying exploring the capital city! In the evening, I'll go to dinner, typically delicious street food, with others in my group, which is always fun. Casual discussions with other participants in my program have been the most valuable part of this experience for me and have really informed my thinking and research, so I'm always grateful to spend time with them. After dinner, I typically cannot resist a fresh fruit smoothie (pretty sure I will be dreaming about coconut smoothies when I go back home—they're SO good) before heading back to our hotel, wrapping up any work I have or hanging out with the group, and going to bed. 

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
23 days ago

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

For me, a typical day starts off around 9:30am, when I wake up and start getting ready to leave for my internship on the other end of town. My commute is very reflective of Bulgaria's history: the '7' French-built tram that I take from my apartment is ultra-modern (LCD screens, electronic doors, a countdown timer to the next stops) - a testament to Bulgaria's warming relations to the West and an ignited passion for infrastructure development. The "20" Soviet-built tram that I transfer to next is a testament to Bulgaria's communist past - mostly running late, clanky, rough seats, and lever-operated doors.I begin working around 11am, starting off with a quick debrief with my manager of the day's tasks and the progress on what I achieved over the past day.

For the past week, what has followed this debrief is me working on my policy brief to the European Union raising concerns about the dilapidated conditions of migrant housing. By 1 or 2, I'll head to lunch which doubles as socialization time for me with my co-workers and managers. After lunch, I'll continue working on my tasks before heading out for around 5pm. Usually, my days vary a lot with what I do after work. Some days, I'll either hang out with friends from work; other days I'll run some errands and do chores, taking solo trips in the city alongside. I've started to cook more in my apartment after the learning curve of getting familiar with Bulgarian ingredients, but every now and then, I go eat out to try some of the local flavors. By 12am, I try to be asleep so I can be ready and fresh for the next day.

Go to the profile of Hassan Javed
23 days ago

What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

Apart from just adjusting to an entirely new country that I was not familiar with, one of the challenges that I encountered was with writing policy briefs. It's surprising because despite it being 90% of my internship work, I had never written a policy brief before this summer. So the first few drafts were full of mistakes and structural edits, and I'm not even going to lie, halfway through my second draft, I was ready to give up and ask for another internship assignment that didn't require such a niche expertise of writing.                                              

But, eventually, I decided to push through and tackle the problem by asking for help and my manager to guide me through all of the edits she suggested. In fact, the legal advocacy aspect of my work responsibility has exclusively begin to narrow on policy briefs. Now, with guidance and practice, I've become proficient enough in writing policy briefs that I'm able to help other interns out with it. And through writing numerous briefs, I've been introduced to so many new topics that I have come to find interesting that I was completely unaware of previously, including how the European Union is introducing restorative judicial strategies for detained migrants. 

Go to the profile of Bryley Williams
15 days ago

Week Four:

My primary challenge this summer has been figuring out how I can pursue my research fieldwork when I do not speak Khmer and do not have many resources and connections in Cambodia. I wish I had a clear answer to how I've tackled this issue, but I am still grappling with it. One thing I've realized is that I need to figure out how to use the resources I do have to my advantage. My program is located on the grounds of a temple in Siem Reap, and so I am currently trying to get in touch with people associated with this wat through my program. I am not yet sure where this will lead, but I am hopeful that I will be able to conduct some interviews. This has been a good reminder for me to be flexible and to go with the flow! I've also expanded my view of what a summer of research can be: I've spent the last four weeks constantly learning, observing, and asking questions, and I think that even if I do not leave Cambodia with precise answers to my initial research questions, I will certainly leave with thoughts about many questions I didn't even know I had when I arrived.

In particular, I have become even more interested in the topic of historiography, especially how politics impacts the way history is written and collective memory is constructed. I’m now also quite interested in the field of museum studies, having noticed that people leave offerings and pray at places like the National Museum of Cambodia and Angkor Conservation (where many artifacts are stored and repaired). I have been thinking about how museums should approach artifacts that have active religious significance. My topic has not narrowed much, but thinking about my work through these new angles has been really exciting.

