Johns Hopkins University
Fall/Winter 2006
Vol. 4, No. 1

RESEARCH

A "Broken" Approach to Community Policing

Science's Coming Explosion

Fellows Marry Theory with Practice

> Independent Inquiries

A Skeletal Switch as Seawater Changes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOS BY WILL KIRK/HIPS


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Independent Inquiries


Each year, the Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program awards grants of up to $10,000 to incoming freshmen and up to $7,500 to rising sophomores for original, independent research projects in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Students use the grants to pay for equipment, travel, and other research expenses associated with large-scale projects conducted over the course of their undergraduate careers.

Here’s what a few of the fellows have been up to lately:

Eric ShindelmanInternational relations major Eli Shindelman ’07 is analyzing the development of tourism in third world Latin America, a project that took him last January to Peru, where the tourism industry centers around the historic ruins of Machu Picchu. “I was appalled,” he says. “The ruins were never meant to have such a heavy amount of foot traffic.” Several years before his visit, a production crew filming a beer commercial had reportedly knocked over one of the historic stone ruins with a crane.

“While entrance fees to the sites and other expenditures that are associated with tourism have provided the Peruvian government with revenue,” he notes, “the environmental catas­trophe, and the fact that some experts claim the ruins fall roughly 1 centimeter per month down a mountain, have shown that over-exploitation of natural resources can ultimately lead to destruction.”

Efforts to limit the number of tourists have met with resistance from the local people, however, since most are completely dependent on the visiting foreigners for their livelihoods.

Like Peru, Mexico is showing the ill effects of overdevelopment, Shindelman says. During the 1970s, “huge investment incentives were offered to multinational corporations and developers,” he notes. The result? “Much of the coastline quickly became overdeveloped, and while large profits were seen, the societal and environmental effects were devastating. Recently, the overdevelopment has begun adversely affecting demand, and businesses have been forced to lower prices, thus limiting their financial gain to attract visitors.”

Shindelman spent the summer doing an internship at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., as well as researching U.S.-Cuban policy and Cuban travel for his project. As Cuba loosens travel restrictions and looks to bolster its image as a tourist destination, he believes it can learn from its neighbors. Over the last 15 years, the island nation has become a leading attraction for travelers from Canada, Europe, and Latin American countries.

“Cuba has a unique historical charm that no other country in the region has,” says Shindelman. “Based on its socialist structure,” he says, “it won’t be a country that completely lets go and puts all the control in the hands of investors and developers.

“Hopefully,” he says, “Cuba will come to represent a truly sustainable tourism industry, where economic gains also see societal gains—as opposed to societal and environmental destruction.”

Niklas KrummWhen Niklas Krumm ’07 first met classmate “AP” as a freshman, he quickly became excited by the prospect of looking more closely into the workings of her brain. Highly intelligent and very well spoken, AP had long been beset by extremely poor spelling. Asked to write “spear,” she’d jot down “spire.” “Thrower” came out as “througher,” and “verify,” appeared as “ferify.”

“AP also had difficulty in both orally spelling words and identifying words orally spelled to her,” Krumm recalls.

While much research to date has focused on the reading problems associated with dyslexia, “almost no research has been done in developmental dysgraphia,” which often refers to spelling and writing difficulty. AP, says Krumm, has afforded “a rare opportunity” to investigate “the cognitive link between reading and spelling,” particularly because her deficit is developmental rather than acquired (i.e. due to some type of brain damage.) Moreover, since both her mother and brother may have a similar spelling impairment, Krumm notes that, “this raises the possibility that AP’s deficits are inherited, and thus biologically linked.”

The first stage of his research has involved putting AP through a battery of cognitive tests (developed by the Hopkins Cognitive Science Department) aimed at more fully defining her deficits and determining which of the specific mental processes required for spelling are affected. Though initially AP’s reading skills were thought to be normal, these tests uncovered some reading difficulties. Asked to judge whether two words on a computer screen rhyme, for instance, “ she’s very slow at making these judgments and highly inaccurate,” Krumm says. Since rhyming judgments are thought to make use of the same underlying phonological skills used in reading, difficulty with such judgments could point toward a deeper problem.

His preliminary conclusion: “Whatever has caused her failure to acquire spelling patterns may also be impacting the ways she reads words. That’s exciting,” Krumm says, “because in this field, spelling and reading systems have often been considered to be so separate.”

The second and third stages of his project, which he plans to undertake this year, will involve using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to better understand the neural basis of AP’s spelling deficits (and later, the deficits of her extended family members). Will a particular region of the brain show abnormal activation when AP is attempting to spell a word?

Says Krumm, through the imaging process, “we may find a biological basis for AP’s deficit.”

 


James ZwernemanJames Zwerneman ’07 will never forget the face of the man he met the summer before last in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The man, “a walking skeleton,” had ridden a train up from Guatemala to try to enter the United States illegally. “He’d mistimed a jump and the train had ripped a chunk out of his head, but he was still going.” The man’s story is just one of hundreds that Zwerneman has gathered over the past three years, in his effort to write a novel about illegal immigration from Mexico.

A Writing Seminars major, Zwerneman has traveled into the boiling Arizona desert, where he lived under tarps for two weeks with a group of human rights activists called No More Deaths, bringing water and medical aid to migrants trying to make their way into the U.S. He has been to the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of southern Mexico to gather information about the beginnings of the migrant journey. “I was lucky and made friends on the inside and was able to interview gang members and black market vendors and all kinds of people I’d never dreamed of being able to talk to,” he says. In the southern border states, he rode with the U.S. Border Patrol and lived in refugee houses established by the Catholic Church for migrants who were about to cross over from Mexico or had just been deported.

Armed with notebooks full of interview notes and character sketches, Zwerneman spent his junior year writing a 400-page first draft of his novel, and this past summer editing it. “A lot of [the information gathered] I didn’t use specifically when it came time to write the book,” he says, “but I like to think it’s all in there somehow, like Hemingway’s ‘tip of the iceberg’ theory—the invisible knowledge that doesn’t get stated hopefully adds something to the force of the part that does show.”

Zwerneman, who calls his book “the single most important thing in my life right now,” aims to find an agent soon to bring his work to publication. However that effort unfolds, he says he’ll be forever changed by the individuals and families he encountered during his travels of the past several years.

“Most people were happy to tell their stories,” says Zwerneman. “I learned face to face how big a part emigration to the north plays in their lives—la vida mejor, the dream of a better life.”