Author Archives: czarzicki

It takes a village to raise a writer

Third-year student Erica Roberts, an international affairs major, during her international co-op in India. Contributed photo 

It had always been Erica Roberts’ dream to work in India, but the third-year North­eastern stu­dent never had the oppor­tu­nity. That is, until last spring, when inter­na­tional co-op took her to a class­room in Chan­delao, a vil­lage about 45 min­utes out­side of Jodhpur.

Roberts worked with Chan­delao Vikas Sansthan, a small orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes women’s entre­pre­neur­ship. She con­nected with the orga­ni­za­tion through the Foun­da­tion for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment, a San Francisco-based non­profit focused on capacity building in the inter­na­tional community.

Roberts took respon­si­bility for devel­oping a pro­gram to teach local women how to read and write Hindi. Though she didn’t speak Hindi, the resourceful stu­dent worked with locals to iden­tify the needs of the vil­lage women as well as the best approach to imple­menting the program.

“I worked with a friend who helped me con­duct inter­views, sur­veys and group meet­ings with women in the vil­lage so we could find out what their needs were and how we could help them go fur­ther and pro­vide for their fam­i­lies better,” Roberts said.

The inter­na­tional affairs major applied what she had learned in class to the devel­op­ment of the pro­gram, which ranged from con­ducting needs assess­ments to elic­iting insight from stake­holders. Roberts wrote the course plan, making sure to include ideas that would make the pro­gram sus­tain­able, and con­nected with a local teacher who altered a cur­riculum for indi­vidual stu­dents to fit Roberts’ needs.

“A lot of the classes I have taken were def­i­nitely applic­able,” Roberts said, “and it is really cool to go on co-op and see that what you are learning is actu­ally going to help you once you are done with college.”

As a result of the village’s small size, word of mouth turned out to be the program’s best recruit­ment tool. By the time Roberts had returned home after 17 weeks in India, about 30 women had com­mitted to the program.

“It was a good start,” Roberts noted. “I tried to plan out a lot of ways to get feed­back for all par­ties involved so we could make sure the pro­gram is run­ning smoothly and everyone has what they want.”

Written by Joe O'Connell

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This article was originally posted on Northeastern News. Read it here.

The artist behind the MFA’s sound

Thanks to experiential learning and determination, Northeastern alumna Jasmine Hagans is living her dream as curator of lectures, courses, and concerts at the Museum of Fine Arts, where she’s building its concert profile. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

North­eastern alumna Jas­mine Hagans has lived and breathed music her whole life. Her father is a pro­fes­sional jazz musi­cian, and she has worked at local venues, man­aged two bands on tour, and played drums in a rock band for the last year and a half.

“I don’t think I could live hap­pily without music being a part of my life,” said Hagans, a 2009 grad­uate of the music industry pro­gram with minors in busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion, urban studies, and history.

Thanks to both her dogged­ness and valu­able experiential-learning oppor­tu­ni­ties at North­eastern, music cur­rently plays a role in what she does every day. Hagans is the curator of lec­tures, courses, and con­certs at the Museum of Fine Arts on Hunt­ington Avenue. In this role, she pro­grams more than 150 events per year, ranging from adult art his­tory and cul­ture classes to dynamic lec­tures and concerts.

In par­tic­ular, Hagans has embraced the oppor­tu­nity to expand the MFA’s music offer­ings. She pro­posed and imple­mented a pro­gram called Sound Bites, which brings in free live music one Thursday a month between the fall and spring. As a result of her cre­ative insights into plan­ning and music, the museum has fea­tured both pop­ular and worldly acts such as Pas­sion Pit, Oliver Mtukudzi, Eme­line Michel, Cal­i­fone, Lost in the Trees, So Per­cus­sion, and My Brightest Diamond.

Opened in 1876, the MFA is one of the globe’s most com­pre­hen­sive art museums, with a col­lec­tion com­prising nearly 450,000 works of art that are viewed by more than 1 mil­lion vis­i­tors each year. To Hagans, building the MFA’s con­cert slate to com­ple­ment its remark­able art exhibits and edu­ca­tional pro­gram­ming seemed like a nat­ural fit.

