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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. 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.


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

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. The map will include 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 will be mapped 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 to be utilized by educators.

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

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.

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

In partnership with Metro Arts and the THRIVE artist funding program, Emily will create an ethnographic research project exploring the role and response of the artist amidst the global pandemic and uprisings for racial justice. The project will investigate the motives and creative identities of Nashville area artists selected for Metro Arts THRIVE funding in order to create findings which propel programs, like THRIVE, that support artists’ livelihoods, creative development, and community engagement. In researching the processes and practices of artists in Nashville, Emily hopes to illuminate the significance of a vibrant, vital arts economy.

Emily has a B.F.A. in Theatre from Southern Methodist University and an artistic background in theatre, film, and creative writing. Her interests as a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and Peabody College are the connections between creativity, spiritual practice, social justice, and arts advocacy.

This April 2021 Emily hosted ‘The Role of Artists in Crisis and Recovery’ with Nashville artists Elisheba Israel Mrozik, Taria Person, and Pam Marlene Taylor. The 90-minute conversation about how artists can thrive with the support of each other and their communities was personal, inspiring, and thought provoking.  Access the full discussion here.

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) 

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)

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.

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

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 homeliness and poverty, to welcome the community to develop and intimate knowledge into their lived experiences of hardship and resilience. We plan to engage in visual and written narratives with members of the POVA as they share their life stories through creative and artistic means. We hope 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)

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

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

As an editor and writer, Richard taught creative nonfiction—the personal essay—to college undergraduates at the University of Iowa, University of Missouri, Northwestern College (Iowa), and Belmont University. He noted that when students write about what is important to them, their confidence, creativity, and expressive abilities grow. His project applies creative writing instruction, centered on college-admission essay prompts, to underserved high school students in the after-school program of Harvest Hands, located in the Sudekum-Napier community. Given that many major colleges and universities no longer require ACT or SAT scores, the writing of meaningful experiences, thoughtfully expressed in the college admission essay, takes on even greater importance.

Future plans call for expanding the program to underserved high school students, locally and nationally, by recruiting additional writers to offer college-admission essay instruction using sample syllabi, readings, and writing exercises developed during this project.


Music and the Arts for the Aphasia Group of Middle Tennessee
Anna Kasdan
(PhD Candidate, Neuroscience)

Deborah Levy (PhD Candidate Hearing & Speech Services)

Anna is a classical pianist and actively performs in chamber music ensembles and festivals throughout the year, aiming to bridge her performance and research experiences whenever possible.

Deborah also has a passion for art and music; she has been playing the acoustic guitar since her 11th birthday, and in her free time loves to sketch and create art from unusual materials–most recently, in the form of birthday cakes for her labmates.

Both are interested in bringing their creative and research efforts to Aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the portions of the brain that are responsible for language. Crucially, aphasia is not a disorder of intellect; rather, it is an acquired deficit in the ability to express thought and/or comprehend others. Working with the Aphasia Group of Middle Tennessee (AGOMT), Anna and Deborah have established two music groups which focus on music appreciation and vinyl recordings. Their project involves alternating weekly music and art workshops for 20 individuals with aphasia, led by local artisans and musicians, where participants can create and express themselves on a regular basis. At the end of their project, Anna and Deb are planning on an installation featuring the music and art of the all involved.

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

Katy’s research interests center on exploring community-based efforts to increase leadership, empowerment, and active citizenship among youth. Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Katy graduated from Millsaps College in 2014 with a B.A. in English Education. She then taught high school English in her hometown before moving to Nashville to pursue an M.Ed. in Community Development and Action (CDA) from Vanderbilt University, which culminated in a master’s thesis entitled “Institutional Supporters and Protective Advisers as Mediators to Persistence Among First-Generation and Low-Income Community College Students.”

Now pursuing her Ph.D., Katy is working with the Nashville Civic Design Center  on “Design Your Neighborhood’, a design-based action civics curriculum for Nashville public schools aimed at ages 12-18 which she helped create, pilot, and refine. The curriculum offers Nashville’s youth a space to learn about the structural forces that shape their neighborhoods, propose new realities for the city’s future, and design for equity as Nashville continues to experience exponential growth. Goals for the project include a city-wide, youth-centered design exhibition in which students showcase projects related to transportation and affordable housing in Nashville (planned for May 2020 and currently postponed until a later date).

A Look through the Viewfinder to Prioritize Disaster Policy and Maximize Resilience
Daniel Perrucci
(PhD Candidate, Engineering)

Using the latest drone technology, this project investigates Federal, regional, state and local response to and resilience from areas impacted by natural disasters.  Dan will photograph the widespread damage caused by the March 2020 Nashville tornado to examine how communities prioritize recovery strategies to maximize resilience. He is currently conducting time dynamic studies to document infrastructure reconstruction and rates of community recovery. At the end of this project, Dan will create an art installation, featuring the chronological photography and time-lapse videos and describe how a region recovers after a disaster, pointing to gaps in the recovery process. This work provides valuable information that was previously unavailable, and enables a more holistic approach to disaster management going forward.

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

Daniel holds an M.A. in Spanish from Vanderbilt University (2018) and a B.A. in Hispanic Literature and Linguistics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (2015).  His current dissertation focuses on themes related to literature as a site of identity creation when diseases are afflicting the body.

Daniel will work with groups of 10-15 Latin-American immigrants on a weekly basis, leading the group in discussions and writing exercises centered around identity and belonging, especially as it relates to healthcare in the time of a pandemic. At the end of his project, Daniel will host a community event where each poet will have an opportunity to share their writings with their family and friends. With the writer’s permission each work will be published in an artisanal book of poetry, accompanied by a piece of visual art important to the writer, with copies of the book given to all participants and distributed to various immigrant centers, clinics, and hospitals serving the Latinx community throughout Nashville and surrounding communities.

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

Rachel has a background in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This identity informs much of her framework and approach to research, in that she learns more through listening than by talking. Her specific interests intersect at understanding morality, homelessness, and women’s lived experiences.

Rachel’s Public Scholar project reflects these interests through her work with some of Nashville’s female homeless population. She is utilizing a participatory, visual methodology called PhotoVoice, which allows the user to tell her own story through first-person narratives and photographs. Rachel has partnered with Nashville’s Salvation Army Center of Hope, and with the participants approval, will disseminate these stories during a gallery installation at Nashville’s Main Street Art Gallery this fall, in which she will invite policy makers and program developers from the community to join the show, and the conversation surrounding the issues and experience these women have documented.