SIT Congratulates Wesleyan University and Johns Hopkins University Students for Excellence in Undergraduate Research

By Anne Holmes

SIT Study Abroad recently announced the winners of its second annual Undergraduate Research Award: Michael Greenwald and Andrea Carrassi. These students were selected based on the quality and significance of their Independent Study Projects (ISPs), which were completed during the final month of their semester-long SIT programs.

The ISP is de­signed to allow students to deeply engage with a topic in their host region and to integrate the learning, knowledge, field experience, and contacts acquired from all other components of their SIT Study Abroad program into their research.

“It was my privilege to review nominees for the annual SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award,” says Priscilla Stone, SIT vice provost. “I was very impressed with the quality and variety of projects that were nominated and enjoyed reading the academic directors’ nomination forms and student statements. I want to extend my thanks to those [academic directors] who nominated students and commend you for fostering such high-quality, interesting, and important work among your students.”

Michael with a camel near the Zanskar Range

Michael with a camel near the Zanskar Range

Michael Greenwald: Street Boys in Kathmandu

Michael Greenwald is a student at Wesleyan University and an alumnus of the Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program. He received the award for his ISP “Cracks in the Pavement: the Street Boys of Kathmandu.” Michael divided his ISP into three major sections. The first examines, he says, “the push and pull factors that lead children to take to the streets, highlighting geospatial patterns of migration, and casting a critical eye on the effect of kind-hearted, well-intentioned generosity from the palms of tourists and locals alike.” The second “investigates the sidewalk lifestyle of street boys, exploring substance abuse, income generation, gang dynamics, and sexual activity/abuse.” The third considers “tactics of intervention by examining age barriers to rehabilitation, social stigma (e.g., the derogatory term khate), and NGO impacts in their intention and actuality.”

Michael speaking with a “street boy” at Pashupatinath Temple

Michael speaking with a “street boy” at Pashupatinath Temple

As part of his research, Michael observed more than 150 boys between the ages of 5 and 16 and conducted dozens of interviews with NGO affiliates as well as former street boys (the latter conducted under supervision). Of his many conclusions, he found that “street boys of Kathmandu are a ‘sub-society,’ complete with a unique Nepali dialect, hierarchical organization system, and methods of obtaining the goods and services they desire.” He warns against giving money, clothing, food, or medical assistance to any street child: since they live by “balancing NGO services and street income, pushing them toward the NGOs (by not giving directly) is the only [. . .] responsible choice.”

The academic director of SIT’s Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program, Isabelle Onians, praises the importance of Michael’s project “because of his engagement with individuals and a subculture who are in grave peril. Not only will his writings have consequences that we hope contribute to the betterment of the plight of great numbers of young people and their bereft families, but in his fieldwork he directly impacted a whole community.”

Michael is currently a Davenport Study Grant recipient of Wesleyan University and is at work writing an expansive report studying the history of development in Nepal from 1990 to 2015, with a special emphasis on its street populations. “I hope for this project to become my Honors Thesis at Wesleyan, and aspire to one day pursue a dissertation in the field.”

Andrea (second from right) with her Zanzibari homestay family

Andrea (second from right) with her Zanzibari homestay family

Andrea Carrassi: Octopus Populations in Pemba

Andrea Carrassi is a student at Johns Hopkins University and an alumna of the Tanzania-Zanzibar: Coastal Ecology and Natural Resource Management program. She received the award for her ISP “Assessment of Octopus (Octopus cyanea) Populations in Misali Island, Pemba,” which examines fisheries in Zanzibar and the international organizations trying to regulate octopus stocks in the Pemba Channel region.

According to the academic director of the program, Helen Peeks, “Although simple in its methodology, the project has provided a small and significant source of information on octopus populations in the region that can be used in comparison studies. Moreover, the simplicity of the methodology makes it easily replicable. The real-world implementations of her work in a thriving octopus fisheries market can be seen in both social and scientific spheres.”

Preparing an octopus for dinner on Misali Island

Preparing an octopus for dinner on Misali Island

To carry out her research, Andrea explains, she “measured and calculated catch data from octopus fishermen (eggs, gender, CPUE [catch per unit effort], weight, length, color, etc.), conducted transect surveys on Mpapaini Beach, and determined currently utilized fishing grounds and their boundaries in the entirety of Misali Island.” She adds, “This required a lot of trial and error and empirical perspectives of research.”

Andrea’s work proved to be incredibly relevant in the region. “It solidified and justified propositions to regulate entire fishery closures in the area by giving a more holistic biological picture of octopus growth; they [the results of Andrea’s research] served as a continuous point of reference for the region’s octopus population.”

Andrea believes that her research can help find a balance between the needs of conservationists and of fishermen whose livelihoods depend on octopus fisheries. She hopes her work can be used to strengthen Misali Island’s management of fishing grounds and octopus populations. Andrea was fortunate that by the time she finished her ISP—the beginning of December 2014—an international symposium on octopus fisheries was held by NGOs and governmental organizations, and she was able to present her research to stakeholders in the western Indian Ocean fishery sectors.

The Award

SIT Study Abroad academic directors nominated students for this annual award, and a committee of SIT’s academic deans and the vice provost selected two winners. Michael and Andrea will receive $150 each and will serve as SIT’s nominees for the prestigious Forum on Education Abroad 2016 Undergraduate Research Award.

“This year, approximately 1,800 students completed an independent study project at one of our many sites around the world, and the results of this original research were truly amazing. Topics and disciplines ranged widely—from the many varieties of natural science research to inquiry in the social sciences and humanities,” Vice Provost Stone says. “Each academic director is asked to nominate only their very best student projects; the two chosen this year have clearly followed rigorous and challenging methods, working under the guidance of an advisor, have adhered to strict ethical guidelines, and produced a stellar product.”

SIT has long been a leader in undergraduate research abroad with its signature ISP program component. Many students enroll in an SIT program with limited, or no, primary field research experience, and the ISP is often the first op­portunity for students to learn how to undertake a field-based research project in an intercultural setting.

We once again congratulate Michael and Andrea on their extraordinary work, knowing that they will carry these experiences and passions with them to positively impact their home communities as well.

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