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
13 days ago

Week Four:
What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

Navigating Problematic Sources: 

One specific challenge I have been facing is contextualizing the sources I am reading with the background of the author, especially when the author is not a member of the Marshallese and/or lived in the Marshall Islands for reasons connected to the US government. An example of this was a detailed book about Marshallese culture written by a Peace Corps volunteer who was later expulsed from the Marshall Island community which he had joined. The book provided some useful information for me about community structures in parts of the Marshall Islands, but ultimately understanding the background of the source helped me realize that I don't want to use the source as a significant part of my research. 

My mentor has been helping me identify problematic sources and understand larger arguments in discussions of reparations for the Marshallese and different perspectives at play in understanding the historical and current situation. 

Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

My project so far has touched on VERRY big topics such as the Pacific War, history of the US Military-Industrial Complex, tribally-organized communities, nuclear testing/disasters specifically in the Pacific islands, and the Marshallese resistance/independence movement. I have learned so much from this project already, and I am currently deciding to zoom in on one of these topics: gender dynamics and women's rights in the Marshall Islands, Marshallese resistance/independence movements (music, political organizing), or the history/arguments surrounding the movement for reparations for the Marshallese. 

Hi Anna,

Your project this summer sounds so interesting! I was quite struck by the point you made about 'problematic sources'-- it seems like when studying indigenous and other non-European communities, these can be the most accessible sources of material to us (I was also noticing due to language and preservation of these materials), and yet convey outsider 'Western' biases in how these communities are represented. I was recently reading about something similar in the context of the Guiding movement for my research last week (the Girl Guides, female equivalent to Boy Scouts), where the researcher found that most descriptions of indigenous Guide troops in Canada had been written by British women from outside the community, often eliding important details that we now might not have access to. It makes a lot of sense to think about how to critically examine these sources—and the impact they have had—rather than accept them on face value! Your idea for what you will specialize in look amazing. Can't wait to hear what you end up deciding to work on! :)

Week 1:

Hello! Let me first say that it has been amazing to hear about everyone’s work this summer—reading the posts and replies on this page makes me very grateful for our cohort and Laidlaw community, even as we are all scattered across the world this year, rather than meeting as a cohort in-person.

I am now a week into my second summer of Laidlaw work (having started much later, because of study abroad!), so I’ll begin by describing my project. This summer, I am working with Sneha Krishnan, an Associate Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oxford, on a project called “Intimate Internationalisms” (that falls under the umbrella of the Oxford and Empire Network and Unstable Archives Project, which was where I first learnt about Prof. Krishnan’s work and reached out to her). The aim of this project is to trace networks of middle-class Indian women who came to Oxford to study in the early twentieth century—roughly from the 1910s-1940s, with an emphasis on the interwar/late colonial period, the 1920s-1930s. We are looking at archives of these women’s correspondences (as well as Oxford periodicals, registration lists, and magazines that might help us track down more individuals and out more about their activities here), housed within individual Oxford colleges they attended: primarily St. Anne’s College, but also Somerville College (where a few elite Indian women famously attended, including first law graduate Cornelia Sorabji and first female Indian PM Indira Gandhi), Lady Margaret Hall, and a few other places.

Until I spoke with Prof. Krishnan about this work, I had no idea that these informal student networks existed at all. My Laidlaw research last summer, on the Indian educator, poet, and activist Mahadevi Varma had caused me to develop a certain ‘mental picture’ about what it meant to be an ‘educated woman’ in early twentieth century British India: a time when perhaps less than one percent of Indian girls and women were literate, and when even if girls were educated, it was in Hindi and other ‘vernacular’ languages, within the home or in a local educational institution. Mahadevi wrote (in Hindi) about how the “modern woman [adhunik nari]” was so “alone,” belittled by educated men, and distinct (by virtue of her education) from her fellow Indian women. My project this year links some of these questions about women’s education in colonial India to some broader questions in international history, about networks of education that arose during the British empire: British educators coming to colonies such as India to found colleges and schools, and Indians from elite (and some middle-class) backgrounds winning scholarships to continue their undergraduate and postgraduate study abroad, primarily in Britain in schools such as Oxford. We are seeking to bring Indian women into this international history project, arguing that even though many official channels to Britain were closed to them (they were prevented from obtaining India Office scholarships), some middle-class women still made it to Britain through informal networks of women (from wealthy patrons, to missionaries, to educators) who would pitch in the funds and connections to bring them to places like St. Anne’s College, Oxford. How did these women see themselves—did they feel similarly isolated, as Mahadevi wrote, or did they perhaps take solidarity in these informal networks? What were their aims, in coming to Oxford—and how can we understand their contributions upon returning to India vis-a-vis those of more famous ‘England-returned’ Indian [and here I mean British India, including present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh] men, such as Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Jinnah, Bose, and others? These are some of the questions (building on the questions I explored last year) that I am seeking to explore through our work, which involves going through secondary and primary sources to produce scholarly writing, as well as, eventually, a public exhibition for St. Anne’s College on these women’s papers.

