I'm a second year graduate student in the Community and Prevention Research program in the department of psychology here at UIC. My main area of interest is the social context of community gardens, particularly race relations. For my Master Thesis, I am interviewing community gardeners at racially diverse gardens in Chicago to understand how they perceive the race relations in their community gardens, with the aim of developing a theory grounded in the gardeners' experiences and perceptions. Additionally, I am a student project leader for the UIC Heritage Garden Internship program. The goal of this program is to create a unique educational program on campus that highlights the connection between environmental and cultural sustainability. For this project, we are doing hands on activities like gardening and collecting qualitative narratives from family, friends, and community members about heritage plants and environmental practices. Lastly, I am a part of a large scale project with Neighborspace, a non-profit organization that protects community gardens in Chicago, to assess community garden food production and distribution in the city of Chicago. We are visiting over 250 gardens to get quantitative measurements like how much of a certain crop is being grown or how much growing area is in a garden, and also to interview the gardeners themselves about their experiences in the garden and what they do with the food. The goal is to garner more support for community gardens in Chicago and to develop a public map with contact information of all the gardens, along with a research report about beneficial impacts of community gardens and an analysis of the gardener interviews.
One of the main reasons I chose to come to UIC is because of the environment and program itself. When I first visited this school, everyone was incredibly welcoming, funny, and just really likeable. That made a huge impression to me, and after a couple of months in the program, I felt like I really belonged here. The Community and Prevention Research program itself was extremely important to me as well, because of its focus on active research. Integrating both theory and practice has always been very important to me for my graduate education, so the Community and Prevention Research program made my decision to come to UIC an easy one.
You are in the process of collecting data for your MA, how did you decide on this specific project?
I was meeting with my advisor in the spring semester to talk about a research project and she told me to follow my dreams, it was then that I realized that I could choose my own path. I was able to make connections both inside and outside the university, everything has fallen in place and my project is the perfect balance of my interests in social interaction and race relations. I’m looking at how community gardeners in racially diverse areas understand race relations and how they think about or perceive race relations.
You are originally from Miami – what do you miss about Miami and what do you LOVE about Chicago?
I miss being able to go to a beach with a spring break/party type atmosphere, there is just so much going on! What I have grown to love about Chicago is the appreciation for social justice and all of the various initiatives that are going on around the city.
Would you care to share a story from your first year of graduate study?
During my first semester I had to quickly overcome an obstacle, I was surprised that I was able to quickly do this and it made me focus on making connections both inside and outside the department and proved how independent and self-reliant I could be.
What is your favorite song to sing at a karaoke bar?
I’ve never actually been to a karaoke bar, but if I did I would probably sing a Fleetwood Mac song or something by the Talking Heads.
What is the last book you read?
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Do you have a current TV show addiction?
Yes, but I don’t like it! My brother started watching 24 and I accidentally got addicted to it. I also love Parks and Rec.