LEARNING GLOBALLY: For many seniors, life after Vassar means either work or graduate school. But for three fellowship recipients, the next stop involves traveling to places like China, the Netherlands, and Australia to investigate everything from the effects of animal therapy on children with autism to studying graffiti on the Great Wall.
What do you get when you combine a love of graffiti and hip hop with a triple major in Chinese, political science, and Asian studies? Studying modern and historical graffiti in China, of course. “I want to see how graffiti has developed in communities in China and how it relates to acts like political dissidence,” says Watson Fellowship recipient Dane Roth ’08. “Do the current graffiti artists in China, who have really just imported the American hip hop culture, recognize any of the significance behind the acts they are doing or is this just something that looks cool?” Roth is also interested in China’s historical use of graffiti as a means of conveying Communist messages to the general public.
Roth’s first stop is Hong Kong, where he plans to buy a motorcycle and take off, exploring the different cities and communities, where he’ll study the graffiti and record it through photos and video, conduct interviews with artists about what motivates their work, and journal his experience. “Some recognize graffiti as art and you see it in galleries, and then there are plenty of people who just throw up tags on walls in their spare time,” he explains, adding how the Great Wall is another medium for the art. Roth will also travel to the countryside to examine the Communist graffiti and see if and how the community reacts to the faded slogans. “They’re in huge red letters, so there’s no way people can ignore them.”
Four years ago, Roth entered Vassar intent on studying biology, before quickly realizing that his love of Chinese and martial arts was leading him down the path to Asian studies. “I went on a Vassar study trip to China my sophomore year, and it was a wonderful experience,” he says. “Ever since I left, I’ve been looking for a way to go back.”
“The strongest connection I have to my Dutch heritage is a pair of wooden shoes from my family in Holland, Michigan,” says Morgan Warners ’08. That’s about to change as Warners, a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, embarks on a year-long trip to the Netherlands, where he’ll be pursuing an MA in American Studies at Utrecht University and interning at the human rights organization Choice for Youth.
Warners grew up outside of Boston “in a much different political, social, and religious context” than the rest of his Dutch relatives in Michigan. “I have all of these questions about my heritage, and I also want to get a better understanding of the U.S. from a really deep comparative standpoint,” says Warners, a political science major whose interests lie in the political theory of identity and the practical politics of legal institutions. The Dutch masters program analyzes American cultural influences on European culture and closely examines how diversity in American society works. Warners also hopes that his internship at an NGO that deals with youth sexual and reproductive rights will help expand this comparative study of the two cultures. “The project is broadly experiential and personally significant,” he says. “I can’t anticipate where this project is going to lead me, so I want to throw myself out there and see the things I didn’t realize about both my Dutch heritage and being an American.”
You may not be able to buy happiness, but as Maggie O’Haire ’08 has discovered, you can measure it. At the beginning of her junior year, O’Haire joined assistant professor of psychology Michele Tugade’s research team through Vassar’s Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) to use a new method to examine positive emotions and psychological well-being. The project eventually landed her in New Mexico with Professor Tugade at the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, where they submitted abstracts and posters on the research. They are also working on publishing the results. “I’ve always been interested in psychology and psychological well-being,” says O’Haire. “I’m interested in what makes people happy and able to perform at their highest potential.”
Now, with the help of a Fulbright Fellowship, O’Haire will travel to Australia for a year-long program to work at the Centre for Companion Animal Health at the University of Queensland to study the effect of animal-assisted therapy on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She came up with the idea for the project after volunteering through Vassar’s Field Work program, where she worked with clinical psychologists at Green Chimneys, a school that specializes in animal-assisted therapy. “You read these children’s case reports and see all the horrible things they’ve had to encounter,” she explains. “But then it’s exciting because you see them on the farm with the animals, and you can see that they’re motivated and inspired by the opportunity they have. It’s an amazing place.”