Skip to main content

Public Scholars

Each year, The Curb Center selects its newest Curb Public Scholars cohort. The program is available to graduate students from across the university, who are required to submit an application which details a project complementary to their thesis work. Students who are chosen are supported for up to 24 months, during which they receive creative placemaking training and travel, project management expertise, and financial support. Recent Public Scholars and their projects include:


North Nashville: Community Development vs. Gentrification
Simone Boyd (Novelist & Neighborhood Organizer

Simone dreams of a day when her neighborhood will be free from violence, and as a novelist, organizer, and speaker, she is working towards that day. Her advocacy helped secure $3 million dollars of infrastructure investments for her neighborhood and helped raise $35,000 from developers, investors, and private foundations to pay local artists to perform during a street festival.

Using creative placemaking and cross-sector partnerships, Simone is currently working toward public art, park improvements and employment opportunities for a residential corridor in North Nashville. The goal of her efforts are to anchor neighborhood identity, secure resources for her neighbors and foster belonging between long-term and new residents.


HEART: Unifying Communities Through Language and Textile Art
Elvira Aballi Morell
(PhD Candidate, Spanish and Portuguese) 2021-2023 cohort

Elvira is a writer and a graduate student specializing in Latin American and Caribbean literature and LatinX studies. Her work as a research assistant in the Slave Societies Digital Archive (SSDA), as interpreter for the Vanderbilt University School of Law’s Immigration Practice Clinic (“IPC”), and as a community volunteer with Children of Hispanic Immigrants Collaborating to Overcome Stress (CHICOS) motivated her to create a searchable database of selected artworks made by LatinX artists, ContArte Latinoamerica (CAL), in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Center at Vanderbilt.

ContArte Latinoamerica inspired Elvira’s Public Scholar project, which provides the LatinX community with opportunities to express themselves and tell their stories. HEART is an artistic workshop where Spanish creative writing, English as a second language, and textile art —as alternative means of expression— are linked. HEART is the space where immigrants can describe their relocation experiences from their home countries and their adjustment to their new lives. The art and writings created through HEART will be showcased on the CAL site as Elvira’s project develops over the next two years.

In Their Own Words:An interactive story map of Bangladeshi environmental migrants
Kelsea Best
(PhD Candidate, Earth and Environmental Sciences) 2020-2022 cohort

Kelsea is a PhD Candidate in Earth and Environmental Sciences. Her dissertation research focuses on how climate change impacts human migration dynamics in coastal communities in Bangladesh.

By working with a colleague in Bangladesh to interview and document migrants’ stories, Kelsea’s project aims to highlight the stories of individual migrants and to engage and educate the public on the issue of climate migration. The final project will take the form of an interactive, open-source story map that will highlight information about climate change, Bangladesh, and environmental migration.  ‘Our Land is in the River Now’ includes the stories of individual migrants in their own words, and will allow users to visualize where these migrants came from and why they chose to move. Photos and narratives are featured alongside climate information and data to highlight the personal impacts of climate change. The project will also include an open-sourced lesson plan in both English and Bangla which can be utilized by educators to share this story.

By and For: A College Student First Generation Experience
Kelly Cunningham
(PhD Candidate, Philosophy) 2021-2023 cohort

Kelly’s research focuses on ethics, narrative, and community development. In addition to her scholarly work, she also has a background in independent publishing and organizing community events that feature local art and music. Her Public Scholar project aims to co-create a publication for and by first-generation college students. In addition to other challenges commonly faced by this group, first-generation college students frequently experience feelings of isolation and loneliness throughout their academic careers. This felt lack of community is discouraging, can adversely affect mental health, and is a contributing factor in the higher than average drop-out rates among these students. By providing a platform for these voices, Kelly’s project strives to reaffirms these student’s identities, and in doing so foster a sense of community and belonging.

The resulting printed publication will showcase the artistic and intellectual abilities of first-generation college students, thus increasing their representation and validating their experiences. The first-generation students involved in process of creating the publication will also have an opportunity to collaborate, discuss shared challenges, and gain experience in the fields of marketing and publishing. The physical materiality of the final publication will also make it easy to travel with and pass on to others, thus initiating the creation of networks and establishing a sense of belonging to a larger community. Listening and responding to the needs of underrepresented voices is a necessary step in making higher education more accessible and equitable, thus the outcomes of this project stand to benefit the general public in this tangible, yet indirect way.