“Why not? This is the MFA,” she said. “As you walk around the museum, you feel truly inspired by these artists, and I felt that adding more music pro­gram­ming could only bring it even more to life. It gets you in the mindset that you’re in a spe­cial place.”

Hagans started at the MFA in June 2006 as a part-time intern, helping to coor­di­nate and manage winter and summer pro­grams and other events at the museum. Over time, she took on more respon­si­bility as pro­duc­tion assis­tant and then a man­ager, even­tu­ally coor­di­nating all aspects of the museum’s con­cert pro­gram­ming, from pro­duc­tion to hospitality.

After grad­u­a­tion, Hagans spent a year teaching Eng­lish in South Korea. When she returned, she soon real­ized her heart remained with the arts. So she recon­nected with her former employer and earned a posi­tion as the man­ager of lec­tures, courses, and con­certs in Oct. 2010. In July of this year, she was pro­moted to curator.

She credits her North­eastern edu­ca­tion for fos­tering her open mind as well as for fur­thering her engage­ment with arts, cul­ture, and the music industry.

“Each day I have the oppor­tu­nity to look at a visual ency­clo­pedia of human his­tory,” Hagans said. “Working here is nothing short of inspi­ra­tional and ful­filling both on a per­sonal and com­mu­nity level. Not a day goes by in which I don’t learn some­thing about the world’s his­tory and how we’re all moving forward.”

Written by Greg St. Martin

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This article was originally posted on Northeastern News. Read it here.

Student’s autonomous boat ‘Scouts’ the Atlantic

Fourth-year computer science major Dave Pimentel wrote the navigation code for Scout Transatlantic, an autonomous boat on a mission to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Rhode Island to Spain.  Photo by Brooks Canaday. 

 When a friend with an ambi­tious goal to send an autonomous boat from Rhode Island to Spain approached David Pimentel, he jumped on the oppor­tu­nity. “He needed someone to help pro­gram the idea he had, which has to send a boat across the Atlantic,” explained Pimentel. “Right away, I was very inter­ested in doing it.”

Pimentel, a fourth-year com­puter sci­ence major, was tasked with coding the 13-foot long autonomous robotic boat, nick­named Scout, to follow a spe­cific set of latitude-longitude points. The oppor­tu­nity to code during co-op place­ments for PayPal and the mobile com­pany Run­K­eeper gave Pimentel the expe­ri­ence nec­es­sary to take on such a lofty task. The boat is depending entirely on these pre-programmed com­mands as well as infor­ma­tion about its envi­ron­ment col­lected through sen­sors to nav­i­gate the Atlantic.

After some trial and error, Scout was suc­cess­fully launched at 1 a.m. on Aug. 24 from Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, R.I., with a crowd of spec­ta­tors and project sup­porters in attendance.

“We had a couple of ini­tial launches fail due to dif­ferent rea­sons, but now this trip is going better than I expected,” Pimentel said.

The team’s other six mem­bers were respon­sible for cre­ating the web appli­ca­tion used to track the boat, pro­gram­ming com­mu­ni­ca­tions soft­ware, form con­struc­tion, and com­po­nent fab­ri­ca­tion, among other aspects. The boat’s bat­tery is pow­ered by solar panels, sim­ilar to how a motor­cycle bat­tery oper­ates. Since Scout only moves as a modest one mile per hour, on average, Pimentel and his team antic­i­pate the trip will take another six to 12 weeks.

“We would like to prove that this is pos­sible, and some­thing that can be used in a research set­ting,” he said. “The ability to send a boat out to a cer­tain point in the ocean to col­lect data, without needing to send a team, would be both cost and time effective.”

Out­side of the poten­tial research impli­ca­tions of a suc­cessful trip, the team has already believed to have beaten the world record for the far­thest dis­tance trav­eled by an autonomous boat. The pre­vious record for the length of time spent on the water by an autonomous boat attempting a transat­lantic trip was set in 2010 by a vessel that trav­eled only 61 miles off the coast of Ire­land. Scout has already passed this pre­vious marker by nearly 30-fold.

