Educational Globetrotting

Taking flamenco dancing lessons in Spain would be a dream vacation for some. Having someone else pay for it in the name of education makes it even better.

Too good to be true? Hardly.

For most students, studying abroad means spending a semester in a foreign country and taking classes at a university. But, for students who receive Lewis Cotlow grants, studying abroad means something different.

These students travel all over the globe, from India to Africa and places beyond, to conduct their own individually designed research projects, with the University’s anthropology department subsidizing some of the costs. The department awards Cotlow grants each year to the 12 to 15 students who propose the most well-researched, purposeful and thought-provoking projects. Funding usually ranges from less than $1,000 to $2,500 per student, depending on the cost of the project. This year, 15 of 20 applicants received grants from the department’s selection committee.

This summer, Meg Weaver, a student pursuing a master’s degree in anthropology, spent a month in southern Spain researching the impact of tourism on flamenco dancing, which is heavily influenced by Gypsies and typically characterized by clapping and foot-stomping. To appreciate the country’s traditional dance, she not only interviewed tourists and flamenco performers, but also took dancing lessons. The department’s grant paid for her travel expenses.

Established in 1990 with a $150,000 gift from the estate of alumnus Lewis Cotlow, an explorer, author and filmmaker, the grant program has provided supplementary funding to students studying anthropological phenomena all over the globe, from southeastern Africa to northeastern D.C. Most of the Cotlow grant recipients, who range from undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates, conduct their research during summer months.

In July, junior Andrew Siddons, an undergraduate anthropology and international affairs double major, traveled the farthest of any of the grant recipients. He went to a tsunami-devastated section of India to observe the relief effort volunteers from an anthropologist’s perspective. The massive wave killed more than 200,000 people in Southeast Asia last December.

Siddons, a Hatchet arts writer, gathered data by taking notes and interviewing volunteers, who ranged in age from late teens to mid-50s. He received enough grant money to pay for his travel and housing. The project was a valuable first-hand learning experience, he said.

“It gave me such an extraordinary opportunity. I got a glimpse of what it takes for development to happen in third-world countries. You see what works and what doesn’t,” Siddons said.

Program coordinator Barbara Miller, a professor of anthropology and international affairs, said the program is unique among American universities.

Arianna Fogelman, who is working for a master’s degree in museum studies, spent the summer researching the possibility of opening, in southeast Africa, a museum about the history and culture of Mozambique’s Niassa region. The Cotlow grant paid for her plane ticket.

Assisting a Canadian

archaeologist, Fogelman spent much of her time talking with people living in an inpoverished community. She said she developed an admiration for their willingness to look beyond their hardships.

“One thing that was surprising was the resiliency of the local population,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for the local people.”

Jonathan Greenberg, a senior majoring in archaeology, received a $500 Cotlow grant to assist in a project at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Piecing together skeletal remains from Megiddo, Israel, dating back to between 1200 and 1000 B.C., Greenberg was part of a team trying to determine whether DNA testing might shed new light on some of the bones’ origins. Because of the experience, he said he now wants to pursue a master’s degree in archaeology.

Miller said students majoring in anthropology-related fields receive some preference among grant applicants, but the selection committee considers many factors.

“It’s so exciting – they’re writing such wonderful proposals,” she said. “They’re so enthusiastic and determined to go. It’s awe-inspiring.”

With a budget limited by how much interest Lewis Cotlow’s original donation accumulates each year – usually around $14,000 – the selection committee encourages students to find less costly projects that they can execute in the United States. Miller said one student who wanted to study an aspect of Vietnamese culture in Vietnam was able to redraft her proposal to study Vietnamese nail salon workers in D.C. and Maryland.

The grant recipients will attend a conference sponsored by the department in February to give presentations about their findings.

To apply, students must submit a professional grant proposal detailing their plans and expectations for the project. The program is open to all students – undergraduates, master’s degree students and Ph.D. candidates.

Lewis Cotlow grant proposals for next summer are due in March 2006. For more information about the program or proposal-writing workshops, students are encouraged to contact Barbara Miller at barbar@gwu.edu.

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