One of the worries I have, with this research, is a question of how much we will find about these women—a struggle I faced last summer as well, given that they have been almost completely left out of official national and international histories, and official archives. I worked on conducting a literature review this week, and noted how it was rare for secondary sources to name any of these female students directly: to find their names or archives that might lead us to them, I often had to go through the footnotes and bibliographies of these secondary sources, which could provide leads into resources at Oxford that we could draw upon. Within the colleges’ archives, which we are going to start looking at this week, my professor was mentioning how these women’s papers (with the exception of a few, well-known elite Indian women who studied here, like Sorabji or Gandhi) are often not considered important enough to document, scan, and digitize, meaning that we might be going in blind in a few cases, not entirely knowing what we will find, or how much material there will be (even with the help of the colleges’ archivists). At the same time, I think there might be something beneficial about explicitly recognizing this current sense of uncertainty about what we will find. It reveals the important gaps within the conclusions drawn by official histories (which is why I am so excited about this project, and the chance to bring together my interests in interwar international history and Indian women’s education). Moreover, it also speaks to the limits of what history-writing can accomplish—how we, as researchers, draw on imagination and experience to implicitly fill in the gaps left by official histories and archives. I have been thinking a lot about these questions this week, especially with regard to my own place as a researcher—I’d never been to Oxford before, but in some ways, wonder if my desire to come here this summer was partly born from a curiousity to think about what it means to be an Indian studying Indian history from Britain, to re-trace some of these women’s paths to the colonial metropole, while being temporally and spatially removed from them.

Go to the profile of Anna Nuttle
4 days ago

Week Five:
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

Someone who has been very involved in my project is my mentor who is a historian who also engages in volunteering and activism work. It was amazing to see someone apply their academic understanding to help the needs of a community. 

Week 2.5: 

Hello! Since my Laidlaw Second Summer is running on a slightly shortened timeline—for a total of ~5 weeks instead of 6—I’ll aim to respond to both the Week 2 and Week 3 prompts in this post.

A typical day in my research project can vary a lot based on what we are up to! During my first week, I met daily with my professor, who gave me some secondary literature to read that I went through and took notes on to find “leads” for our archival work: I would spend the days working at Oxford’s Radcliffe Library (both absolutely stunning and also their history library, so it has been a dream to work in), or in a nearby cafe, reading these books and documenting the names of archives, individuals, and sites at Oxford or in other universities that could lead us to more information about the women who came from India to study here. We would then follow-up on these leads—especially the direct connections to Oxford—to see if we could access the corresponding archival materials (for instance, today, I am going to the Brasenose College archives to see the papers of Apa Pant, an Indian student who founded the ‘Namaste Society’ at Oxford in the 1920s, whose name I encountered in a book called The England Returned that I was reading last week!). Since last week, we have spent time in the archives themselves, beginning at Somerville College, and moving to St. Anne’s College. My professor would coordinate with the respective colleges’ archivists, and we would generally meet with them in the morning, and be directed to a room in their libraries, where we would be given the colleges’ registers from the 1890s to 1940 (generally, due to privacy reasons, they cannot give us student registers after 1940). We would go through the registers to scan the information of all students who were of Indian origin, as well as Anglo-Indian and missionary students (part of these imperial networks of education that linked India, Britain, South Africa, and other parts of the British empire). Then, I would go through our scans, type up the list of names of students we wanted to follow-up on, and we would share this with the archivists, so they could see if they had student files for these students (since so much of the early work has just been naming the students whose names have not otherwise been recorded). Last Thursday was my first time flying solo in the St. Anne’s archive, where I spent about four hours going through the last two student registers, listing names, and reviewing the papers of an Anglo-Indian student who came to Oxford on a Government of India Scholarship. After finishing this archival work, I generally get some lunch in the area, and spend the evenings doing some more work on transcribing student files (when we have them),  developing a list of names, and following-up on connections these students have to other institutions or government programs in India, Britain, and elsewhere in the British Empire or in the world. I usually try and take a long walk in the evenings—it’s absolutely beautiful here, though last week was quite hot—and fit in time to explore Oxford, visiting local museums, little stores, restaurants, and cafes. 

