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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:


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 Latinx 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.


Beyond Racial Reconciliation: Exploring Christianity’s Complicity in Racial Oppression
Sara Eccleston (PhD, Human Organization and Development)
Working with fellow graduate student Leah Lomoty-Nakon (2016-2017 Curb Public Scholar), Sara created a “Whiteness & Christianity” curriculum. Using this curriculum, Sara and Leah provided training to 30 Nashville and surrounding community participants over three cohorts completed November 2018, February 2019, and April 2019, and are working to present it to regional, state, and national Episcopalian leaders. She went on to receive a Curb Creative Catalyst award, which allows Sara and Leah to continue providing training to new cohorts as they work toward an online curriculum for nationwide distribution.

Communiversity within the Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HSBC) Network
Magana Kabugi (PhD Candidate, English)
Magana explored the ways historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) and more specifically the Atlanta University Center Consortium (consisting of Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta, Morris Brown, and Morehouse School of Medicine) leveraged university-community partnerships. He is currently working on a graphic novel-style guidebook explaining the concept of a “communiversity.”

Aging on the Dance Floor: A Video Project to Document an Emerging Dance Genre in South Korea
Yu-Ri Kim (PhD Candidate, Sociology)
Yu-Ri traveled to South Korea to become trained in Rhythm Pair Dance for elderly communities. Incorporating movements of the American prom dance, the twist, the moonwalk, and other popular styles, this seemingly sedentary yet intimate style of dancing is perfect for aging bodes with passionate souls. While there, she captured footage to use in a dance curriculum she created for dissemination in Nashville’s Fifty Forward network, local senior citizen organizations, and area retirement homes.

Jesse Montgomery (PhD Candidate )
Jesse’s project examines the historical and theoretical significance of Chicago’s Young Patriot Organization, a group of radical, poor and working class white Southern migrants who entered into an alliance with the Illinois Black Panther Party to form the original Rainbow Coalition. The story of the Rainbow Coalition endures as a short lived, provocative example of working class interracial organizing in the United States and this project attempts to document and interpret the story of how these white Southerners,who might be expected to resist or avoid interracial political action,came to see themselves as an essential component of a collective liberation struggle in the late 1960s. The story of how Southern music moved North is well documented. When black Americans moved to cities like Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit as part of the Great Migration, they brought their music – blues and jazz – with them, great modern forms that grappled with dislocation and cultural hybridity. When white Southerners moved north in the years following WWII they followed similar migratory routes and carried similar musical heritage, but the movement of country music into the great cities of the North remains virtually un-examined despite its historical importance and generic prevalence. At the end of his research Jesse is hoping to create a podcast series discussing his findings.

Two Nashvilles
Jason Rodriguez (PhD Candidate, Community Research & Action)
For the past three years, Jason has developed a relationship with a Nashville homeless man who has agreed to let Jason make a documentary about his life on the streets and how rapid development changes in Nashville have impacted his survival. The resulting short film will challenge public assumption about homelessness while pointing to systemic solutions.

Assessing the Impact of Urbanization on Wildlife
Abigail Searfoss (PhD Candidate, Chemical & Physical Biology)
Abigail is interested in whether the explosive growth of Nashville is changing the way our birds sing and whether we have provided sufficient greenspace to preserve species diversity and natural bird behavior. She is recording birdsong throughout metro and state parks and holding bird song workshops with local birders to identify the each species bu its song. Using software she developed, Abigail is using song data to quantitatively determine the changing nature of birds and their song in Nashville and its surrounding neighborhoods so the results can inform urban planning policies.


Diet as Identity and Resistance
Keitlyn Alcantara-Russell (PhD, Anthropology & Bioarcheology)
Keitlyn worked with Nashville’s Casa Azafran to recruit middle and high-school students for a two-part workshop about Latin American food practices, both in ancient and modern times. Students created a video diary which was shared with the broader Nashville community to highlight the valuable dietary and cultural diversity immigrant communities contribute to Nashville

A Community Definition of “Home” in the Inglewood Neighborhood of Nashville, TN
Elizabeth Lanphier (PhD, Philosophy)
Through intake screenings, scheduling, pre-interviews, and in-person interviews Elizabeth worked with 10 recent immigrants living in the Inglewood community of Nashville, to develop and disseminate a concept of ‘home’ as a term which defines a shared community and membership.

Nashville Immigrant Settlement Patterns & Languages Mapping
Gabriela Leon-Perez (PhD, Sociology)
Gabriela’s membership in the Nashville’s Public Library Immigrant Advisory Committee led to her creation of a digital mapping project identifying resources for libraries serving a majority Spanish, Somalian, Sudanese, Kurdish, and Arabic populations, so these branches could better serve their clientele with relevant programming, lending materials, and events.

A Prehistoric Sister Cities Project
Brian McCay (PhD, Anthropolgy)
Brian worked on a collaborative interpretation project with students in Tennessee and Peru to create 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 emphasized the universality of certain experiences of childhood, while increasing the appreciation for the ways life that existed in the past. This public archaeology project helped youth inhabitants of both areas appreciate the heritage of their region by reaffirming the connections that their heritages are still creating.

Peer Sex Education for LGBTQI Youth
Leah Marion Roberts (PhD, Human & Organizational Development)
Leah partnered 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. She produced 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 helped create products, such as public service messages about youth and sex education, and an  arts-based product about their experiences with sex education in TN.

Embodying Math in Dance
Lauren Vogelstein (PhD Candidate, Teaching & Learning)
Lauren’s project explores the potential of choreographed ensemble performances with dynamic geometric forms, which can be seen in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, as a mode of expressive mathematical activity.  Her work 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.

arts-based product about their experiences with sex education in TN.

Youth & Neighborhood Mapping
Danielle Wilfong (PhD, Human & Organizational Development)
Danielle looked at the ways 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 the individual’s sense of safety and belonging. She worked with Nashville’s Oasis Center to develop and implement a mapping project that highlights the everyday experiences of black youth in Nashville.