Home2019-2020Students exhibit Carson Grant research

Students exhibit Carson Grant research

Elizabeth Hyde

Staff Writer

The first wave of  2019 Carson Grant recipients presented the culmination of their independent student summer research projects. According to Willamette’s website, Carson Grants are project funds offered to Willamette undergraduates to “undertake a scholarly, creative or professional research project during the summer.” 

The first presenter was Kelly Ewing (‘20), with her project “Creating Change from the Ground Up: Stories of Regenerative Agriculture from Aotearoa New Zealand.” Ewing’s research brought her to two farms on the island of Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand), which she found through the program World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). 

Ewing detailed a brief history of agricultural practices on the island, explaining that Māori peoples brought sustainable agriculture and staple crops there from Polynesia approximately 1,000 years ago. After Aotearoa was colonized in the 1800s, land use shifted to harmful industrial practices, like utilizing pesticides and planting monocultures rather than diverse crops. This shift had huge negative consequences on the environment and contributed to climate change. 

The farms where Ewing conducted research are working to reverse the effects of harmful land-use practices. Both traditional agriculture and the more recent regenerative practices of permaculture happening on these farms take holistic approaches that aim to care for land and community health, and to promote carbon sequestration to battle climate change. 

Using her research, Ewing created an informative zine detailing these regenerative practices. “The project is mostly about communities working together to restore control over their food systems and in doing so, building their community and climate resilience,” said Ewing. 

Claire Vestrate (‘20), an environmental science major and Japanese minor, researched the best ways to potentially implement a green curtain on campus for her project “The Feasibility of a Green Curtain on the Willamette University Campus.” Green curtains are installations of climbing plants, like peas or wisteria, grown on the sides of skyscrapers and other buildings to provide shade, and reduce the heat reflectivity of cityscapes while being aesthetically pleasing. Vestrate initially traveled to Japan, through Willamette Luce Scholars program, where she learned about the green curtain from leading experts in the field. Vestrate did a thorough investigation of numerous Japanese districts implementing green curtain technology. She found a wide range of green curtains on the market, ranging from simple nets to more permanent steel cables. Vestrate also researched what plants would be ideal for Salem’s rainy climate and identified the west side of the University Center as a great location for Willamette’s own curtain. Vestrate welcomes those interested in getting involved with the green curtain to email her at <cwverstrate>.

Arturo Pérez López (‘20)  presented “Identity Formation in a Multicultural Household: A testimonio,” a project that took its final form as an 80 page written testimonio, or personal narrative, that articulates the complexities of his identity as being in the first generation in his family to grow up in the U.S. He was inspired to write after learning about plans to build a large-scale, gentrifying housing development in his hometown of Woodburn, OR, and how his primarily Latinx community was not adequately informed of the plans. 

In his testimonio, Pérez López delves into the issue of a lack of representation in local politics: “In a town where we’ve established a local economy, and the streets are painted brown, why is it that it isn’t ours? We are the culture of this town. We’re the carne asada you smell as you cruise through downtown. We’re the workers you see at 4 a.m., filling the vans one-by-one, as we make our way to the fields. We’re the students, both parents and children, making our way to Chemeketa to earn a degree. We’re the championship soccer team, fulfilling our dream(er)s. Woodburn is as Mexican as it gets, but apparently, that still doesn’t make it ours.”  

He was also inspired by his parents and the profound sacrifices they have made for his education. From the time he was a child, he has been influenced by his father’s words “La base del éxito es el estudio,” which he translates to, “The foundation for success is an education.” This is an ethic his father has always used to hold his son to high standards. 

Pérez Lopéz writes, “His demand for perfection was born out of la necesidad, and so was my mother’s work ethic. They had no room for mistakes because in this country, they were foreigners and one mistake could lead to deportation.” 

The introspective testimonio has inspired him to pursue a doctorate degree in history.  

The final presenter was Emilia Cubelos (‘20) who created the photo book “Embodied Resistance: Womxn’s Protest in South Africa” while studying at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa last semester. Creating this book involved an intensive process of interviewing and photographing 14 South African women and, as she said, “explores the contemporary issues that women in South Africa face and the ways in which they reclaim their bodies as a means of protest.” 

Based on a random sample of self-selected participants, meaning the women documented in the photo book participated by their own volition, Cubelos centers women’s stories, as she wrote, “recounting their own perspectives on the status of women in the nation and the role of their bodies in the struggle for liberation.” 

Throughout her research, Cubelos was careful to establish a dialectic relationship between herself and the women she worked with, insuring they held agency over the way they would appear in photographs and that they knew their consent was crucial to the whole process. 

“Though our bodies are made into political objects,” writes Cubelos on the third page of her book, “they can also serve as political tools… Every body can be used as a tool of protest, but women’s bodies occupy a unique space insofar as the need to liberate our bodies is so often the reason we embody resistance in the first place.”

All of these projects may be accessed online via Willamette’s Academic Commons under the headings “Student Academic Grants and Awards” and “Carson Grant Final Projects.” The deadline to apply for the upcoming summer funds is March 9, 2020. 

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