Alumnae Regional Scholars are often surprised by the twists and turns their projects can take. They are even more likely to emerge aware that disparate experiences are connected, and that there can be individual versions of truth, even one’s own over time.
In the course of her ARS project to compare refugee resettlement organizations in the United States and East Africa, Hana Brown ’01 also won a Truman Scholarship, an award of $30,000 for graduate study given to students pursuing careers in public service. Brown doubts she would have received the prestigious nomination without the opportunities afforded her by ARS, although she has been a social and political activist since high school in Greensboro, NC and was described by her sponsor as "a woman who can see far ... who lives in a local, national and international world."
District 5 (Southeast) Alumnae Regional Scholar volunteers chose Brown to receive a $2,000 ARS stipend, which is awarded in the sophomore year to be used before the beginning of the senior year. (See sidebar for more information about the ARS program) Brown, an anthropology major, wrote in her project proposal: "For as long as I can remember, the door to my family’s home has been perpetually open to visitors and boarders, some of whom lived with us for several years. They have come from different ethnic backgrounds ranging from Vietnamese to Colombian, including a Cambodian girl victimized by the Pol Pot regime. All have become part of my extended family; many were refugees. Refugees and refugee aid organizations have always played a role in my life, but I feel that Ido not have a complete understanding of either. This project will help me see what my parents saw when they accepted these people into our home..."
In May 1999, when the first Kosovar refugees arrived in the United States, Brown began doing volunteer work with American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia. After studying Swahili in Tanzania that summer, she resumed weekly stints at AFSC in the fall. "I did everything from preparing shipments to researching aid strategies to preparing agreements with partner organizations abroad. My supervisors kept me informed of all the goings-on at AFSC, including introducing me to staff in various departments other than the Emergency and Material Assistance Program where I was working. They also invited me to sit in on staff meetings when project reports were being presented."
While studying in Kenya last year, Brown met with officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and program coordinators at various NGOs. Although she did not end up visiting refugee camps in Kenya, she spent last summer working with the African and Eastern European refugee communities in Greensboro.
Zhanara Nauruzbayeva ’02, of Haddonfield, NJ (District 3), has aspired since childhood to prevent ethnic conflicts in her homeland of Kazakhstan. In order to meet people with similar goals but different experiences and learn from prominent activists, she attended the International Student Symposium in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution July 17-August 11 in The Hague and Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In an article for the Znamya Truda newspaper in her hometown of Taraz (excerpt translated here into English), she wrote that although the "peaceful and quiet Hague" was not as strange a setting for the study of violence as it might at first seem. "For many of us .... this may have been one of the first opportunities to experience what it is like to live in an environment where one can walk on the streets without having to be on guard constantly, can express their opinions without fearing repercussions, and sleep without waking up during the night from gun shots." Nauruzbayeva, who is majoring in German (she is already fluent in Russian, Kazahk and English) and Peace and Conflict Studies, hopes to conduct research next summer on the conflict between the government and Islamic rebels on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Her advisor, Scott Urbom, who worked with her as a Peace Corps volunteer in Taraz, says that during his two years of service, "No student gave me more hope for the future of Kazakhstan than Zhanara. She has the potential to be a leader in her country."
Rethinking the role of international volunteer
Lakshmi Indrasimhan ’02 of the Philippines (District 11: International) is a product of international schools and has traveled extensively, although she remains "emphatically in touch" with her Hindu Indian culture. She feels that exposure to cultural and political diversity is not a privilege, but a necessity. For her project, she wanted "to take a break from my much beloved college life and do something a bit uncomfortable." She postponed her original ARS project, to help organize youth activities at refugee work camps in Hungary, Slovenia and Bosnia through Volunteers for Peace, saving this for a larger grant and more time to do research. Instead, she spent three weeks last summer at an international work camp in Sale, Morocco. She reports:
"The experience did help me realize the differences in medical sanitation and overall healthcare in lesser developed parts of the world, things I thought I already knew about since I grew up in Kuwait, India and the Philippines and have travelled extensively through Asia in particular.
