Blog 3: Final Summer Report

Over the course of this summer, I partook in a research project headed by Professor Judith Pajo and alongside Shen Yang, Zoe Kim, and Emma Wolkenstein. The purpose of the project was to gather information on how people who work in a field that deals with environmental maintenance in an urban setting approach their work, how they came to work to uphold the environment, and what they expect out of their work moving forward. To gain a thorough understanding of both the participants in our research and the areas that they work in, a multi-layered methodology was used.

Methodology: The first thing that we did was individual research. We looked online and to previously known connections and places for organizations or public spaces that dealt in some way with the environment. These places include community gardens, compost recycling plants, and water filtering centers. Once a list of places was made, each person contacted the organization to explain the purpose of the project and our interest in the organization and its employees participating in it if possible. For the organizations not normally opened to visitors, we asked about a site tour, to better understand the environment a participant would be working in. These places would be contacted by email or phone if they were unknown to us previously, and reached out to personally by a researcher who had known them from a previous encounter whenever possible.

Once somebody from the organization expressed interest in participating, a site visit and interview date would be set up. Even if we didn’t hear back from a contacted organization, those that allowed access to the public were visited for fieldwork. At these places, I and the other researchers watched what was happening both in the place itself and its immediate surrounding area if relevant. We would take photos and fieldnotes, and strike up conversations with employees and volunteers at the organization and possibly gain a participant or two out of these conversations, and if so, a later time or date for the interview would be set up. At the places where participants had agreed to interviews the same thing would take place, but would include videos, audio recordings, and photos of participants who gave written consent to such.

Interviews took place at the organization site, with a document explaining the purpose of the research, it’s contents, and requesting various permissions of possible identification of the participant given to them at the start of the interview. If permission was given, the participant would then be photographed, audio-recorded, and named in research results. The interviews varied in length, taking anywhere from 15 to 120 minutes. For the most part interview questions were the same: How do you think about the environment? How were you exposed to it in childhood from family, teachers, and other influences? How does the environment play a part in your work? Have you always worked in the environment sector? What brought you into it? Did you come into this job with prior environmental experience related to your work or did you learn it along the way? Are there any particular concerns you have for the environment in the future, both related and unrelated to your work? Aside from a recording of the interview taking place when allowed, notes were taken by the researcher(s) over the course of the interview. Most interviews were followed up with another round of site participation and notetaking, both in its own right and in comparison to previous site visits.

All information was gathered in several folders in a shared google drive between me and the other researchers. Separate folders were made for photographs, interview transcripts, audio recordings, videos, and field notes. These were updated over the course of the summer whenever new research was gathered. The results and analysis of the research are as follows:

Research:

The research collected is primarily focused on the opinions and experiences of individuals working or volunteering with an environment-supporting organization or group in urban spaces, but also takes into account the settings where they work and the unique way in which their work enriches the environment. Gathering the data into a comprehensive database was the first step in analyzing the research, followed by comparing and contrasting the varied experiences and approaches to environmental work shared by research participants.

The first step in the research was to gather field notes and observations of the settings where research participants work. These places had two main categories of being focused on improving or maintaining the local quality of the land or water, but some others also focused on protecting local wildlife, flora and fauna, and air cleanliness. These minor categories of focus were present in the sites we visited, but in tandem to their overarching focus on environmental protection, preservation, and rehabilitation. The differences between the sites in New York and California seem stark to me. Despite both areas being surrounded by water, more sites in California either focused on water cleanliness and accessibility or included it in their services than the sites I visited and heard about in New York. This might be partially due to how the natural waters in California are more accessible and relied upon by the public, so there are more organizations dedicated to upholding the water’s accessibility. That being said, the sites in New York that included marine cleanliness and conservation in their efforts were also very open and eager to discuss said efforts. Another similarity seen across sites was the tenuous relationship they had with the government. Several sites relied on local government for funding and collaboration on programs offered at the sites, but were also in disagreement with the government’s plans on increasing development in the area, at the behest of the environmental work espoused by the sites. One site was involved in a case against the government at the time of my visit. Most, if not all of the sites put a focus on education, usually for the local public, but some also arranging educational visits for students, camps, and other groups. A large part of these organization’s goals need increasing public interest and support to be met, and so outreach and raising awareness of their goals and how they could be accomplished was a prominent part of their work. Where the sites differ, aside from what their particular goals are, is in their placement. Although all in urban spaces, the diversity of the placement and prominence of the sites surprised me. Some were small and unnoticeable at first glance, in hard to reach areas with unclean surroundings. Others were highly visible and busy, with a loud appearance. A couple had booths at other environmental sites, such as a compost drop-off and textiles drop-off location at a greenmarket, although the majority had one location.

