Current Citizen Scholars

2019 Citizen Scholars Martina Svyantek, Cristina Marcillo and Lehi Dowell hold their award certificates as they pose, smiling, with Dean Karen DePauw

2019 Citizen Scholars Martina Svyantek, Cristina Marcillo and Lehi Dowell hold their award certificates as they pose, smiling, with Dean Karen DePauw
2019 Citizen Scholars Martina Svyantek, Cristina Marcillo and Lehi Dowell with Dean Karen DePauw.

The following students are the 2019 Citizen Scholars:

Lehi Dowell, a Ph.D. student in Planning Governance and Globalization. Lehi, from Sutherlin, Oregon, earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of La Verne and his master’s degree from Florida International University. His project was with the Montgomery County VA Regional Tourism Office, conducting an Organizational Strategic Review

Summary: I was contacted in July 2018 by board member Lea Wall, a member of the Montgomery County Tourism Development Council (MTDC), and asked to lend my expertise to come up with a plan on where/how/when to construct a local visitor's center. She placed me in contact with Lisa Bleakley, the Executive Director for the newly created Montgomery County VA Regional Tourism Office, which is the program office that handles all goals and objectives recommended by the MTDC. The MTDC acts as the advisory council for both the Montgomery County Regional Tourism Operating Board and Bleakley's tourism office. Tourism is a $122 million dollar industry in Montgomery County and provides over 1,200 jobs, with the expectation that a local visitor's center would increase visitor interest and spending in the area.

The first step in the process was to complete an in-depth analysis which reviewed governance, fiduciary controls, and future sustainability of the Regional Tourism office itself as a baseline for future projects. As part ofthis review process in the Fall of2018 I studied all resolutions enacted to create the MTDC and the Regional Tourism Office, reviewed two years' worth of board meeting minutes, financial documents (balance sheets, statement of activities, and audits), and conducted in-person interviews with both Wall and Bleakley. The end result was a 20-page document that Wall and Bleakley were happy to have as it gave fresh vision to the organization.

In addition, five recommendations were found and some have since been acted upon: making the MTDC an actual working council to give support to the Regional Tourism Office; creating a county wide hospitality internship program that would act as a pipeline of high school students interested in the field and thus improving staffing/industry labor related issues; starting a monthly newsletter to improve communication between the quarterly MTDC board meetings; giving Radford University a seat on the MTDC board (VT is already represented); and narrowing down the exact type of visitor's center desired as there were numerous conflicting ideas and moving forward with developing a committee to research investors, partners, and an advocacy campaign.

Cristina Marcillo, a Ph.D. student in Biological Systems Engineering, and a member of the Interfaces for Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program. Originally from Boston, Cristina earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Francis University. Her project was working with the community of San Rafael Las Flores in Guatemala on drinking water sampling and citizen science.

Summary: In December 2018, I traveled to San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala to sample household drinking water and conduct a water-use and quality perception survey. San Rafael Las Flores is a rural town adjacent to a large silver mine, which has raised community concerns regarding potential arsenic contamination in water.

In partnership with a research group in Guatemala (USAC-CECON) and a local community organization (CODIDENA), I planned a water sampling campaign starting in September 2018. The goals of this project were to 1) provide water quality information to homeowners, 2) train citizens to use field water-sampling equipment, and 3) allow the community to lead long-term water monitoring. For 3 days in December 2018, myself, a member of the USAC-CECON team, and community members traveled around the San Rafael community to sample household water (some to return to VT labs), run rapid-result field kits (arsenic, E. coli, & various physiochemical parameters), and survey participants. For over 90% of participants, this study provided the first water quality information they had ever received. Community members who sampled in December have continued to monitor household and spring/surface waters since December and stay in contact with myself for technical support.

This effort is part of my dissertation project, which seeks to 1) increase scientific capacity in communities to enable citizen science water monitoring and 2) analyze water legislation in Guatemala. Through this work, I have learned an incredible amount about Guatemala, a country that is part of my heritage, and learned to work with community organizations as stakeholders. This work is being prepared for publication. I will present it to my department (which helped fund it) in April, and I will travel there again later this year to continue.

Martina Svyantek, of Auburn, Alabama, is an Individualized Interdisciplinary Ph.D. student. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and her master’s degree from Virginia Tech. Her project involved being the GBT Conference Accessibility Coordinator.

Summary: The purpose of this project is to apply the academic, professional, and service work I have been involved with to developing an inclusive environment for the 2019 Gender, Bodies, and Technology conference. This work has taken place as part of the conference planning, which has been directed by Dr. Christine Labuski.

Much of this work has involved coordinating on digital platforms with others working on the conference, meeting attendance, and the development of materials for the attendees. A rough time estimate would be 2 to 5 hours per week since the end of July 2018, ramping up as the conference date approaches in late April (a total of 80-200 hours). This experience is a direct reflection of the focus of my IPhD, which is geared towards understanding Disability within higher education settings; in this case, access and inclusion within a conference. Serving as the Accessibility Coordinator provided professional development, including the opportunity to supervise other volunteers.

An early assessment of this work (which will not be complete until the conference is over) is the basic fact that many accessibility concerns are being built into the conference itself, including a quiet room, a request that presenters develop slides that can use auto-captioning capabilities, and a demand that the conference hotel allows us to label all ingredients in the food items instead of listing just a few known and well-recognized allergens. The fact that these barriers are being addressed upfront has pushed GBT to proactively reconsider what access and inclusion means in a conference setting, raising the bar for future efforts.