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A Personal Argument for William & Mary

April 11, 2014 by

We Admit It! We love it when a plan comes together.  With Dean Livingston out on maternity leave while our admitted students look for guidance to help them make their decision about where to enroll next fall, Dean Broaddus himself put together a blog entry for us in the form of a slideshow to offer his personal answer to the question “Why William & Mary?”




Rolling Deep with the Penrose Conference on Orogenic Systems

April 6, 2014 by

This past week I co-convened a Geological Society of America Penrose Conference focused on Feedbacks and Linkages in Orogenic Systems.   An orogen is a geologic term for a mountain belt, and orogenesis describes the processes at work in mountain belts (derived from Greek- oros for “mountain” and genesis for “creation/origin”).  The world’s great mountain belts include massive modern ranges such as the Himalayas, Andes, and Alps as well as ancient mountain belts such as the Caledonian orogen in Greenland, Scotland, and Scandinavia, the Grenvillian orogen in Canada, and the Limpopo orogen in South Africa.

Cover image from the Penrose Coonference filed guide and technical program.

Cover image from the Penrose Conference field guide and technical program.

The Penrose Conference included structural geologists, petrologists, sedimentologists, geomorphologists, geochronologists, and geophysicists all with a common interest in orogenic processes.  Geoscientists from as far away as China and Poland traveled to Asheville, North Carolina for nearly a week’s worth of discussions, talks, posters, and field trips.  Penrose Conferences are small meetings where the participants are encouraged to present novel or controversial hypotheses and hash out those ideas with colleagues.

Penrose Conferences were first established in 1969 and over the last 45 years these meeting have helped bring forward many major advances in the realm of plate tectonics, ophiolites, and metamorphic core complexes (to name just a few topics).  For me it was a great pleasure to co-convene a Penrose conference, I reconnected with old colleagues and met many new ones.  The National Science Foundation paid the freight that enabled participation by a large contingent of graduate students, the interaction between established scientists and up-and-coming scientists was special.

The Conference honored Bob Hatcher, who first brought a plate tectonic focus to the Appalachians back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Today working with his large and eager group of graduate students (aka the Hatchery), Bob continues to make seminal contributions to the field.

We experienced the fickle nature of the southern Appalachian spring on our field excursions.  The first trip started under heavy overcast with a malignant wind and wet snow blanketing the outcrops.  By the last stop on the final field trip day we were broiling in Carolina sunshine.

Views from the field trip: left- snowbound in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the 2nd stop, right- broiling in the Brevard Fault Zone at the last stop.

Views from the field trip: left- snowbound in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the 2nd stop, right- broiling in the Brevard Fault Zone at the last stop.

That evening as our crew of sun-drenched and thirsty geologists pulled to the curb in downtown Asheville and headed straight towards a brewpub, a natty hipster on a skateboard took one look at the group and commented, “Ah, you’re rolling deep.

Rolling deep?  Some of the brightest geologic minds I know were utterly stumped as to just what it meant to be rolling deep.  I’ll use the phrase in a sentence:

“Me and my Penrose posse were rolling deep in the Brevard Fault Zone looking for trouble and some dextral transpression.”

The geologic lexicon is rich with colorful expressions (for instance- there are glacial erratics, faults have both throw and heave, and ocean lithosphere can be obducted).  I have no doubt we can co-opt rolling deep as geologic term with tectonic significance.

Shaded relief map of the Blue Ridge Mountains and adjacent terrain in the Inner Piedmont and Valley & Ridge provinces of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.  The Penrose field trip examined rocks across this region.

Shaded relief map of the Blue Ridge Mountains and adjacent terrain in the Inner Piedmont and Valley & Ridge provinces of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The Penrose field trip examined rocks across this region.

I learned much about the linkages and feedbacks at work in mountain belts at this Penrose Conference–from the focused erosion in the Himalayan river systems that drive rapid exhumation to the growth dynamics of garnet porphyroblasts in metamorphic rocks from deep in the interior of thrust belts.  Heady and exciting stuff!

