The Exeter Bulletin — Fall 2012
A Lion in the Field
Exonians benefit from new summer fellowship program
By Karen Ingraham
It was August 12, and John "Max" Heald '13 was standing on a street in Manila talking with a young boy named Gavin. A nearby four-story shopping mall, with high-end merchandise inside, was backdrop to the cracked sidewalks that were often shrouded by tarps at night—makeshift homes for Gavin and Filipino street children like him.
It was a long way from Exeter's storied brick dormitories, and from Heald's hometown of Bedford, NH.Yet Heald recognized something familiar in Gavin: a child's curiosity, the urge to play, and an unabashedly happy smile...despite a life on the streets.
It was the smiling countenances of so many children like Gavin that brought real meaning and added motive to the project that Heald and Zachery Ray Jorgensen '14 had co-created: to produce a documentary that educates people about child abuse and homelessness in the Philippines and spurs action to help eradicate the problem.
The documentary and five other student research projects were the first summer fellowships awarded through a new program launched by the Student Council. Originally the brainchild of Woo-Hyun "Wayne" Byun '11 during his tenure as Student Council president, the fellowship program provides Exonians with the opportunity to gain greater recognition for research they pursue off campus. Angelica Clayton '13, who currently oversees the program, says many students engage in scientific or intellectual studies every summer, and "it's important for the school to recognize that they are not just working here...they are working year-round."
Clayton adds that the fellowships are vehicles for "educating the whole student body on different issues that are present in the world," and for expanding the concept of cultural diversity by sharing with the Academy community, through formal presentations, the documentaries, blogs or papers that culminate the fellows' research. For Heald, Ray Jorgensen and the other fellows, their research proved to be personally eye-opening and provided avenues for discovery and analysis that are possible only through hands-on fieldwork.
During his stay in the Philippines, Heald also met Rodel, a young boy who had been homeless but is now living at the Stairway Foundation, a nonprofit child care organization in Puerto Galera. The foundation provides residency and schooling for the most at-risk street children, as well as training and workshops to advocate for children's rights. Ray Jorgensen's parents established the nonprofit in 1990, and Ray Jorgensen grew up making friends with former street children and developing a deep empathy for their plight.
"It has been my dream since I finished my freshman year...to be able to bring students from Exeter to see my world, where I come from, and hopefully let them bring back what they see to their homes and spread the word about Stairway and what we do," Ray Jorgensen wrote in a blog post, "It's happening right now."
The fellowship was, in effect, a year in the making. The idea sprung from a Facebook messaging session between Heald, founder of Exeter TV, and Ray Jorgensen in the summer of 2011. Heald learned about Stairway and about the rampant problem of child abuse and homelessness in Ray Jorgensen's country. Together, the boys decided to make a documentary and recruited five Exonians to be on the production crew: Josh Desmond '15, Robert "Dylan" Farrell '14, Spencer Goodwin '14, Shannon Hou '14 and Eleanor "Ellie" MacQueen '14.
The team spent much of the 2011-12 school year on logistics and fundraising.The fellowship program does not currently have a funding source, therefore the summer fellows were required to finance their own research efforts. Clayton says, "We're hoping to get some sort of funding this year so that we can expand the program," adding that the fellowship selection committee had to deny half of the applications due to an inability to provide funding for any of the student research projects.
Heald and his crew used indiegogo.com, a global fundraising platform, to offset some of their costs. Through the posting of a video asking for donations, they raised more than $4,000—enough for the camera and audio equipment they needed.
Once on the ground in the Philippines, the seven-person crew filmed in Manila before traveling to the Stairway Foundation.There, MacQueen blogged about a resident, 13-year-old Derik, who described how his mother had disappeared as he walked right behind her playing with his Rubik's Cube. He looked down briefly, MacQueen retells, and when Derik looked up, his mother was gone.