"But I found there were surprises waiting for me. We worked at the Sidi-Moussa dispensary on the most rubbish strewn and dirty seaside I have ever witnessed, cleaning up contaminated needles from the premises, watching mass innoculations using often only one needle, scores of patients suffering from tuberculosis. It was a hospital where diarrhea was still a major cause of infant mortality. There was also the simple yet essential goal of educating the women of the community on common childhood illnesses, birth control, etc. I myself fell very ill while I was there with stomach bacteria and parasites, and found myself shamefully hoping I would not have to be taken to the very dispensary I had worked at. Also, the organization that I volunteered for had given us volunteers (from Morocco, France, Japan, Spain, England, India and the United States) the impression that we would be doing work as medical assistants, not doing field clean up work of sorts. But nonetheless I was exposed to Moroccan culture and life while also rethinking many of my ideas on the role of international volunteers during both peace and war. Is it all gestures and rhetoric? How lasting are the changes you try to introduce? Is it just a cheap vacation plan? How best can one carry out international humanitarian intervention? How unjust is the current international economic climate? What is the role of pharmacies in creating and providing drugs for various diseases? Why is it that many diseases rampant in third world nations whose citizens cannot afford fancy drugs are rarely the subject of research? What is the role of everyday social hygiene in the spread of diseases and how do different cultural mores in regards to hygiene prevent and cause the spread of certain ailments? What is the role of local and international non-governmental organizations in giving monetary aide to various facilities? How are patients and the handicapped treated in various communities? What is the role of religion in defining and seeking to explain various health issues, particularly birth control, abortion?
"I am still working on the answers to these questions."
The self and moments in time
Melissa Brochwicz-Donimirski ’02 of Renton, WA (District 10) was so traumatized by her physical education experiences in junior high that she came to hate her "weak, female body," and felt completely disconnected from its parts. She managed to waive PE during high school, but, inspired by the example of her first-year Japanese teacher, began studying Judo as a senior. For her ARS project, Brochwicz-Donimirski attended the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo, recognized internationally as the birthplace and heart of Judo, and recorded her experiences through black-and-white photography and poetry.
District 10 volunteers were struck by the importance of finding a physical voice as a woman and the way in which Brochwicz-Donimirski’s proposal "extended learning in a kinesthetic, verbal and visual way."
To her surprise, she found that her most powerful experiences in Tokyo happened off the Judo mat, as she faced new, completely unrecognizable situations, beginning with getting around Tokyo alone, understanding little Japanese. Completely lost one day, she met an older Japanese woman who invited her home to dinner with her husband (extraordinary in Japan) and adopted her, teaching her about Japanese customs.
" ‘Ichi-go, ichi-e,’ Emiko-san used to tell me," she wrote. "This moment has never happened before, and shall never happen again, so it is necessary to treasure it while it still exists. Each experience Ihad: happy, frightening, contenting, are connected. ... Now that Ihave seen where I can go, what I can do, and most importantly, who Iam, I know Ican face any challenge that meets me—on or off the Judo mat."
Blythe Handley Foster ’02 of Brentwood, NH (District 1) is preparing a video documentary on her grandmothers’ lives and is especially interested in what it means "to tell a story that allows others to speak their stories."
Last summer, Foster, who is majoring in English with an independent concentration in film and theater studies, attended a beginner’s course in 16mm film production at the Maine International Film and Television Workshops in Rockport. She then visited her grandmothers in Maryland and southern Virginia; one is the only remaining relative who knows the stories and names associated with her many boxes of family photographs. The other, her "Vovo," immigrated to the United States from Brazil in her early 20s, and her stories are rare.
"My biggest challenge was how to respond to my grandmothers’ uneasiness around the camera," Foster reported. She came away with 10 hours of digital video footage, but "what was recorded represents only a few dimensions of the time that my grandmothers and I spent together. .... Some of my questions were unanswered; some of their memories cannot be shared. However, we discovered many old photographs, stories and songs together. They introduced me to places and people they visit in their minds. ... The project that lies ahead of me is to study the footage that we made and to try to shape it into yet another story."
