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  Cornell University

Engaged Graduate Student Grants 2016 Recipients

Engaged Graduate Student Grants provide opportunities for Ph.D. students and their thesis advisors to conduct research or scholarship that is community engaged or to develop strategies for incorporating community engagement into existing thesis work.



An Ethnographic Approach to Fostering Entrepreneurship within Buffalo

Graduate Student: Rohini Jalan, Social Sciences

Abstract: Makerspaces are community-operated spaces that provide tinkerers and hobbyists with access to a range of tools and technology, such as 3D printers and laser cutters. These spaces have the potential to significantly impact the American economy by encouraging the local production of goods and reviving manufacturing in the United States. Rohini Jalan, a graduate student in social sciences, is investigating two makerspaces — one in Brooklyn and one in Buffalo — to determine how these spaces engage their communities and foster entrepreneurship. Having observed the makerspace in Brooklyn, Jalan will undertake ethnographic field research at The Foundry, a nonprofit makerspace and business incubator on the East Side of Buffalo. Her research will help these facilities understand how they can increase community participation and create sustainable ties to individuals and organizations working to revitalize the local economy.

Keywords: makerspaces, entrepreneurship, locavorism, do-it-yourself, knowledge sharing, Brooklyn, Buffalo, The Foundry, economic revitalization, community engagement, nonprofits

Special Committee Chair: Marya Besharov, organizational behavior, School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Community Partners: The Foundry


Civic Engagement: An Approach to Address Health Disparities Among Rural Women

Graduate Student: Urshila Sriram, Nutritional Sciences

Abstract: Rural women experience poorer health outcomes relative to their urban counterparts. This is partly due to environmental conditions, including limited access to healthy foods, physical activity opportunities, and medical care. A potential strategy to reduce these health disparities is the use of civic engagement programs designed to improve community environments. In this project, Urshila Sriram, a graduate student in nutritional sciences, is qualitatively evaluating a civic engagement initiative called “encouraging Healthy Eating and Activity in Rural Towns” (HEART Club), which engages residents in fostering community environmental changes under the guidance of local health educators. The HEART Club model has been incorporated into a six-month community-based intervention aimed at reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors among rural women in medically underserved rural towns in Montana and New York.

Keywords: rural women, health disparities, civic engagement, environmental conditions, rural community health, qualitative methods, Healthy Eating and Activity in Rural Towns (HEART) Club

Special Committee Chair: Rebecca Seguin, nutritional sciences, College of Human Ecology

Community Partners: Montana State University Extension, Bassett Research Institute


Commercial Food Spoilage

Graduate Student: Abigail Snyder, Food Science

Abstract: The spoilage of food products by microorganisms leads to food waste, quality loss, and consumer dissatisfaction. Yet most research on this issue has focused on bacterial  and not fungal  food spoilage. This project will attempt to close that gap by building a culture collection of food-sourced spoilage fungi and evaluating it to identify the processing and formulation conditions that contributed to the spoilage of the food products. Abigail Snyder, a graduate student in food science, is researching how critical controls should be modified to prevent fungal food spoilage. She will communicate her findings and offer training to community partners and food manufacturers at hands-on workshops and other activities organized by the Cornell Food Venture Center, and other extension programs, that provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs and developing food companies.

Keywords: processed food, food spoilage, food waste, microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, fungal control, mycology, Cornell Food Venture Center, food manufacturers

Special Committee Chair: Randy Worobo, food science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Community Partners: Several New York State small food businesses, Cornell University Food Safety Extension


Interethnic Tolerance Levels in Kenya

Graduate Student: Gaurav Inder Singh Toor, Government

Abstract: Interethnic tolerance levels in Kenya remain one of the lowest among African countries. In this project, Gaurav Inder Singh Toor, a graduate student in government, is conducting a study to determine if repeated exposure to people of different ethnicities who provide beneficial information improves tolerance levels among residents of Kaptembwar, a densely populated informal housing area in Nakuru, Kenya. Toor will collaborate with Greenthumbs, a community-based organization, to conduct a survey-based randomized control trial. In the first stage, the interviewers and respondents will be co-ethnics. After recognizing individuals with lower interethnic tolerance, he will equally divide the group in phase two. Although, both groups will receive the same beneficial information over a few months regarding health, education, and other social issues, the identity of the social worker providing the information will be different. While one group will be assigned co-ethnic social workers, the other group will receive information from  social workers of another ethnic group. The original interviewers will then ask the respondents they initially spoke to the same questions from the first stage. Toor will then analyze any changes to the answers and find reasons for them.

Keywords: interethnic conflict, interethnic tolerance, ethnic differences, ethnicity, co-ethnic, non-co-ethnic, political violence, slum, Kaptembwar, Kenya, Greenthumbs

Special Committee Chair: Nicolas van de Walle, government, Graduate School

Community Partners: Greenthumbs


Itineraries of Development: Emerging Networks across Palestine-Chile

Graduate Student: Laura Menchaca, Anthropology

Abstract: Laura Menchaca’s project explores the social, political, and economic relevance of the deepening relations between Palestinians in the West Bank and the sizable Palestinian Diaspora in Santiago de Chile. Her research is first and foremost an attempt to better understand the nature of South-South solidarity networks and the collaborative relationships they build by examining the partnerships that West Bank and Palestinian-Chilean institutions are cultivating in an effort to side-step Western development agendas perceived as inhibiting autonomy. Since starting the project, Menchaca has been collaborating with a Palestinian nongovernmental organization to build relationships with Palestinians in Latin America in support of Palestinian-led development.

