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Reporting of Uranium Mines, Architectural Adaptive Reuse among Student Research Granted Crown Awards
Garet Bleir ’18 drove cross country last summer to Utah, Arizona and Colorado to take on a complex investigative journalism assignment. He was hired to investigate alleged human rights and environmental abuses involving uranium mining in the majestic Grand Canyon region.
Three months of research and countless interviews led to a series of articles Bleir produced for Intercontinental Cry, an indigenous peoples’ magazine that first made the assignment, and Toward Freedom, an analytical news publication.
“I investigated the health risks of mining, explored the ongoing and emerging efforts by local activists and legislators to safeguard America’s most iconic natural landscape and documented the cultural patrimony of indigenous stakeholders in the region,” says Bleir, a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program.
His work was a personal achievement and also garnered attention online through social media—and on campus in the Honors Program, which funded his research travel with a Crown Award last fall.
Bleir was one of 15 honors students awarded funding for their capstone work to help them further pursue even more ambitious and in-depth projects.
The honors capstone project is a two-year research, creative or professional thesis in the student’s major and is guided by a faculty mentor.
The Crown Awards, which are up to $5,000, provide reimbursement for research materials, supplies and expenses; research travel; and other expenses. Students are also funded through Lynne Parker awards for women in science and Wise-Marcus 50-Year Friendship award for creative work.
The award winners are chosen by a selection committee of honors core faculty members. Students submit a formal proposal, timeline and budget, as well as a letter of recommendation from their faculty mentor. Through the application process, students learn how to argue on behalf of their work and budget anticipated costs.
“It is always uplifting to read these applications and see both the breadth of work and seriousness with which our students are taking their role in research this early in their careers,” says Sinéad Mac Namara, associate professor in the School of Architecture and in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and honors core faculty member. “This funding helps them take their research and exploration to another level of discovery and impact.”
Elizabeth Johnson ’18 is using her funding to support her thesis work in the School of Architecture on adaptive reuse—reconfiguring an older building so that its function is something different.
“My capstone project is about using preservation in design practices in order to question the existence of obsolescence, and implementing sustainable ideas of successive authorship, longevity and value of heritage in contemporary culture,” Johnson says.
Johnson became interested in adaptive reuse after working on a competition—the Clandon Park Competition in the United Kingdom—while she was an intern at Selldorf Architects in New York City. The competition involved reimagining an 18th-century Palladian house and surrounding landscape.
With her capstone project, Johnson hopes to expand her knowledge of adaptive reuse while preserving cultural heritage within the broader scope of architecture.
The Crown funding allowed her to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to study the newly opened Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.
“While at the site I was able to rethink my thesis and learn from people on the site about the adaptive reuse of a massive grain storage silo as well as the redevelopment of the surrounding Cape Town waterfront,” says Johnson, who will use the rest of the funds to build models and drawings for her final project. “Funding from the Honors Program has enabled me to design and develop an exquisite representation of ‘Contemporary Preservation’ and showcase my work in the School of Architecture.”
After graduation, Johnson plans to pursue a position in architecture and work toward licensure as an architect before eventually applying to graduate school.
Bleir, who is majoring in magazine journalism and marketing management, used his funding to mitigate travel costs. He reported on various communities regarding the impact of Energy Fuels Resources (EFR), the company that owns a uranium mine, including mill workers struggling for a living in Blanding, Utah; the Havasupai Tribe, whose main water source lies beneath one of EFR’s newly active mines and is in danger of contamination; and the Ute Mesa Ute Tribe, located south of EFR’s White Mesa Mill, whose members have been exposed to significant amounts of the mill’s radon emissions.
Bleir spoke with many individuals, including representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Forest Service, Haul No!, Dine No Nukes, the Sierra Club, U.S. Geological Survey, the president of EFR and other EFR employees; leaders from the Ute Mountain Ute, Havasupai, Navajo and Hopi communities; scientists; state and local politicians; and organizations working to protect the Grand Canyon.
Bleir says his work served as a catalyst for the Sierra Club’s continued investigation into the uranium mines, and the piece he co-wrote with the editor promoting the series and published on Intercontinental Cry was featured on Truth-Out.org.
“Through this project, I seek to communicate to the public how different communities navigate economic issues, environmental racism and a shared love of the land that surrounds them,” says Bleir.
Along with being posted online on Intercontinental Cry, the stories can be accessed through Bleir’s Instagram page (@GaretBleir), and his Facebook page (Garet Bleir Journalism).
After graduation, Bleir will be working as an investigative reporter looking into hate crimes, hate groups and the victims of those crimes through a fellowship at Arizona State University under the previous executive editor of The Washington Post.
“Being chosen as a Crown Scholar is an honor to me and has helped me to tell stories which otherwise may have gone unheard,” Bleir says. “These reporting experiences have impacted my life and informed my future career aspirations.”