Newbies step up

April 2, 2014 by

The MANOS students had reason for concerns about language proficiency and depth for the annual project trip.  Two of our most talented and experienced teammates would not make the trip.  Lester Chavez ’14 (8 trips) and Kristina Ripley ’15 (2 trips), both native Spanish speakers and both deeply knowledgeable about our research, methods, and theory, were missed for their talents — and for their companionship. MANOS students with “advanced” speaking abilities were asked to step up and to step into more active roles in focus group interviews and community meetings.  Johnathan (“J$”) Maza ’15 (5 trips) and Kristin Giordano ’14 (5 trips), in particular, assumed lead speaking roles and made especially significant contributions to team efforts.  Chrissy Sherman ’14 (8 trips), Brooke (aka “Bruce”) Huffman ’15 (4 trips), Roni Nagle ’15 (4 trips), Tommy (“Mad Dog”) Northrup ’16 (3 trips), Ambika Babbar ’14 (3 trips), Steph (aka “Baywatch”) Wraith ’15 (4 trips), Emily Mahoney ’15 (2 trips), and Zander (aka “TZ”) Pelligrino ’15 (4 trips) pushed themselves to engage more actively as speakers and translators, and the result was that we had more language abilities in play than in any previous project work.  (My opinion; my teammates past and present may or may not agree.)  And, our newest team members, especially Quetzabel (“Q”) Benavides ’16 (2nd trip), Michelle Betancourt ’17 (1), both native Spanish speakers, moved seamlessly into very demanding roles in both interviewing and facilitating community meetings. Sarah (aka “SB”) Martin ’17 (1 trip) and “Quesa” Diya Uthappa ’17 (1) waded into the mix to provide both sound note-taking (in Spanish) and comments and questions in the course of meetings and interviews. In all, it was a very strong showing.

J$ Maza struggled against his comfort zone to meet team needs for communications — not just proficient Spanish but engaged, deliberative, inviting exchange that brought participants fully into important and consequential conversations.  Reminiscent of James Bond’s provisioner, our very own “Q” was a marvel of invention and innovation, particularly adept with the turn of phrase and metaphor — and remarkably steady in facilitating the participation and inclusion of Chaguite residents.

What to say of this intrepid, rowdy bunch of public health and participatory development research wonks?  They are not easily discouraged; they don’t whine; they bend to the work at hand; they rise above the challenges; and they stay focused on systematic knowledge and respectful partnering to promote change.  There was not much drama in this year’s work.  Given the challenges of logistics, the demands of the work, the difficulty of living with 18 or so other people 24-hours per day, and the complexity of the issues we attempt to understand and manage, that says a hell of a lot!  Somehow, Baywatch and her assembly of collaborators managed to set up and operate daily clinics in multiple locations, only one of which is intended for use as a medical clinic.  The daily setup and striking, by all accounts, were seamless.  FOMO Sherman was everywhere, responding to the needs of the work even before the rest of us knew that there were needs.  Kristin Giordano proved herself again to be a “thoughtful watcher,” keenly aware of details in exchanges, unfailing in her attention to human and cultural matters — even as she took on significant responsibilities as a lead speaker.  We have been fortunate throughout the project to have at least one team member whose deep concerns for respectful partnering, whose cultural awareness and sensitivity shine a bright light on what we say and do as guests in another country and community.  Kristin has been superb in this role.

As always, there is more to say:  ”Dog bites man.”  ”Mountain bruises car.”  ”Earthquake compounds travel difficulties.”  These might have been (and still might be) headlines for blog posts.  The countless contributions of every member of the team deserve to be spotlighted, but fortunately for all of us, we don’t do this for recognition.  The satisfaction comes from learning and from careful, methodical efforts to test the value of what we learn in advancing authentic partnerships for change.

50 Hours in the Field: the Earth Structure & Dynamics Field Trip 2014

March 27, 2014 by

The 2014 Earth Structure & Dynamics class field trip left Williamsburg at 1 p.m. last Friday bound for the Blue Ridge Mountains and points beyond.  We would not return to campus until 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, some 50 hours after our departure.  The field trip is a spring tradition that’s been enjoyed by students for years.  On this year’s excursion we reveled in bountiful sunshine and mild temperatures.  We also saw an array of rocks and structures that tell the story of Virginia’s geologic history.

Generalized geologic map of part of central and northwestern Virginia illustrating rock units and our outbound field trip route

Generalized geologic map of part of central and northwestern Virginia illustrating rock units and our outbound field trip route.