Jessica Ruth Kiefer ’02 of Allison Park, PA (District 6E) attended the University of New Orleans summer field school in anthropology program at Brunnenburg Castle, Italy. In a cultural immersion experience, students learn to understand and process culture shock through studying the historic and contemporary cultural ecology and ethnicity of the South Tirolean alpine region.
Kiefer’s fieldwork included the symbolism of Tirolean cemeteries and images of protective saints found on or near barns. As a result of her studies, she has become very interested in landscape anthropology, why people build things where they build them, and anthropology of religion. "I would love to return to the Tirol to study more in both these fields, possibly in graduate school or maybe even as a Watson fellow."
Teachers as positive role models
Meera Ratnesar ’01 of Hayward, CA (District 9) piloted an SAT prep program for inner-city high school girls. Ratnesar, who is president of the Self-Government Association (SGA), is majoring in mathematics and minoring in education. She has been a teaching assistant in science and honors chemistry at the Baldwin School and in high school worked with the Partner’s Program, a summer and year-long enrichment program for gifted inner-city junior high students. She has been commended for her "natural ability to involve students in thoughtful discussion and engage them in classroom activities."
Ratnesar based her SAT prep program out of East Palo Alto, and had six girls in her classroom. "My project was monumental just because I had to write the curriculum, recruit the girls, administer the program, grade exams, etc.," she reported. "Although it left me exhausted a lot of the time, I took away from it a sense of what is truly lacking in our educational system, the need not only for qualified and well-educated teachers but the need for teachers who are positive role models—who know how to be a friend and yet maintain the authoritative figure that a teacher must have.
"I had a hard time all summer, and I continue to grapple with the issue of standardized tests. Is it really right to teach to the test as a SAT prep course does? But as I taught the course, I realized that I was teaching more than just how to take the SATs; I was teaching hard work and discipline, time management, vocabulary, and most importantly: I feel as though I was teaching my girls that they are capable and wonderful young women who can be what they want and voice what they want to be heard. They needed the confidence that our all girls’ classroom gave them.
"I had a wonderful summer (and two years planning) this program, and I am grateful for the opportunity that Bryn Mawr alumnae gave me. It showed me that our presence as Mawrtyrs is not solely on campus but can be and should be extended outside of the Bryn Mawr community.
"I am not one of those students who can tell you exactly when and where they will be 10 years from now, but I know that I want to be surrounded by kids, working and educating them."
Courtney Wilburn ’02 of Burnsville, MN (District 5) was to intern with Speak Out, an organization in San Francisco that provides speakers on topics affecting society such as racism and sexism. But when she got to San Francisco, she was told that they had misplaced her resume and cover letter. She found another internship at LYRIC(Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center), an organization that works to provide services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth between the ages of 14 and 23. Her main projects were helping organize a conference for Young, Loud and Proud (YLP) held during the summer and working with the newly formed LYRIC Free School, a political education program primarily for youth of color. She developed a ’zine featuring their artwork, photography, poetry and prose. "One of the benefits of the LYRIC Free School is that Ireceived extensive anti-racist, youth-oriented activist training." She is using what she learned in campus organizations at Bryn Mawr dedicated to promote understanding between people of different racial and ethnic groups.
Melinda Anne Phelps ’02 of Houston, TX (District 8) worked as an intern at Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia, a non-profit media arts center that offers a variety of programs to promote the use of the video medium as a tool for community change. She worked on Documentary Alive, Street Movies! and the Youth History Project, a documentary produced annually by middle and high school students. This year’s group investigated the history of fashion as activism in the Philadelphia area. "As Scribe was somewhat involved in the alternative coverage of the Republican National Convention, I found myself in a hub of non-profit activism. Through the Independent Media Center, Iobtained a press pass and joined a collective of independent documentaries to help produce nightly alternative coverage via satellite and on-site press conferences of the convention. This experience reinforced my belief that urban community organizations can provide a framework for progressive change."