MacQueen writes: "I consider all the three-second increments in the entirety of my life. I think of the ones spent with my mother, recounting all the hours and all the days I have remained in her four-foot radius, orbiting the center of my universe. ...He was six at the time. He was left alone at the heart of a 7.2-million people Manila with only a colored square toy. His small axis must have been knocked wildly out of rotation. He was alone."
Roughly 1,500 miles to the west of the Stairway Foundation, student fellow Jerilyn Wu '13 was splitting her summer between internships at UNICEF Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur (her hometown), and the nonprofit Population and Community Development Association, in Bangkok, Thailand. At UNICEF, Wu worked as the youth and social media volunteer, creating documentation that profiled social media users in Malaysia so, Wu says, "UNICEF could better utilize social media to engage, inform and mobilize the public.
"One of the most important lessons I've gained from my Harkness-oriented education is that voices matter," she adds. "It was this notion that drove, and continues to drive, my commitment to creating platforms that allow people to make their stories known."
A longtime advocate and volunteer within the field of social development, Wu—who is currently an Exeter Social Service Organization (ESSO) board member—had applied for her internships before learning about the fellowship program. She says she "later decided to pursue the fellowship as a means of sharing important takeaways from the experience. ...I wanted to gain an understanding about the development sector from two different vantage points—one from the country office of a large intergovernmental organization and another from a locally operated NGO."
It was during her fieldwork in Thailand assisting with village assessment reports and other projects that Wu, like Heald, found her beliefs influenced and challenged by those around her.
"During my six weeks at the Population and Community Development Association, I had met the most incredible individuals in the poorest parts of the region," she says. "Yet I felt communities of warmth and camaraderie like I had never experienced in any affluent city. I looked around and saw a people brimming with life and laughter. Wealthy in spirit.
"When I would travel to these areas with groups of more-affluent individuals, however, all I could hear was talk about what communities were lacking. 'What stands in the way of development is the people,' I'd hear as I listened to complaints of complacency and the difficulty of changing 'primitive' mindsets. ...The lines began to blur as I questioned what it meant to be here for the 'betterment of society'—a tough realization for a girl who had invested so much of her young career in the social cause."
Summer fellow Rohan Pavuluri '14 was seeking answers to his own questions about economic development in another Asian country, India. He wanted to know why there was such civic and governmental opposition to Walmart and other foreign direct investment (FDI) in multibrand retail establishments within India.
Pavuluri, who heads PEA's Democratic and Exeter Political Union clubs, became intrigued with this political tension while taking Modern India, a new course taught by History Department Chair Meg Foley and spawned by a trip to India that she and History Instructor Leah Merrill '93 took a year ago. Although both of Pavuluri's parents grew up in India before emigrating to the U.S., he says he often thought of the country in terms of it being where his grandparents lived and where he went for vacation.
"I never thought of the history of India," Pavuluri says. "After taking Modern India...it gave me a greater understanding of why India was the way it was."
He started questioning why it was so politically contentious—and at the time illegal—for foreign companies like Walmart to establish retail stores on the subcontinent, particularly because Pavuluri was in favor of such development. On the blog he created to encapsulate his research and findings (rohansfellowship.wordpress.com), Pavuluri writes, "To put my support succinctly, I believed that the advantages of long-term growth for the economy outweighed any short-term discomfort."
Like a true Exonian, however, Pavuluri wanted to understand the opposition, to listen to the arguments so that his own was better informed, and perhaps even altered. So he became a journalist upon arriving in India, writing afterward on his blog, "All of my interviews were done in Hyderabad and Vijayawada, the first and third largest cities in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh respectively. For my project, I was able to meet everyone from kirana shop owners (the Indian term for the unorganized retailers who make up 98 percent of Indian retail) to a Communist Party leader to former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and current Telugu Desam Party leader Chandra Babu Naidu."
Pavuluri's final post on his blog is a formal policy paper "explaining the flaws in the arguments of India's opposition to Walmart and why allowing FDI in multibrand retail would further the country on its path to development." But, he says, "I did have a few adjustments in my opinion" after he concluded the research.