On this trip, students do geology in the field and in the process become familiar with the tectonic history of the Appalachian Mountains.  Students work in teams of two and answer an array of questions at each outcrop (here are a few team names from this year’s trip: the Away Team, the Zesty Xenoliths, the Russian Judges, Team Stylo- Lightening, and the aptly named Despicable Fluffy Marmosets).

Hour 3- examining a lineated granodioritic gneiss  in an old quarry at Columbia, Virginia.

Hour 3- examining a lineated granodioritic gneiss in an old quarry at Columbia, Virginia.

Starting from the Coastal Plain we journeyed across the Piedmont on Friday afternoon.  We swarmed outcrops in parks and along country roads.  At an old quarry in the little town of Columbia we examined a lineated granodioritic gneiss that crystallized back in the Ordovician (~460 million years ago), and was later stretched during the continental collision that created Pangaea.

Our campsite was at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and we headed straight into the range on Saturday morning to examine basement rocks, ancient lava flows, and tilted strata.  We lunched on outcrops of sheared limestone and dolostone exposed in the Shenandoah Valley.

The 2014 Earth Structure & Dynamics class atop Massanutten Mountain (note Shenandoah Valley in mid-ground and Blue Ridge Mountains in the background).

Hour 29- the 2014 Earth Structure & Dynamics class strikes a pose atop Massanutten Mountain (note the Shenandoah Valley in the mid-ground and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background).

The afternoon hours included a mapping exercise on the flank of Massanutten Mountain.  On Massanutten’s crest, among the ever-lengthening late afternoon shadows, we marveled that the old Blue Ridge basement rocks, upon which we had stood that morning, were buried some 6 to 8 kilometers below our feet here in the Valley & Ridge province.

Geologic cross section from the Valley & Ridge to Blue Ridge in north-central Virginia. Note the basement rocks that are exposed in the Blue Ridge are deep in the subsurface in the Valley & Ridge.  Modified from bailey et al (2006).

Geologic cross section from the Valley & Ridge to Blue Ridge in north-central Virginia. Note the basement rocks that are exposed in the Blue Ridge are buried deep in the subsurface in the Valley & Ridge.  Modified from Bailey et al. (2006).


Saturday night fun on the Earth Structure & Dynamics field trip.

Hour 34- Saturday night fun with geologic maps and cross sections on the Earth Structure & Dynamics field trip.

Evening hours back in camp were fun and involved completing the geologic map and cross section from our afternoon foray in the Valley & Ridge province. What could be better on a Saturday night?

We also discussed the key role that time and place play in geology.  On Friday afternoon in Columbia we’d observed plutonic rocks that formed in an Ordovician volcanic arc; on Saturday afternoon in the Shenandoah Valley we examined fossiliferous strata that were deposited at the margin of an Ordovician sea whose shores lapped onto eastern North America.

In the modern world the Shenandoah Valley and Columbia, Virginia are ~80 kilometers (~50 miles) apart, in the Ordovician world they were separated by 300 to 500 kilometers (~200 to 300 miles) and in very different geologic settings.  In the late Paleozoic these rocks were deformed, metamorphosed, and transported considerable distance to the northwest forming the geologic structures that we puzzle over today.

Experience in the field is an important component in the William & Mary Geology curriculum, as going to the field and working through geologic questions on the outcrop can’t be replicated in the classroom.  Fieldwork is not always easy, but 50 hours in the field provides an opportunity for the latest crew of W&M geologists to practice their craft and revel in the wonderful world away from campus.

Decisions, Decisions — 2014 Regular Decision Edition

March 26, 2014 by

We Admit It!  The time has come.  Decision emails are being sent at this very moment.  The long wait is finally over.  Below is all of the information you need to know regarding how we release decisions.  Additionally, we put out three additional blogs; one for each type of decision (accept, waitlist and deny).  We ask that you read your decision email and the blogs carefully as they should answer most questions you might have.