Teaching Automation: Exploring the Fundamentals of Computer Controlled Motion and Preparing Nashville Youth for Jobs in Automation
David Florian
(PhD Candidate, Biomedical Engineering) 2020-2022 cohort

David has a background in additive manufacturing (i.e., 3D Printing) and computer controlled machining. These skills have allowed him to automate tasks in his biomedical research, such as the pipetting of fluids for detecting cancerous genes and the generation of 3D bone models for studying hematological malignancies.

The pandemic has highlighted significant problems with our country’s supply chains, which rely heavily on imported products. Companies are looking to bring manufacturing back to the United States through automating tasks that were completed by low cost labor. However, with the decline in students seeking higher education in STEM fields, these companies are facing another shortage: skilled labor for running automated assembly lines.

David’s project will focus on educating students within the Nashville community and abroad on how digital commands from a computer can result in the precise movement of a motor. Through a series of videos, David will demystify the complexities of computer controlled linear motion, the basis for all automated processes. The goal of the project is to inspire Metro students to pursue careers in engineering and STEM majors.

Movement Art: A Coalition-driven Multimedia Campaign to Encourage Sustainable Civic Engagement of the Rising American Electorate of Middle Tennessee
Megan L. Jordan (PhD Candidate, Sociology) 2020-2022 cohort

Megan is an artist-activist-scholar who combines her art and research to build better understandings of social injustice and the vital role of bottom-up mobilizations, i.e. social movements, in creating radically imagined new worlds.  She has worked as an organizer with the AFL-CIO, and more recently as an Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development consultant with PolicyLink. Originally from Alabama, Megan acknowledges and centers the history, strengths, and potentials of Southern grassroots activism.

Utilizing a community engaged approach to research and art activism, Megan’s project is a coalition-driven multimedia campaign designed to mobilize the Rising American Electorate (RAE) of Middle TN in a sustainable, enduring, and enticing —creative arts— way to promote lasting civic engagement to heal our failing democracy. The Rising American Electorate is defined as unmarried women, people of color, and young people. This group constitutes a majority of citizens eligible to vote. Megan is working directly with local activists from Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, Black Nashville Assembly, and Gideon’s Army to collaboratively create content that benefits their movements and speaks to local issues in a way that builds political knowledge, incites collective action, and heals movement trauma in Middle TN. This content will range from gif’s and infographics to protest posters & postcards. All content will also be translated into Spanish for better accessibility by Nashville’s Spanish-speaking population.

Lights, Science, Action: Designing Socio-dramatic Play Programs with Bi/Multilingual Communities
Sarah Lee
(PhD Candidate, Teaching & Learning) 2020-2022 cohort

Sarah’s project aims to co-design science-based socio-dramatic play activities with children and educators in out-of-school time settings.  Her research focuses on how this type of embodied play can create more equitable opportunities for children from diverse linguistic backgrounds to engage in authentic science learning.

Sarah holds a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, and also has work experience in museums, libraries, and after-school programs.

Mending memories, telling stories, and healing people. A collaborative podcast for the stories of resistance, resilience, and hope from Latinx migrants living in Nashville
Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus (Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology) 2021-2023 cohort

Eugenia will co-create a podcast with victims of forced displacement and migration from Latin America. This podcast is a creative and collaborative project intended to raise participants’ voices and create the spaces in which those voices will be heard. At the same time, she will create a digital repository of the forgotten stories of many migrants and refugees trying to find their home in Nashville, who are willing to share their experiences with others. Her goal is to use her podcast platform to sensitize the general public to the conditions of vulnerability, precarity, and persecution of those with whom they share a city, but not a shared community.

Visual and Written Narrative Storytelling of the Lived and Shared Experiences of Poverty
Tin Nguyen
(PhD Candidate, Vanderbilt Brain Institute) 2020-2022 cohort

Despite poverty, many children and adults thrive and exhibit positive outcomes (e.g., educational attainment, financial stability) – and are thought to demonstrate resilience. Identifying ways to promote such resilience is key in supporting these individuals in becoming leading members in our society. Interventions for learning difficulties and community support for vocational preparation have been shown to scaffold resilience in young children and adults, respectively. Yet, less considered is whether creative means, such as arts, may also be linked to resilience individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantages. As such, we propose to partner with Poverty and the Arts (POVA), a non-profit organization in Nashville, Tennessee, that engages individuals facing homelessness in creative and artistic means to support their well-being.