Keywords: Palestine, Palestinian diaspora, Palestinian-Chileans, Chile, Santiago de Chile, Latin America, West Bank, South-South development, nation-building, Palestinian-led development

Special Committee Chair: Sofia Villenas, anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences

Community Partners: Palestinian non-governmental organization


Judicious Use of Antibiotics to Treat Mastitis and Reduce Economic Losses from Discarded Milk

Graduate Student: Amy Vasquez, Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Abstract: The overuse of antimicrobial drugs to reduce infection of the mammary gland in dairy cows may be associated with lower production and the transfer of resistant bacteria to consumers. In this project, Amy Vasquez, a graduate student in biological and biomedical sciences, is conducting a research project to develop an algorithm that will identify cows that are at high-risk for developing infections of the mammary glands, which would be targeted for the antimicrobial therapy. The project will demonstrate that selectively administering the drugs to dairy cows will reduce drug use and costs while not increasing infection rates in low-risk cows. After the outcomes of the study are evaluated, Vasquez will launch a series of outreach meetings to teach dairy producers on more than 100 farms in New York state about the benefits of selective antibiotic therapy.

Keywords: dairy cows, dairy producers, dairy production, antimicrobial drugs, mastitis, selective dry cow antibiotic therapy, blanket dry cow therapy, New York state

Special Committee Chair: Daryl Van Nydam, population medicine and diagnostic sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine

Community Partners: Spruce Haven Farms, Cayuga Marketing, Valley Ag Software


Patient-Researcher Partnerships in the Fight Against Cancer

Graduate Student: Peter DelNero, Biomedical Engineering

Abstract: Cancer patients have unique knowledge about living with the disease, but rarely connect with researchers who study cancer in the laboratory. This project will extend a model for patient-researcher collaboration that could be replicated in other communities. Peter DelNero and Alexandra McGregor, students in biomedical engineering, will build on a partnership they helped create with the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes and in collaboration with Robert Weiss, professor of molecular genetics in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Since 2012, this collaboration has fostered patient-researcher dialogue through activities such as lab tours, book clubs, and a monthly patient-researcher seminar series. The project will document the process of creating a patient-researcher collaboration and create a “playbook” that will serve as a template for other institutions and support groups to emulate.

Keywords: cancer, cancer patients, cancer researchers, patient-researcher collaboration, biomedical engineering, patient advocacy, cancer support groups, Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes

Special Committee Chair: Claudia Fischbach, biomedical engineering, College of Engineering

Community Partners: Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes


Rebel History: Empowering Youth to Contextualize and Narrate Their Own Histories

Graduate Student: Sean Cosgrove, History

Abstract: Underprivileged students have difficulty accessing college-level education in the United States not only because of economic disparities but also because of a lack of familiarity, guidance, and support. This project will help demystify higher education for a group of underserved high school students in New York City who will be invited to participate in a semester-long workshop called Rebel History. Sean Cosgrove, a graduate student in history, will engage the students in a seminar in which they create an historical narrative about a site, event, or person in New York City and then re-conceptualize it by focusing on what has been left out or distorted. As the students develop research, writing, and critical thinking skills, they will be introduced to the higher education system and will visit Cornell during the project.

Keywords: underprivileged students, underserved students, historical narrative, higher education, access, college, New York City, Power Writers

Special Committee Chair: Derek Chang, history, College of Arts & Sciences

Community Partners: Power Writers


Teenage Instruction in History, Culture, and Language

Graduate Student: Marsha Jean-Charles, Africana Studies

Abstract: Since 1995, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a youth development organization in Harlem, has offered after-school programs and summer camps that teach elementary and high school aged youth a range of skills, from leadership development to global awareness. Marsha Jean-Charles, a graduate student in Africana Studies, is an alumna of the program and has worked at the organization since 2004. This project allowed Jean-Charles to co-facilitate an international study program for a group of youth to travel to Cuba in the summer of 2016. To prepare for the trip, Jean-Charles met with the students twice a month in New York City beginning in February and then spent seven weeks with them in the summer — four of which were in Cuba. During the program, she presented workshops on Afro-Cuban history, culture, and politics as well as helped the students design and implement their own research projects throughout their time in-country.

Keywords: youth development, international study program, youth leadership development, global awareness, Haiti, Cuba, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Harlem, New York City

Special Committee Chair: Carole Boyce Davie, Africana studies, College of Arts & Sciences

Community Partners: The Brotherhood/Sister Sol


Territorial Control and Access for Indigenous Groups in Latin America

Graduate Student: Fernando Galeana Rodriguez, Development Sociology

Abstract: The Miskitu peoples in Honduras, one of many indigenous groups in Latin America, have recently obtained rights to their ancestral homelands, amounting to nearly 11,000 square kilometers of land, or about 10 percent of the country’s land surface. This project will examine the new practices of land controls that have emerged since the Miskitu’s legal victory in 2012 and the effect they have had on the population and the environment. Fernando Galeana Rodriguez, a graduate student in development sociology, will collaborate with the Unity of the Miskitu Peoples (MASTA), an indigenous organization attempting to govern the new territory and revitalize indigenous identity. He will also examine how other indigenous peoples in Latin America are negotiating their political inclusion as stakeholders in land governance in an economic system that has excluded them from decisions about land control.

Keywords: Miskitu peoples, indigenous groups, ancestral homelands, territorial control, land governance, Honduras, Unity of the Miskitu Peoples (MASTA), Latin America

Special Committee Chair: Wendy Wolford, development sociology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Community Partners: Unity of the Miskitu Peoples (MASTA)