The sites we visited were diverse in function, goals, and scope. Despite the differences between them, many emphasized education and public engagement. Some worked in tandem with government funding or land allocation, a few in legal issues with the government simultaneously. Others were vocal about their approval or disapproval with government policies and plans that would impact their environment. The individuals interviewed came from varied backgrounds, some growing up with an interest in the environment, and others developing it in recent years. A few notably first developed an awareness and appreciation for the environment at sleepaway summer camp as children, whether learning to appreciate wildlife in its natural habitat or realizing the disparity in nature available in the countryside compared to scarcity in urban city spaces. Interest in the environment ranged from a desire for recycling of reusable materials to saving and repopulating native marine animals, from reintroducing natural flora and fauna to urban environments to reducing air pollution and protecting native forests from destruction. There were some who spoke about a particular cause relating tot the environment that they were passionate about while for others it was a range, or a desire to improve the environment as a system rather than focusing on one aspect over others.  Some interviewees spoke about their views on the environment in relation to their jobs, and others had opinions that were independent of or differed from their line of work. All of the participants believed in education and making the environment and civic engagement more accessible to the public. Everyone we spoke to were passionate about their beliefs and clearly held them with conviction.

Overall, a lot was accomplished this summer. We were successful in locating and contacting different organizations relevant to our research, as well as visiting them and observing what goes on inside as well as how they appear from an outsider’s perspective. We were able to set up multiple interviews with volunteers and workers at these sites, who spoke to us at length about both their work and their personal outlook on the environment and what it means to them. Aside from formal interviews, we struck up informal conversations with passersby at some of the sites, giving us additional perspective on why people engage with these sites and the environment. When given consent, interviews were recorded and photographs and videos of the sites were taken, ensuring that the information would not be forgotten, so that we can properly assess it.

I really enjoyed this experience. It was daunting at first, having to strike up conversation with strangers and raise the subject of my research, but it became easier the more that it happened since I came to know what to expect. I really enjoy research, the individual aspect of it as well as the engagement with others that comes along with the job. Overall it went well, and I look forward to continuing it this year. I learned a lot about different approaches to improving and conserving the environment, as well as about local sites that I would be interested in attending myself. This research became something I was actively looking for subconsciously, to the point while on vacation in Boston upon passing by a local tree planting project my first thought was about how this would be a good site to do research for this project. This project has definitely made me more aware of my surroundings, as well as the small and large things I could do to reduce harm to the environment in my daily actions. It has also reiterated the need for organization, how having everything in one or certain spaces makes it much easier to decipher and examine in the long run. I look forward to seeing where this endeavor will take me in the fall and winter.

Blog 1: Environmental Discourse Research in Urban Settings : Expectations and Aspirations

This summer, I am participating in a research project titled “Environmental Discourse and Diversity in Urban Settings”. The project is a collaboration between Professor Pajo, myself, and several other students. The objectives of our research are to obtain and analyze a sample of the current methods and thought processes of people working full-time, part-time, or as volunteers in the realm of environmental sustainability. Our goal is to observe and hear from various individuals involved in public or private sustainability efforts on how they think about, negotiate, and execute their environmental efforts in an urban setting, particularly how such efforts are done in conjunction with others working in the same field. What are their different ideas on how to approach environmental sustainability? How much variation is there within organizations and across organizations?

Our research questions revolve around how individuals approach, negotiate, and execute environmental work in an urban setting. Some questions are concerned with the individual environmental effort, other questions with the dynamic between individuals working in the same space of environmentalism. To answer these questions, we will use several methodologies. We will give a brief survey to individuals participating in the project, to get relevant background data. These participants will be interviewed separately, to understand and record how they approach, negotiate, and execute their environmental efforts individually. Aside from formal interviews, the participants will be observed in their worksite, to understand how their environmental work is carried out, to be compared and contrasted with how they described the nature of their work. Observation will also be employed for group settings of participants working at the same site. They will be observed by one or two researchers in a setting of negotiation, such as a meeting meant to discuss a possible adjustment in their work methods. This variety of research methodologies ensures that all areas of our research will be answered and analyzed to look for possible patterns of ideas and behaviors.

For myself, the purpose of this project is to understand how people approach environmental work. It would be great to not only collect data but later on also distribute the data for the education of the public. The myriad reasons and strategies people develop in conducting environmentally enriching work will be distributed to the public for the purpose of enhanced knowledge and avenues for environmental engagement in urban settings. When the results of the project are released to the public, I hope that the easy accessibility of such information will encourage the public to become more directly interested and involved in environmentally enriching activities themselves.