Painters and poets express their thoughts and emotions through arts. For paints, arts serve as visual narrative to share lived experiences that are often complex to communicate with language; for poets, writing allows printed words to illuminate their thoughts and emotions. Then, the combination of visual and written narratives provides a compelling storytelling outlet for individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, to welcome the community to develop and intimate knowledge into their lived experiences of hardship and resilience. Tin’s project engages  with members of the POVA to create visual and written images of their life stories through creative and artistic means. He hopes to compile these heartened narratives into a literary journal, and invite community members to join in storytelling experiences of hardship and resilience through the creative products cultivated by members of the POVA.

A Shared Experience of Place through an Auditory Exploration of the Jefferson Street Historic Music Corridor
Emma Reimers (Ph.D. Candidate, Learning+ Design and Comparative Media Analysis and Practice) 2020-2022 cohort

Emma’s  research focuses on learners’ use of sound media to make sense of their environment and themselves with particular attention to the design of soundscapes and social infrastructures. Emma’s background in research comes from examining the built environment’s impact on health. Her passion for digital media as a critical and expansive toolkit comes from her work as a graphic designer.

When she is not reading about learning in non-school spaces or collecting data on historic streets in Nashville’s music history, Emma writes songs, cooks Italian food, and snuggles her dog, Potato

Jessica Schonhut-Stasik (Ph.D. Candidate, Astronomy) 2021-2023 cohort

As a neurodiverse woman, Jessica has never felt quite like the traditional scientist.  In her project, a podcast called AstronomerAND, Jessica will explore the intersectionalities in astronomy and how science and academia can work to become more inclusive.  Jessica will be joined by a different guest for each podcast to discuss astronomy research and how identity influences academic and scientific experiences.

Jessica holds a BSc and MS in Astrophysics as well as a diploma in Music performance.  She grew up south of London and now lives on the big island of Hawai’i with her husband, Karl. When she isn’t observing the cosmos, she sings along to Hamilton or enjoys hiking with her dogs – Rusty and Nordle.

Growing Food, Growing Ourselves: Art, Culture, and Healing in the Brooklyn Heights Community Garden
Katerina Traut (Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science: subfields in Political Theory and Comparative Politics) 2021-2023 cohort

Katerina is working with Brooklyn Heights Community Garden (BHCG) in Northeast Nashville to develop programming that brings together healing and artistic expression. Katerina will work with garden founder Miss Nella Pearl Frierson, BHCG board members, artists and the community to develop a long-range plan for realizing BHCG’s artistic and cultural vision.

These meetings are collaboratively articulating the socio-psychological, ecological, and political implications of an active creative placemaking program at the garden. Together, Kat and the Garden community will use food, gardening, and artistic movement to encourage mental and physical healing. In the words of Miss Pearl, they will work to “get it [trauma] out” by empowering individuals to develop and share their stories through physical activity and artistic expression.



The Role of the Artist in Community: Creating Meaning in a Time of Crisis
Emily Habeck, M.Ed. Community Development and Action & Master, Theological Studies

Write Your Life: A Creative Nonfiction and College-admission Essay Workshop for Underserved High School Students
Richard Sowienski, Masters, Religion and the Arts


Music and the Arts for the Aphasia Group of Middle Tennessee
Anna Kasdan, PhD Candidate, Neuroscience & Deborah Levy, PhD, Hearing & Speech Services

Design Your Neighborhood: A Design-based Civics Curriculum for Metro Nashville Public Schools
Kathryn Morgan, PhD Candidate, Community Research & Action

An Exploratory Analysis of the Use of Imagery Collections to Support Dynamic and Equitable Disaster Relief
Daniel Perrucci, PhD Candidate, Engineering

Language or to Feel at Home: Poetry Workshops in Spanish with the Nashville Latinx Community
Daniel Romero Suarez, PhD Candidate, Spanish & Portuguese

PhotoVoice: Listening to Nashville’s Female Homeless Population Tell Their Stories
Rachel Underwood, PhD Candidate, Sociology