The following is a list of the Renée Crown University Honors Program students who were presented with a Crown Award in fall 2017 and spring 2018:
- Daniel Asoli, architecture: Urban Design of Midtown East Architecture (Advisor: Richard Rosa)
- Garet Bleir, magazine journalism and marketing management in the Newhouse School and the Whitman School: Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon Region (Advisor: Melissa Chessher)
- Patrick Castle, biotechnology in the College of Arts and Sciences: Analysis of Enzyme Activity Levels in Unfertilized, Fertilized, and Parthenogenetically Activated Sea Urchin Eggs (Advisor: Robert Silver)
- Grace Crummett, television, radio, film and English textual studies in the Newhouse School and the College of Art and Sciences: “Frankie’s Monster”: A Short Film Based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (Advisor: Joseph Comstock)
- Katherine Czerwinski, magazine in the Newhouse School: Better Magazine: A Mental Wellness Magazine for College Women (Advisor: Harriet Brown)
- Jackie Homan, magazine in the Newhouse School: Lightbulb Moments: The Power of Women’s Ideas in the Changing Media Industry (Advisor: Melissa Chessher)
- Elizabeth Johnson, architecture: Preservation and Adaptive Reuse (Advisor: Mitesh Dixit)
- Madelyn Kelly, transmedia in the College of Visual and Performing Arts: Two-dimensional, Computer Animated Short Film (Advisor: Owen Shapiro)
- Thomas Kuei, architecture: Architectural Representation and Design (Advisor: Jonathan Louie)
- Yejin Lee, information management and technology and supply chain management in the School of Information Studies and the Whitman School: Blockchain: Rebuilding Traceability, Transparency and Trust (Advisor: Patrick Penfield)
- Amanda Liberty, architecture: Cultural and Physical Preservation of Venice’s Jewish Ghetto (Advisor: Molly Hunker)
- Margaret McCoy, biology in the College of Arts and Sciences: Part One: The Effects of KIT Signaling and Estrogen Deficiency on Meiotic Progression; Part Two: Oocyte Development and Ovarian Health in an Estrogen-Deficient Mouse Model Biology (Advisor: Melissa Pepling)
- Jacqueline Page, television, radio, film and international relations in the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School: “KHORA: The Impact of Community in Crisis”: Documentary of KHORA Community Center (Advisor: Renee Stevens)
- Joeann Salvati, psychology and forensic science in the College of Arts and Sciences: Effects and Effectiveness of Confession-Eliciting Tactics in Simulated Interrogation (Advisor: Shannon Houck)
- Gregory Walsh, physics in the College of Arts and Sciences: A Statistical Analysis on Two Astrophysical Events (Advisor: Ryan Fisher)
- Emily Bonner, biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences: The Ruthenium Catalyzed Alder Ene Reaction (Advisor: Nancy Totah)
- Madalyn Bozinski, chemical engineering and political science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Maxwell School: Water Column Methylmercury Production in a Meromictic Lake: The Importance of Metalimnetic Biogeochemical Interactions (Advisor: Svetoslava Todorova)
- April Kessler, biology in the College of Arts and Sciences: Using Zebrafish to Test Chemical Toxicity (Advisor: Kate Lewis)
- Yongna Lei, biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences: Effects of ALS-Linked Mutations on the Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation Behavior of Ubiquilin-2 (Advisor: Carlos Castañeda); Lynne Parker Scholar
- Taylor Middleton, biology in the College of Arts and Sciences: Genetic and Environmental Controls on Seed Germination (Advisor: Jannice Friedman)
- Saniya More, broadcast and digital journalism in the Newhouse School: Living Among the Adivasis (Advisor: Suzanne Lysak); Wise-Marcus 50-Year Friendship Fund Award
- Martina Morris, biology in the College of Arts and Sciences: Using Zebrafish to Assess the Toxicity of Potential Pollutants Isolated from Onondaga Lake (Advisor: Kate Lewis)
- Camerin Ortiz, biology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences: Investigating the Role of Mecp2 in the Precise Laminar and Areal Development of the Neocortex (Advisor: Jessica MacDonald); Lynne Parker Scholar
- Lyla Rose-Barwick, television, radio and film in the Newhouse School: 911: The First First-Responders and America’s Unsung Heroes (Advisor: Michael Schoonmaker)
- Danielle Schaf, anthropology, forensic science, and writing and rhetoric in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School: The Working Women: Examining Skeletal Evidence of Labor on the Pre-Famine Irish Women of the Huntington Collection (Advisor: Shannon Novak)
- Kelsey Scott, anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School: Solidarity for Success: Building Social Capital and Community Resilience in St. Thomas, VI (Advisor: Douglas Armstrong)
- Rebecca Spraggins, political science in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School: Is the Citizenship of Ex-Felons in Florida Dependent on the Restoration of their Voting Rights? (Advisor: Kristi Andersen)
- Anna Strait, international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School: U.S. Militarism and Tourism Development in the Philippines (Advisor: Natalie Koch)
- Sabastine Udeme, biology in the College of Arts and Sciences: Testing Pathogen Resistance in Polyploid Plants (Advisor: Kari Segraves)
- Shatira Woods, psychology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences: Effectiveness of Police Lineup Procedures (Advisor: Michael Kalish)
- Angie Zhao, biology and forensic science in the College of Arts and Sciences: Modeling Stutter and Pull-up in DNA Analysis Profiling using GlobalFiler (Advisor: Michael Marciano)
Seniors in the Renée Crown University Honors Program will present their honors capstone projects on Wednesday, May 2, in the Hall of Languages. The presentation panels will run all day in 10 rooms throughout the building and are free and open to the University community. The schedule will be posted on the honors website, www.honors.syr.edu, in late April.
Capstone projects are the culmination of three to four semesters of independent research, professional and creative work by students from across the schools and colleges of the University. Working with a faculty advisor, the students design, research and complete a significant project in their major field of study.
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