This project will be the first research project I am involved in outside of coursework. The work we have invested in writing and rewriting the grant proposal, learning about ethics in research, applying for IRB approval, and more, are already improving my skills in analysis and interpersonal skills. This project is the first that I am participating in as an interviewer in addition to acting as an observer and data collector and analyzer. In addition to learning and improving vital career skills from this project, I am interested in, but relatively new to environmental sustainability efforts. I’ve recycled since I was about 13, but have not become more aware of the various types of environmental sustainability that people in urban environments such as myself are able to practice. Environmental work such as composting and rooftop gardening are efforts that I will be encountering and hearing about at length during my research. As someone interested in leaving a more positive impact on the environment than I have done previously, I aim to learn about what avenues of environmental sustainability such as these are available for me to integrate into my daily life.

Post #2 – Temporal Structures in the Speech of Individuals with Dementia: An Ongoing Study

It has been an amazing experience and opportunity to be a part of an undergraduate research project. I have been assisting Dr. Linda Carozza on a project titled Temporal Structures in the Speech of Individuals with Dementia. As a Communication Sciences & Disorders student, I’ve found this work particularly unique as it focuses on a population which many students do not have exposure to. Older adults who are living with dementia can develop other conditions and disorders that are associated with this disease. As discussed in my previous post, one of these disorders is Dysarthria.

As this research progresses, I look forward to learning the results of the data which we have compiled and analyzed. I was tasked with labeling the vowel duration of various utterances. These utterances were collected by recording the speech of different individuals who have dementia. There has also been data compiled on the overall length of these utterances. The goal is to then analyze and compare this data with that of healthy, adult speech. These findings will be compiled and determined very soon. With these findings, Dr. Carozza has submitted to present at the NYS Speech Convention in Albany.

Blog Post 1 “Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming Students & Retention: A Family Intervention Model”

This summer, I am working on a research project titled “Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming Students & Retention: A Family Intervention Model” which is about retention for transgender and gender non-conforming students with Erin Furey. Erin is the Associate Director of Pace University’s LGBTQA & Social Justice Center, and I Gabe Nichols, am a rising sophomore majoring in Communications. We are doing this research because currently, we as a society are lacking in support and research on transgender students in college, particularly in terms of retention. This lack of research leaves transgender and gender non-conforming students with no strategies to help them continue and succeed in school. Additionally, we hope that this research shines a light on the issues faced by the transgender community regarding their rights–or lack thereof–and how they are treated, and their unique stressors that lead them to possibly struggle more with staying in school than their cisgender counterparts. Since we hope to be able to continue to carry out this project into the fall and spring semesters, our goals for the summer are primarily research based. Examples of our goals are to research articles regarding transgender and gender non-conforming students and retention, to explore, apply and critique LGBTQA+ literature on retention as it applies to transgender and gender non-conforming students, and to develop a hypothesis around the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students that is linked to retention.

So far we have begun researching the topic, but our exact topic has little to no previous research conducted about it, so instead we are exploring similar topics, such as retention throughout the whole LGBTQA+ community, or the mental health of transgender adults and adolescents. After reading these articles, I have created an annotated bibliography with important information about each of the articles. While reading these articles, we have noted which articles specifically pull the ‘T’ out of the LGBTQA acronym and acknowledge the difference in effect between being a cisgender queer person, and being a transgender person. An article we have read that did this well is “The Path Forward: LGBT Retention and Academic Success” by Shane Windmeyer. In the article he points out that, “LGBT youth, specifically LGB youth of color and transgender youth of all races, are much more likely than other students to struggle academically and personally in college.”

For some next steps throughout the summer, we intend to plan a focus group regarding our topic, and seek approval from the institutional review board (IRB) to publish and circulate a survey for transgender and gender non-conforming students. Looking further into the future, we intend to create a dual intervention program for transgender and gender non-conforming students and their parents with the goal being that we ease tensions at home by answering parents questions that may upset the students, We plan to submit this information in workshop format for educational and LGBTQA conferences and present our research, in the hopes to publish a paper about strategies to increase university retention of transgender students.

So far I have loved working on this research project. It is a topic near to my heart, as a transgender man whose parents don’t always approve or understand. Getting to find the information around the topic as well as eventually work on the intervention program first hand is incredible. I am learning so much and I hope to continue to do that. I also hope to find an intervention model with Erin that works, so I can help others in similar or even worse situations than mine.

