Public Scholars

2017 – 2018 Public Scholars

Keitlyn Alcantara

Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology

Research Project: Food and Identity

In partnership with Casa Azafran, Keitlyn will lead a two-part workshop for Middle and High School students on ancient and contemporary Latin American food practices. Participants will share the meanings of different foods in their own lives, reflect on the role of food as a source of cultural pride and a symbol of social and historical ties, leading to participants producing a video diary highlighting the valuable dietary and cultural diversity that immigrant communities bring to Nashville. Read more.

Elizabeth Lanphier

Doctoral Student, Department of Philosophy

Research Project: What is “Home”?

Elizabeth will be turning to our local Nashville community to better understand how our community and its members understand the idea of home. She will be conducting recorded interviews with members of various Nashville-based populations. Using grounded theory research tools to code and analyze the recorded interviews she envisions the generation of a collaborative, community-informed concept of home. Her hope is that this research could eventually support public policy as Nashville politically and socially addresses the changes our community is undergoing on a local level (facing an influx of inhabitants, rising housing prices, and the welcoming of refugee communities), and in terms of how Nashville interfaces with national questions of displacement, immigration and hospitality. Read more.

Gabriela Leon-Perez

Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology

Research Project: Mapping Immigrant Communities in Nashville

Nashville has the fastest-growing immigrant population in the United States. The number of foreign-born residents in Nashville grew from about 2 to 12 percent between 2000-2012. Gabriela’s Public Scholar project consists in creating a series of digital maps illustrating the residential settlement patterns and languages spoken by the immigrant groups living in the areas served by each of the Nashville Public Library branches. These maps will help inform decisions related to collections development and library programming to ensure that the needs of the immigrant community are taken into account. Read more.

Brian McCray

Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology

Research Project: A Prehistoric Sister Cities Project

Brian is working on a collaborative interpretation project that will engage students in Tennessee and Peru in creating a bilingual presentation about the archeological sites Aaittafama’ in Davidson county and Wimba in Rodriguez de Mendoza, Peru. The perspectives of schoolchildren in both the USA and Peru will emphasize the universality of certain experiences of childhood, as well as increase the appreciation for the different ways of life that existed in the past. This public archaeology project can help current inhabitants of both regions appreciate the heritage of their region by reaffirming the connections that heritage is still creating. Read more.

ValaRae Partee

Doctoral Student, Department of Environmental Engineering

Research Project: Monitoring Water Quality for Farmers

ValaRae is developing an app for regional farmers to collectively maintain a healthy water supply for their crops while satisfying regulatory standards and increasing crop yields, in order to support the FDA in reducing foodborne illnesses while providing farmers with the tools to inform watering decisions. This app will also provide data for policy makers in evaluating he rule implementation and assessing program design. Read more.

Leah Marion Roberts

Doctoral Student, Department of Human & Organizational Development

Research Projects: Peer Sex Education for LGBTQI Youth

Leah plans to use participatory processes with youth from the Oasis Center’s Students of Stonewall Program to design and implement a local peer sex education program that centers LGBTQ experience. In addition to producing a curriculum/facilitation guide outlining the participatory process of engaging youth in the development of a peer-led sex education agenda that centers their needs and experiences, the project will result in a product identified and directed by the young people involved, such as public service messages about youth and sex education or an arts-based product such as a short film or performance about their experiences with sex education in TN. Read more.

Lauren Vogelstein

Doctoral Student, Department of Teaching and Learning, Peabody College

Research Project: Embodying Math in Dance

Lauren’s project investigates the potential of choreographed ensemble performances with dynamic geometric forms, such as the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, as a mode of expressive mathematical activity, while also exploring the generative capacity of such performances in designing modules for learning mathematics. Placing people within dynamic and material geometries rather than manipulating shapes on paper can lead to new forms of engagement in mathematical reasoning, learning, and understanding. In addition to creating large-scale models of props to be used in ensemble constructions of three-dimensional shapes, Lauren will collect data from these performances and interactions. Read more.

Danielle Wilfong

Doctoral Student, Department of Human & Organizational Development

Research Project: Participatory Mapping with Local Youth

Danielle’s research investigates how neighborhood surveillance intersects with law enforcement and policing practices in specific Nashville neighborhoods, and how these interactions impact black youth’s everyday walking routines to and from school, play, and work, thereby influencing their sense of safety and belonging. She is working with local non-profits and Nashville youth to develop and implement a mapping project that will demonstrate the effects policing and surveillance have on the everyday experiences of black youth in Nashville. Read more.

2016 – 2017 Public Scholars

Tristan Call, Public Scholar

Tristan Call 

Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology

Tristan is helping to develop worker-owned grassroots media infrastructure designed and managed by the low-wage workers whose underpaid and dangerous work makes Nashville’s cultural boom profitable. Read more.


Ana Christina Da Silva Photo

Ana Christina da Silva

Director of Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies, Learning, Teaching, and Diversity Professor of the Practice of Elective Learning, Dept. of Teaching & Learning

Professor da Silva research centers at the learning ecologies of linguistically/culturally diverse students; family and community resources in diverse urban in- and out-of-school contexts. Read more.

Anna Guengerich Photo

Anna Guengerich

Research Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology

Professor Guengerich’s research examines complex societies of the cloud forest region of Chachapoyas (1000-1500CE), located in eastern Peru between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin, using it as a vantage point from which to understand the history and historiography of these two broader cultural areas. Read more,

Jyoti Gupta Photo

Jyoti Gupta

Doctoral Student, Department of Human & Organizational Development

Jyoti earned a degree in public health, focusing on urbanism, the built environment and participatory methods in research and planning for healthy communities and is currently pursuing interests that intersect urbanization, democratic participation, and spatial justice. Read more.

Laura Hieber Adery Photo

Laura Hieber Adery

Doctoral Student, Department of Psychological Sciences

Laura conducted an 8-week choral singing intervention for loneliness and illness related symptoms in participants with schizophrenia from the Park Center for Mental Rehabilitation. Read more.


Stacey Houston Photo

Stacey Houston 

Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology

Stacey worked on three NSF-funded projects designed to examine and address the factors that contribute to the underrepresentation of African-Americans in engineering faculty positions. Read more.

Leah Lomotey-Nakon Photo

Leah Lomotey-Nakon

Graduate Student

Leah’s project leverages mindfulness-based play to help build sense-of-belonging as well as interpersonal, intergroup and intercultural emotional intelligence. Read more.

Rachel McKane Photo

Rachel McKane

Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology

Rachel has conducted research that examines the hydrological, political, and social dimensions of water management and conservation policy in US metropolitan areas. Read more.


Chelsea Peters Photo

Chelsea Peters

Doctoral Student, Department of Environmental Engineering

Chelsea’s project includes the writing, illustration, publishing, and distribution of a place-based children’s book for the villages she works with in Southwestern Bangladesh. Read more.

Mariann VanDevere Photo

Mariann VanDevere

Doctoral Student, Department of English

Mariann is designing the curriculum for a 4-week comedy workshop for high school students that uses project-based learning to help empower students through the construction of a creative articulation of their civic identities. Read more.

Megan Wongkamalasai Photo

Megan Wongkamalasai

Doctoral Student, Department of Learning, Teaching, and Diversity

Megan taught kindergarten and second grade at a local elementary school serving primarily immigrant and refugee families. Since her return to Vanderbilt years ago, she has worked on the DKR-12 project, “Understanding Space through Engineering Design.” Read more.