“This has been a really exciting project to be a part of,” Pimentel said. “We’ve proven that it’s pos­sible, and if we can, we’re going to do it again.”

Written by Jordana Torres


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Diving right in, student researcher explores ocean habitats

Nadia Aamoum at her international co-op in Seychelles, an island nation north of Madagascar. Aamoum, a marine biology major, did research dives and worked at a dive shop during her co-op. Contributed photo - See more at:



During Nadia Aamoum’s six-month inter­na­tional co-op in the island nation of Sey­chelles, north of Mada­gascar, the ocean was her work­place. She reg­u­larly con­ducted research dives off the coast of Mahe Island to survey fish, coral, and inver­te­brate populations.

“We don’t know that much about the marine envi­ron­ment,” Aamoum explained. “We know more about the sur­face of the moon. There is just such great intrigue, and diving is the best way to get down there.”

A marine biology major, Aamoum has been diving for five years and has her open water diving cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. She first learned to dive at a resort in Kenya her family visited.

“I find it really relaxing,” Aamoum said of diving. “I know that’s a little strange for a person to find breathing under­water relaxing.”

While in Sey­chelles, Aamoum con­ducted line inter­cept tran­sect dives, which are used to esti­mate the cover of a species on a coral reef, and sta­tionary point counts. Aamoum said she studied fish pop­u­la­tion because it inter­ested her the most.

Aamoum said her expe­ri­ence in Sey­chelles helped pre­pare her for the next phase of her col­le­giate career: Northeastern’s Three Seas Pro­gram.

The pro­gram, which cel­e­brates its 30th anniver­sary this year, is based out of Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant. It gives stu­dents an unprece­dented experiential-learning oppor­tu­nity by bringing them to three dif­ferent marine ecosys­tems in the Western Hemi­sphere over the course of a year.

“The pro­gram allows stu­dents who have a pas­sion for marine biology to really focus and get excep­tional field, lab­o­ra­tory, and class­room expe­ri­ence,” said Liz Bentley, the pro­gram coor­di­nator and dive safety officer. “So it will hope­fully allow them, in the end, to find their real pas­sion within the field.”

Stu­dents spend the fall semester diving and taking classes in Nahant. They then spend 10 weeks during the winter at the Smith­sonian Trop­ical Research Insti­tute in Panama, studying the trop­ical ecosystem there. The pro­gram then moves to Friday Harbor in Wash­ington state for eight weeks where stu­dents research rocky inter­tidal habi­tats and a sub-tidal kelp forest.

“It’s the pre­miere marine biology research expe­ri­ence,” said Steve Vollmer, the fac­ulty head of the pro­gram. “There is nothing else like it.”

The Three Seas Program at Northeastern's Marine Science Center in Nahant, Mass., is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

The Three Seas Pro­gram at Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant, Mass., is cel­e­brating its 30th anniver­sary this year. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Aamoum started the pro­gram this fall and said this oppor­tu­nity was a key factor in her deci­sion to attend North­eastern. So far, she’s enjoying the program’s chal­lenging cur­riculum and activ­i­ties. She said Nahant’s colder water tem­per­a­ture and vastly dif­ferent aquatic envi­ron­ment has been an adjust­ment to that of Sey­chelles. “It has taken a little get­ting use to. As a group we are all get­ting better.”

Both Bentley and Vollmer are alumni of the Three Seas Pro­gram and said it has started the careers of many pres­ti­gious marine biologists.

This aca­d­emic year there are 23 stu­dents in the program—15 under­grad­u­ates and eight grad­uate stu­dents. Under­grad­uate stu­dents typ­i­cally do the pro­gram during their fourth or fifth year at North­eastern. Grad­uate stu­dents are also required to do a six-month internship.

Bentley said this year’s class is one of the largest in the program’s his­tory. “I think the master’s degree com­po­nent is drawing a lot of people and is becoming more known,” she said, “and the marine biology major at North­eastern helps a lot for sure.”

Angela Her­ring con­tributed to this story.

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This article was originally posted on Northeastern News. Read it here.