Selena Roker ’02, an economics and math major from Brooklyn, NY (District 2A), interned for the Local Development Corporation of East New York, a non-profit organization that strives to revitalize the community. "I had an outstanding experience," she reports. "For the first time in my life, I now understand who owns certain parts of Brooklyn and the decisions they make when implementing new programs. I was blessed with the opportunity to work there while they started the Women’s Business Center for New York State. To my surprise they let me contribute my ideas towards the ‘Intake Needs and Assessment’ plan to be presented to the SBA (Small Business Administration). I am putting together the general brochure that will be used for the Women’s Business Center. This was a lifetime experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Hopefully, the LDCENY will allow me to come back to work for them this summer."
Living with the land
The project of Abigail Mathews ’02, of Woodbridge, CT (District 1) grew out of her childhood dream to become an archaeologist. In high school, she participated in an excavation of an Anasazi site but also saw an unexcavated site that had remained pristine because of its remote location. "While mapping the remains of the town," she wrote, "I became interested in how one might learn as much about a site as possible without the invasive digging procedure." To this end, she received training last spring in ground penetrating radar (GPR) for archaeological research. GPR transmits ultra high frequency radio waves that reflect from various buried objects to produce a continuous cross-sectional profiles. In July and August, Mathews traveled to the Aleutian chain, collecting data at the 1000 B.P. Amaknak Bridge site on Amaknak Island, where she identified remains of what might be a subterranean dwelling and another house, and the Summer Bay site on Unalaska Island, where findings suggest partial "tent rings" built of beach cobbles. Mathew’s is the "first such survey in the Aleutian chain" and she hopes that her resulting research paper will "contribute to the development of this promising means of archeological investigation in this region." Mathews continues her work in independent study with Professor of Anthropology Richard Davis. During the fall semester, she also worked on an historical site close to the Bryn Mawr campus, Harriton House, where she looked for evidence of foundations, particularly of slave quarters and various outbuildings.
Elissa Underwood ’01 of Colonia, NJ (District 2c) investigated the ongoing planning dynamics for two cities, Newark, NJ and Boston, and three planned communities:Radburn, NJ (1910s), Columbia, MD (1960s) and New Kentlands, MD (late 1980s), a neotraditional community of clearly defined neighborhoods around a vibrant town center that was designed by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Through her interviews with planners and visits to each site, Underwood found that both cities and planned communities deal with challenges by "altering original goals and making way for new definitions and models that will keep their plans functional and user-friendly in the fast-paced society in which we live today."
Cecilia Qiros Cañiza ’01 of Makati, the Philippines (District 11), struggled with moral issues of land ownership at a time when reallocation of large estates to tenant farmers is increasingly giving way to lucrative development schemes. In a journal of photos and essays, LUPA (Tagalog for "land"), Cañiza, a double major in Spanish and comparative literature, reflects on the history of agrarian reform in the Phili-ppines, her privileged background and memories of a bucolic landscape, and the thoughts of the farmers she interviewed. Saddened that the watering hole, rice and sugarcane fields where she played as a child are now part of a golf course, she came to realize that her recollections depended on the work of tenant farmers themselves, who took a more more philosophical view of development and considered the cash settlements they received their only option. "Land conversion simultaneously frustrates and calms me because land is changing, and so are people’s lives," she writes. "What Iremember also adapts to the times:a childhood still innocent, but not so comforting anymore."
|What is ARS?|
Through this program, revised in 1998, alumnae award stipends for independent study projects to sophomores from their geographical districts. The money for the awards comes from income generated by Regional Scholarship Funds that have been raised in each district for need-based financial aid; additional money comes from the Alumnae Association’s budget. The number of stipends each district may award is based on the amount of financial aid it has raised, although each district is guaranteed at least one award.
How are our awardees chosen?
What are the benefits of this program?
Alumnae become acquainted with current students at the College both on paper, in the project application process, and in person through mentoring contact, meeting Alumnae Regional Scholars either after their projects are completed, or as active and interested alumnae in later years. Current students have a chance to gain insight from their mentors and to enjoy and join the company of Bryn Mawr’s past.
—Ann Levy Lathrop ’61, New England ARSChair
Return to Spring 2001 highlights