 

Glossary:

  • Cisgender: Refers to people whose sex and gender are congruent by predominant cultural standards: women who have female bodies, men who have male bodies.  This term was created to challenge the privileging of such people relative to those who are transgender.
  • Gender Non-Conforming: Someone who does not conform to the ideologies of any one gender. Often considered to be outside the gender binary, or “nonbinary”
  • LGBTQA: acronym standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Asexual, used to represent that community.
  • Retention: In this research, this word is used to refer to the amount of students who stay in school and graduate.
  • Transgender: Those whose psychological self/gender identity differs from the social expectations for the physical sex with which they were born. Acts as an umbrella term for both those who fit within and outside of the binary.

 

Sources cited:

  • Windmeyer, Shane “The Path Forward: LGBT Retention and Academic Success” INSIGHT into Diversity, 2016
  • Pace University’s LGBTQA & Social Justice Center “All Gender Housing: Terms to Know” http://www.pace.edu/lgbtqa-center/all-gender-housing-overview-instructions

 

A Visual Response

For my research, I will be exploring the relationship between writing and art. For my first project, I created a visual response to two different kinds of short stories:

Responding to a Flash Story: “20 Minutes”

Read Original Story Here 

20 Minutes

Throughout history, humans have been looking for ways to be immortal. Life expectancies are always increasing, and we still look for more ways to keep our bodies alive.  Between prosthetics, medications and the long list of evolving technologies, humans and machines are not entirely separate. The story and imagery within “20 Minutes” by Catalina Florescu demonstrates how intertwined the organic and inorganic world has become.

For instance, the setting of a hospital room brings to mind sterile white beds, plain gray walls and heavy black cords. No color or comfort, especially with a comatose patient and a grieving lover. However, the woman looks out the window to a cherry tree. She describes how the rain washed away the petals, but, as witnessed annually, the cherry “would grow other [petals] next year. However, when overcome by the inevitable death of a loved one, the woman seems to think he will still be there next year, like the cherry blossoms; “this is a clear sign in the story when, as readers, we realize that the human body, at least in some cases and/or towards the end, is not resourceful enough to attempt a successful return to health and normal function.”.

Then, our life cycle has become wrapped up in what is natural and unnatural. The idea that we can live forever is a beautiful fantasy while the reality is we are still mortal creatures. The cherry tree is light, beautiful image that contrasts with the heavy dark wire, which the woman totally distraught by suffering uses it to take her life. The man’s life ends with the unplugging of a machine and the woman’s ends with the twisting of the same cord. Both deaths occur by the cord while the backdrop of the outside world is beautiful and organic. Therefore, through a simple narrative device, the story takes us back to its beginning where two worlds, organic and inorganic, humans and machines, seem to create some sort of dialogue and ask us, the readers, to think further to discover other ways to investigates the limits of our embodiment.

In this illustration, I reduced the story to the cherry branch and the cord. With thin, delicate arms, the cherry tree branch represents the fragility of life within the piece. A simple rain washes away the petals like grief washes away the woman’s life. On the other hand, the thick black cord cuts through the branch like the harsh reality of morality. The snake like qualities also echo to the Adam and Eve reference within the piece. Like the snake in the Bible, the cord ends a relationship that was once perfect.

To a Personal Piece: “My Blue Escape, My Otherness of Being”

Read Original Story Here

 

In this piece, the author, Catalina Florescu, discusses her mother’s cancer and the effect it had on her life. Along with personal reactions to her mother’s diagnosis and then passing, the piece reminisces on the times of the author’s young life with her mother. She talks about the connection she felt with her mother’s sickness and how it related to her own being.

Though the story is extremely personal, there are aspects that extend to the wider experience of those with a serious illness and their loved ones. Although we like to think we are invincible, humans are delicate creatures. Our bodies wear and expire, and our emotions are tested time and time again. Whether one is sick or someone close to them is sick, it’s like being ripped apart emotionally and physically. Doctors cut and stitch in the literal since. Loved ones take memories in the same way the author clings to memories of her mother when she was healthy. We ourselves take a toll on our bodies. As it says in the piece, “We wear our bodies almost uninterruptedly, from dawn until night”. We try very hard to hold ourselves together, till we simply can no longer.

In this illustration, I wanted to demonstrate that feeling of being torn up emotionally, in a physical way. All the pieces of the woman are flying outward as if a pressure inside is exploding. The pressure of the stress and emotion that come with terminal illness are overwhelming. However, I made the conscious choice to keep the wounds to be within the areas describes in the piece (arms and breasts). Her nakedness represents that vulnerability one feels when the loose control of their body.  The only thing that keeps her from being completely exposed is the blue fabric. The author holds on the memory of the blue dress for comfort when thinking about her mother. The figure has the blue clothe wrapped around her for some remaining comfort.