Engaged Cornell graduate grants fund 10 Ph.D. students

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Melissa Osgood

Ten Cornell doctoral students will work with community partners in New York state and around the world on individual research projects supported by Engaged Cornell. The first Engaged Graduate Student Grants were announced by Vice Provost Judith Appleton.

The grants support and enhance partnerships while providing opportunities for Cornell doctoral students to conduct critical research and scholarship. Doctoral students in all fields of study are eligible for the grants, which support work relevant to their doctoral dissertations, including training and learning experiences. Applications for the next round of grant funding will be announced in the fall.

The recipients, their graduate fields and community-engaged research projects follow.

Sean Cosgrove, history, is designing an intensive 15-week workshop, “Rebel History,” to empower underserved New York City high school students. Next spring, 15 students will contextualize and narrate their own histories, developing reading, writing, research and critical thinking skills. Cosgrove says his dissertation research “seeks to understand the ways in which cities themselves are written by their inhabitants, and what power narratives have in shaping social and physical space.”

Designed in collaboration with New York City–based Power Writers, the project will help the organization forge links to higher education – Cornell in particular – and expand its efforts to assist potential first-generation students. The workshop includes a day trip to the Ithaca campus.

Peter DelNero, biomedical engineering, is investigating the outcomes of patient-researcher interactions as a transformative approach to cancer research. The project builds on a collaboration begun in 2012 with the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes (CRCFL), with a monthly seminar in which Cornell students facilitate dialogue between scientists in training and cancer patients and survivors.

DelNero, biomedical engineering graduate student researcher Alexandra McGregor and CRCFL director Bob Riter will evaluate the collaboration as a partnership model, publish the research and produce resources for institutions, patient advocacy and support organizations. These include a “Voices of Cancer” publication compiling conversations between patients and researchers, to be distributed in Tompkins County.

“The complementary perspectives of patients and scientists provide a more complete understanding of a very complicated disease,” DelNero says.

Rohini Jalan, industrial and labor relations, is investigating makerspaces for their social, educational and economic impact, and the ways they establish and engage a community and facilitate entrepreneurship. As localized democratic production systems, makerspaces bring people together in community spaces and provide access to tools and technology such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines and lathes.

“These spaces exist to promote scientific, cultural and artistic advancement by encouraging technical and social collaboration, and thus creating a community,” she says.

Having researched a hackerspace in Brooklyn, Jalan is undertaking further ethnographic research at a nonprofit makerspace in Buffalo, New York. Working with the Partnership for the Public Good and Cornell’s High Road Fellowship program, one goal of the project is to “help the space understand how to increase community participation and create sustainable ties to individuals and organizations working to revitalize Buffalo,” Jalan says.

Marsha Jean-Charles, Africana studies, will co-facilitate an International Study Program (ISP) trip to Haiti and Cuba this summer for The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (BroSis) youth program, after ISP training this semester. An alumna of BroSis and involved in the program since 2004, she has participated in three previous ISP experiences including co-facilitating a trip to Haiti in 2013. For the 12 to 15 teens on the trip, she plans to enhance their educational experience with instruction in history, culture, language and other subjects, and will act as a translator in Haiti.

Her dissertation compares contemporary literary and theoretical texts to examine relationships between Brazil and Haiti and their diasporas. Her main research interests are “in what lies at the intersection of black identity, womanhood, art, transnational migration and radical social change.”

Laura Menchaca, anthropology, is exploring the deepening relationship between Palestine and its diaspora in Chile. Her dissertation project is “first and foremost an attempt to better understand the nature of solidarity networks and the collaborative relationships they build,” she says.

Menchaca’s ethnographic research explores how Palestinian organizations mobilize the diaspora in Chile and with what sociopolitical impact. Her work will help provide a clearer picture of the diaspora community in Chile, as well as inform programming for organizations involved in this work.

Fernando Galeana Rodriguez, development sociology, is studying emerging land control practices and potential effects on livelihoods, the environment and indigenous identity among the Miskitu people in Honduras, who have recently obtained legal rights to their ancestral homelands.

Building on prior fieldwork, and in partnership with the Unity of La Moskitia (which defends indigenous rights), Galeanawill continue his research in three territories selected for their residents’ primary livelihoods – seafood, forestry and agro-industrial crops – and learn the Miskitu language.

His study is “a window onto the ways in which indigenous peoples in Latin America negotiate their political inclusion as stakeholders in land governance against the reality of an economic system that has systematically excluded them from decisions about land control,” he says. Galeana plans to present alongside indigenous representatives at “Land and Territory in the Americas,” a conference in Bogota, Colombia, in August.

Abigail Snyder, food science, is researching spoilage in commercially processed foods, with a goal to eliminate or inhibit the outgrowth of spoilage microorganisms. She is collecting food spoilage fungi from commercial food products received through the Cornell Food Venture Center (FVC), for species identification and determination of the conditions subject to spoilage. Subsequently she will evaluate intervention strategies including modifying controls. The research results will be shared with food processors and community partners via FVC extension activities.

Snyder’s research project is integrated with a course in the Department of Food Science, in which undergraduates are given problems submitted by FVC community partners. The capstone course is supported by a 2015 Engaged Cornell Curriculum Grant.

Urshila Sriram, nutrition, is investigating the impact and effectiveness of civic engagement initiatives on reducing rural health disparities among midlife and older women.

In partnership with Montana State University Extension and Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, New York, her study will focus on engaging residents from eight rural communities in creating positive environmental changes, and overcoming such barriers as geographic isolation and limited access to nutritious foods and physical activity resources.

The results will be shared with researchers and practitioners nationwide as well as community leaders and project participants.

• Gaurav Inder Singh Toor, government, is investigating a method to improve inter-ethnic tolerance through engagement in a volatile slum in Kenya, where people of different ethnicities coexist but lack meaningful contact.

His research includes a randomized control trial of “varying the ethnic identity of a social worker coming in meaningful contact with low tolerance individuals,” he says. By leveraging the tendency of survey respondents to bias their answers to those not like them, Toor wants to determine whether the survey experience itself can “influence attitudes positively over repeated interactions since there is a benefit to such contact.” His dissertation is intended “to inform theoretical gaps in the social sciences on ethnic relations.”

Amy Vasquez ’05, DVM ’09, is researching mastitis (inflammation or infection of the mammary gland) in dairy cows for her doctorate in comparative biomedical sciences.

Her research seeks ways for dairy farmers to judiciously use antibiotics and alternative methods to treat mastitis and reduce economic losses from discarded milk, reduced production, treatment and other costs. Partnering with farmers in New York state and allied agribusinesses in a trial with 600 dairy cows, her study will develop, evaluate and implement an alternative antibiotic therapy for use on farms. Vasquez also will make recommendations based on the research findings and develop an outreach plan to communicate the results to the commercial dairy industry.


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