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More than a vacation: three undergrad summers

Whether interning or researching, spending their time in the U.S. or abroad, many Brown students took their passion out of the classroom and into the world this summer. The Herald took a look at the summers of three different undergrads — each a part of the wide spectrum of experiences of student summers.

An awakening

Christine Zaleski '11, an environmental studies concentrator, spent over two months this summer working for a non-governmental organization promoting sustainable fisheries management in Gambia. The Gambia-Senegal Sustainable Fisheries Project, known locally as Ba Nafaa, is a five-year, $2.5 million project that has been ongoing since 2009, Zaleski said.

The project is carried out in conjunction with the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center and the World Wide Fund West Africa Marine EcoRegional Program, according to the center's website.  

Ba Nafaa's goal is to "promote sustainable fisheries management including the shared marine and coastal resources between the Gambia and Senegal," according to the URI Coastal Resources Center website. The project works with 500 "oyster women," female immigrants from Guinea Bissau whose livelihood relies on harvesting oysters in protected wetlands.  As Christian women in a male-dominated, predominantly Muslim society, the oyster women are "the most disenfranchised group of people," Zaleski said. To that end, Ba Nafaa also engages in providing the women alternative sources of income during the season when oyster harvesting is closed, including creating tie-dyed handicrafts for sale to tourists, beekeeping and other activities with low environmental impact.  

Zaleski's trip was funded by a grant awarded by the Center for Environmental Studies, a large part of which went toward covering the cost of flight to and from Gambia.

The trip was also an opportunity for Zaleski to do research for her senior thesis, which deals with community management resources. She plans to spend a good part of her year working on her thesis. Zaleski said she is potentially interested in comparing the issues facing oyster fisheries in Rhode Island and Gambia.

For Zaleski, the people she met were a positive part of the experience.

"I was really lucky to work with the people that I worked with," she said. As the only foreign undergraduate student working on the project, Zaleski had the opportunity to meet local families and grow close with her coworkers. "They completely incorporated me into their culture. They let me help where I could be of help and let me watch where I couldn't," she said.

The most challenging part of Zaleski's summer was adjusting to life in Gambia as a white, Christian foreigner in a predominantly black, Muslim country, she said. "With every person you meet, you have to first break through that barrier, the visual ostracization," Zaleski said. "It was my first experience as a real minority."  

"I realized how much I had to learn, not only about developing countries but my own country — how much we have to give and how much they still need. That was a big awakening," Zaleski said.


A taste of grad school

Julia Olszewski '12, a marine biology concentrator, completed an eleven-week summer research training program at the University of Florida's Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, Florida.

Olszewski was the recipient of a Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant funded by the National Science Foundation.

During her summer, she worked with Professor James Liao of the Whitney Laboratory researching zebra fish larvae. Their work centered on deciphering how the fish use the information picked up from hairs along their body, or neuromasts, to swim.  

The program also incorporated a number of field trips that included canoeing, kayaking snorkeling on the Florida Keys and visiting the main University of Florida campus to speak to representatives from graduate schools.

For Olszewski, the training was a great preview of what a graduate program in marine biology could offer her. She said she spent an average of 10 hours per day in the lab.

"It was like trying out grad school, at least the research part — which is the part we're not familiar with," Olszewski said.  

Networking with professors and researchers in the field was another major plus for Olszewski. "We are the only undergrads they interact with year-round," she said. Olszewski is still in touch with her mentor from the Whitney Lab and is currently working on publishing her findings from the summer.

Around the world in three months

Jose Rodriguez '12, a commerce, organizations and entrepreneurship concentrator, split the summer between an internship with Infosys Technologies in Bangalore, India and research in the Dominican Republic.  

Rodriguez secured the Infosys internship after undergoing a double interview process. First he applied for the COE program's Internship in India program, and later had to apply directly for a position at Infosys.

During his internship, Rodriguez worked on extending and improving the company's alumni online network. He also participated in an internal business competition, where his group won third place for suggesting an informational platform for microfinance institutions.

Rodriguez also took the opportunity to visit other cities in the area, including Mumbai, New Delhi, Agra, Goa and Mysore. "I've never traveled so much in my life," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez especially enjoyed meeting individuals from all over the world at Infosys, as well as having the chance to network and receive professional feedback.  "There is so much talent there," he said. "I built such a strong relationship with my group."  

After completing his work at Infosys, Rodriguez continued on to the Dominican Republic to complete the second phase of a ten-week research fellowship that he had begun during the previous winter break. The project aims to identify the extent to which the U.S. financial crisis affected a particular neighborhood in the Dominican Republic.

The Brown International Scholar Program provided funding for his research.

Rodriguez conducted interviews and a pilot study to determine the types of surveys that could be administered to local households and businesses in order to maximize the quality of information for the study.  

Previously, the Dominican Republic had been no more than a summer vacation destination for Rodriguez. By returning as a researcher, he was able to use his unique perspective as both an insider and outsider in the country to meet people and get to know the neighborhood, he said.

"For the first time, I was there to do something to bring more light to an issue that I felt was not adequately explored," Rodriguez said.  

Rodriguez said he hopes to return to the Dominican Republic for further research to "evaluate my methods, my approaches and better them."


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