Skip to main content

Public Scholars

2018 – 2019 Public Scholars


Sara Eccelston

Graduate Student - Human and Organizational Development

Whiteness & Christianity

Sara studies the connections between religion and racism. She is creating a pilot “Whiteness and Christianity” curriculum to educate and foster dialogue around the issue of religion’s complicity in racial injustice. She will partner with the Beloved Community Commission for Racial Reconciliation, a task force of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, to implement her syllabus in one church in the diocese. The course will be designed in for an eight-week, one-day, or half-day study which is broadly focused and applicable in a variety of contexts, including development organizations, churches, and schools.


    Elizabeth Lanphier

    Doctoral Student, Department of Philosophy

    What is “Home”?

    Elizabeth is exploring how the Nashville community understands the idea of home. She will record interviews with members of various Nashville-based populations, and then code and analyze these conversations to form a collaborative, community-informed concept of home. This research could then be used to inform local public policy as Nashville addresses the rapid changes our communities are undergoing (including an influx of inhabitants, rising housing prices, and the welcoming of refugee communities), and allow Nashville to contribute to national questions of displacement, immigration and hospitality.


      Leah Marion Roberts

      Doctoral Student, Department of Human & Organizational Development

      Peer Sex Education for LGBTQI Youth

      Leah will partner with the Nashville Oasis Center’s Students of Stonewall Program to design and implement a local peer sex education program centering on the LGBTQ experience. Her goal is to produce a curriculum which addresses the process of engaging youth in the development of a peer-led sex education agenda that centers their needs and experiences.  Project participants will identify and create a product, 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.


        Abigail M Searfoss

        Assessing the Impact of Urbanization on Wildlife

        Abigail is interested in whether the explosive growth of Nashville is changing the way our birds sing or whether we have provided sufficient greenspace to preserve species diversity and natural bird behavior. She is recording birdsong throughout metro and state parks and workshopping with local birders to identify each recorded species. Using software she developed, Abigail will quantitatively determine whether birdsong is changing in our neighborhoods. This research will be shared with local officials to influence urban planning policies. Read more


          Lauren Vogelstein

          Doctoral Student, Department of Teaching and Learning, Peabody College

          Embodying Math in Dance

          Lauren’s project explores 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.  Her work also studies the generative capacity of such performances in designing mathematical learning modules.  Her hypothesis examines placing people within dynamic and material geometries resulting in new forms of engagement in mathematical reasoning, learning, and understanding.  She will create and build large-scale props for use in ensemble constructions of three-dimensional shapes and then analyze the data collected from these interactive performances.

            2017 – 2018 Public Scholars


            Keitlyn Alcantara

            Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology

            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, and produce a video diary highlighting the valuable dietary and cultural diversity that immigrant communities bring to Nashville.


              Gabriela Leon-Perez

              Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology

              Mapping Immigrant Communities in Nashville

              Nashville has the fastest-growing immigrant population in the United States. Nashville’s percentage of foreign-born residents rose from 2% in 2002 to 12% in 2012. Gabriela will work to create 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.


                Brian McCray

                Doctoral Student, Department of Anthropology

                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.


                  Mariann VanDevere

                  Doctoral Student, Department of English

                  Comedy Collective

                  Mariann is leading a year-long workshop entitled ‘The Comedy Collective’.  Her goal is to provide a space where students of color can bond and destress through the creation and consumption of comedy.


                    Danielle Wilfong

                    Doctoral Student, Department of Human & Organizational Development

                    Youth & Neighborhood Mapping

                    Danielle’s research investigates how neighborhood surveillance intersects with law enforcement and policing practices in specific Nashville neighborhoods, and how these interactions impact everyday routines, including getting to and from school, play, and work, thereby influencing their sense of safety and belonging. She is working with Nashville’s Oasis Center to develop and implement a mapping project that will highlight the everyday experiences of black youth in Nashville.

                      2016 – 2017 Public Scholars


                      Laura Hieber Adery

                      Ph.D. Candidate, Vanderbilt University Department of Psychological Sciences

                      Loneliness Intervention Through Music

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


                        Tristan Call

                        Graduate Student, Vanderbilt University Department of Anthropology

                        Hospitality Worker Interactive Tool

                        Nashville is experiencing unprecedented growth in the number of low-wage tourism and entertainment workers, who are predominantly women of color. Their low wages are in decline even as they perform some the most strenuous and physically-unhealthy jobs in the city. Tristan developed a worker-owned grassroots media infrastructure designed and managed by the low-wage workers as it seeks fair labor practices, living wages, education opportunities and humane working conditions.


                          Ana Christina da Silva

                          Director of Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies, Learning, Teaching, and Diversity
                          Professor of the Practice, Elective Learning Vanderbilt Department of Teaching and Learning

                          Diverse Community Engagement through Public Schools

                          Ana’s research centers on the learning ecologies of linguistically/culturally diverse students and family and diverse urban community resources available in- and out-of-school contexts.


                            Anna Guengerich

                            Research Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt Department of Anthropology

                            Complex Societies of the Chachapoyas

                            Anna’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 historiography of these two broader cultural areas.


                              Jyoti Gupta

                              Doctoral Student, Community Research and Action Vanderbilt Department of Human & Organizational Development

                              Creating the Connected City: Engaging Cultural Institutions as Drivers of a Just Nashville

                              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.


                                Stacey Houston

                                Ph.D. Awarded 2018, Thesis: Education and Health: The Consequences of Race, Gender, and Involvement with the Criminal Justice System Vanderbilt University Department of Sociology

                                African American Representation in Engineering Faculty Positions

                                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.


                                  Leah Lomotey-Nakon

                                  Ph.D. Candidate, Vanderbilt University Department of Religion

                                  Mindfulness at Play

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

                                  Leah is a native South-Carolinian and half-Ghanaian with a lifelong interest in how the stories we hear, tell and believe about ourselves and others shape our quality of life. Her work investigates how moral and religious experiences shape expectations about ourselves, our communities, and those we deem as “other”. Leah is particularly interested in the formal and informal processes by which we manage moral disappointment both publicly and privately. This interest is steeped in a curiosity about relationships between organizational and personal values, particularly as they relate to work-life boundaries for health practitioners

                                  Academically, this translates into the study of social-ecological models of healthy community development and the connections between our social, mental and physical health. Her current work uses a bifocal lens of community psychology and social ethics to explore how moral formation and socioeconomic socialization shape individual and collective responses to sociopolitical disappointment.

                                  Leah’s Curb Scholar project leveraged mindfulness-based play to help build sense-of-belonging as well as interpersonal, intergroup and intercultural emotional intelligence. The project takes the idea of an oppression “card” seriously and seeks to answer one question well. What work could a tangible “race/class/sexism card” do to help those who both experience and perpetuate micro-aggressive or overt bullying?


                                    RACHEL MCKANE

                                    PH.D. Candidate, Vanderbilt University Department of Sociology

                                    US Water Management & Conservation Policy

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


                                      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.


                                        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.”


                                          VIEW MORE EVENTS >