My main project this week have been developing an online database of the names of Indian, Anglo-Indian [i.e. British children born in India, generally the children of Indian Civil Service Officers, other merchants/tradespeople, etc.], Eurasian [i.e. people of mixed Indian and British/European heritage], and Asian/other non-European students (I get to deploy my love for the online platform Notion in the service of research!). The idea is for this information to eventually be turned into a digital exhibit on these international, imperial networks (quite likely on a digital map of some kind, which my professor seeks to get funding to create through the Oxford Faculty of Geography, her department)—it also just makes our research easier as it offers a means of gathering and organizing information on individual students and consolidating their names in one place, since the St. Anne’s College registers have not been digitized and are all hand-written. In addition, through archival work last week, I am hoping to write an essay about a really interesting source I came upon last week—the student file of an Anglo-Indian woman who appears to have come to Oxford on a Government of India Scholarship (something I was surprised by, both since the GOI rarely funded women, based on the secondary sources I read, and also since they decided to fund a British woman specifically when these scholarships were generally framed as a means of providing education to Indians), who was evidently sent here to train to become a teacher and return to India to teach, but instead, decided to remain in Britain and lost an extension of her scholarship. It has made me think a lot about the kinds of liminal identities and communities I have encountered in this archival work. While I am not conducting ‘outside participation’ through interviews—since these women, born in the late 1890s/early 1910s, have passed away by now—there is a strange sense of connection one feels to them when reading their extensive, often deeply personal correspondences with the St. Anne’s principal, their struggles to find employment, to win the funding to remain at Oxford and pursue their desired course of study, or to secure passage to/from the colonial ‘metropole.’ When we find names in the college registers, we often have to go by sparse clues to decide whether to follow-up on this individual student by asking the archivists for their student files. I found plenty of British women born in India [Anglo-Indians], whose education and lives were spent entirely in Britain, since their families would seek to send them back “home” to be educated, viewing India as a dangerous place to raise children; I had not originally thought much of following-up on them, viewing them as ‘British’ (with my focus being on Indian students), until I came upon this particular woman’s file. It made me realize the kind of unstable, liminal identities that are formed through empire—the unequal relations of power, given that Anglo-Indians were meant to assert their superiority over Indians within the subcontinent, but also the liminality of their existence, since they would be treated as outsiders when they returned “home” to the metropole. This was compounded by the fact that travel was so expensive, and out of reach for the children of low-ranking ICS officers (or other lower-class Anglo-Indians), so perhaps a scholarship to Oxford was the only way for this woman to secure her return “home”—only under the condition that she return to India to serve as a teacher (upholding the colonial project of producing ‘civilized,’ English-educated Indian subjects, and thus serving the GOI’s interests), when she desperately wanted to remain in Britain with her family. This is all to say, I do feel myself coming through in the research, by the very fact that, with only a few pieces of information (a woman’s name, her birthplace, her father’s name and profession, and the names of her referees), I decide who to ‘scan’ and add to this database, and whose papers to ask for (if the papers are there at all)—a process that has made me highly sensitive to thinking about who falls through the cracks of the categories and binaries (British versus Indian, Christian versus Hindu versus Muslim, ‘elite’ versus working-class, and so forth) that we are trained to think in and sort these names into. I hope to explore these issues more this week, by delving into Anglo-Indian identity some more (and how they might have related to Indian students at Oxford), and am also glad to continue the archival work—we’ve found two Indian women who came here to study Sanskrit, which I have loved studying at Columbia, and wrote doctoral theses on the status of women in ancient India (which I am very excited to read this week!).

Also: I wasn't able to figure out how to include a picture in this post, but the database I linked has some pictures/scans of the materials I've been working with :)