When Que "Cherry" Zhang '13 was growing up in Changsha, the capital city of China's Hunan province, Hunan embroidery—the delicate craft of hand stitching with colored silk thread—seemed commonplace as artwork. Zhang says, "I was much more curious about artworks from other countries. As a result, I never cared enough to look closely at any embroidery to understand the artistic and cultural value of this Chinese folk art." That changed for her when she decided to pursue a summer fellowship to better understand the intricate nature of the craftsmanship and how it has survived for more than 2,000 years. Zhang conducted her research through an internship at a workhouse in the Hunan Embroidery Research Institute, as well as with a visit to the city where Hunan embroidery originated and interviews with local embroiderers.
To better appreciate the skill required for the embroidery, Zhang tried her hand at making Exeter's red lion. She says, "Even though the embroidery teacher taught me the easiest type of needlework and told me to 'just fill up the picture with a red thread,' I often either broke the thin thread...or created ugly white spaces between the red lines because I did not have the patience."
The real challenge for Zhang, however, was to parse through the information she found in her attempt to understand how the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s had impacted Hunan embroidery. Zhang explains that because all research sources are subject to censorship in China, "When I searched for information online, the English websites and Chinese websites had a very different perception and presentation of the Cultural Revolution." She relied, instead, on firsthand stories from elder embroiderers to gauge the revolution's impact.
"This experience has taught me not to view the information that I receive in each country as the absolute truth," Zhang concludes. "Always viewing an issue from the perspectives of people with different backgrounds is essential to my career at Exeter—it allows me to arrive at a more sophisticated conclusion to the problem."
Alan Guo '14 encountered a different challenge during his summer fellowship. He had to adjust his research goals when a sediment core he was intent on analyzing was missing the top layer that Guo hoped would yield data on how climate has changed over the past 1,500 years.
Guo spent his summer working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA,with senior scientist Dr. Lloyd Keigwin. Guo's research project focused on paleoclimatology—the study of "climate change on the time scale of centuries to thousands of years," he explains. The PEA upper analyzed sediment cores, or "long tubes of mud," collected from the ocean floor.
Each morning, he would hop on his bicycle at home and ride down to the institution, where he would wash core samples to find and collect the small shells of dead, single-cell organisms called forams. He would then put them into a mass spectrometer for radiocarbon dating and take a delta-O-18 measurement to determine the water's salinity and temperature at the time the core sediment was formed.
Aside from further fueling his interest in science—Guo is taking PEA's environmental science sequence as a result of his Woods Hole experience—"I think it's instilled a sense of responsibility in me," Guo says of the internship. "Every day I was working, I was on my own doing my own work.
"It's very different from Exeter... . Having experience in the real world helped me explore my opportunities for the future, and that's something valuable. Being able to connect with other adults who aren't your teachers and are professionals is pretty interesting."
Agents of Change
For Guo and the other student fellows, their summer experiences were only part of the fellowships. Now back on campus, the students will share what they have learned with Exeter students and faculty. Clayton says that at least two of the fellowships will be selected for presentation during a winter assembly, and all of the research projects will be presented in the Forum during that term. For some of the fellows, the goals and potential audience reach are even broader.
Of her work in Malaysia and Thailand,Wu says, "I learned about the importance of listening, of learning from failure, and of questioning motive. I learned about the power of inspired individuals, about the ways in which personal perspective shapes one's understanding of the world and its people. ...the experience also helped me realize that one need not traverse the globe to 'do good.' Social service can and should start in communities around you... . These are lessons I will share with members of the ESSO Board, the ESSO global team and the larger Exeter community."
Heald and Ray Jorgensen are already busy planning a premiere for their documentary, as well as booking dates to screen the film at high schools, colleges and film festivals. "I hope audiences will see the overwhelming presence of child homelessness and sexual abuse in the Philippines, however disturbing it may be," Heald says. "If watching our documentary sparks a dialogue about how to solve some of these issues, then we've done our job.We all need to realize complacency, as a course of action, is the same as acceptance."