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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.


HEART: Unifying Communities Through Language and Textile Art
Elvira Aballi Morell, PhD
(Spanish and Portuguese)
National Endowment for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow, 2022-2025
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.

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.

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.

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.