How Decisions Are Released

  • All students who applied Regular Decision who had a completed application and all Early Decision deferred students will receive their decision via email, regardless of decision.
  • Emails are sent to the email address you provided in your Common Application.
  • Decisions are emailed to the student only.  Parents will not receive a copy.
  • We are in the process of queuing up and sending over 13,000 individual emails.  This takes several hours.  We cannot predict exactly when your email will land in your inbox.  Please be patient as this process plays out.
  • The sender of the email will be “College of William & Mary.”
  • The subject will be “Good Things” Or “William & Mary Admission Decision.”
  • Those admitted will also receive an admission package in the mail.  Those who are waitlisted and denied will only receive an email.

What to Do if You Do Not Receive a Decision

  • DO NOT PANIC.  Not receiving an email does not imply anything about your decision.
  • Please first check your spam and junk folders as some email clients may send our emails there.
  • Contact our office during business hours via phone (757-221-4223) or email (admission@wm.edu).  We will investigate further.  We will follow up with you if there’s a reason we did not release a decision (maybe your application remains incomplete) or we will try to resend the email using a different email tool.  All emails we resend get sent after 5:00pm each weekday evening.  We will also send a hard copy of your decision via mail in case for whatever reason you cannot receive our email.

Students Who Applied to the Joint Degree Programme

  • For the most part, decisions for both applications will come in the same email.
  • If the email you get tonight does not mention your decision regarding the Joint Degree Programme, you will receive another email with that decision later this week (those who applied ED and to the Joint Degree Programme will receive a decision via email later this week for the Joint Degree Programme).

Regardless of the decision you receive, we appreciate the time and effort each of you put into your applications.  All of you have accomplished so much and should be so proud of yourselves.  Whether your college search ends in Williamsburg or elsewhere, we wish all of you the best as this process comes to a close.

Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission

Decisions, Decisions — #wm2018 (also known as the Admitted Edition)

March 26, 2014 by

We Admit It!  You all blow us away.  You are smart, talented, accomplished, interesting individuals.  Out of the over 14,500 applications, you stood out.  We couldn’t be more excited for what awaits the Class of 2018.  Yes, “Good Things” means what you think it means.  Congratulations!  You’re in.

We encourage you to visit the welcome website linked in your “Good Things” email.  There you’ll find tons of info about how to visit campus as an admitted student (Day for Admitted Students, April 12, is the bomb if we do say so ourselves), a timeline of what’s to come, all of our Class of 2018 social media outlets and so much more about what we hope is your future alma mater.  There’s even a welcome video we made in your honor (and we Admit It!, it brought some of us to tears – in a happy way of course).

In the coming days you’ll receive more information in the mail.  Your admission package includes much of the information on the welcome website, but also additional information about tuition and financial aid notifications (those who applied for aid will receive an email notification in the next week or so and will be able to view their package online), enrollment deposit information, an admission letter signed by Dean Broaddus and a little W&M swag just for you.

In the meantime, scream, shout, pat yourself on the back, do a happy dance.  You’ve earned it.  Oh, and post your reactions on social media using #wm2018.  Tribe Pride is a powerful thing.  The #wm2018 hashtag is just one example.

Congratulations again from all of us in the Admission Office.  We hope to see you on campus in the fall.

Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission

Decisions, Decisions — 2014 Waitlist Edition

March 26, 2014 by

Admit It!  This is not the decision you hoped for.  We totally get that.  We know that you had hoped for an answer, something final…and a waitlist isn’t that.  Please understand that the small size of W&M is what attracts so many great students to apply.  That leaves us with so many outstanding students worthy of admission and some tough decisions to make.  Those students who we waitlist are very, very qualified.  You are students who we’d love to have here on our campus if we just had a little more room in the entering class.  You didn’t do anything wrong, or to put it another way, there’s nothing you could have done differently or better.  You are competitive for admission, and if we are able to admit students from the waitlist, we will consider your application again.

So what do you do now?  Well, first consider the options that you do have, and make sure you submit an enrollment deposit to one of them so you ensure yourself a space in the entering class next fall.  Then consider whether or not you wish to attend W&M if given the chance.  You don’t have to make that decision right away.  Give yourself a few days or even a few weeks.  If you do still seriously wish to be considered, then submit your waitlist response via the link in your decision email.

Waitlisted students do not need to submit any additional materials to us.  However, if you wish to submit final grades when they become available, please do.  Furthermore, you can submit a statement of continued interest to us (either via your regional dean or via our office in general).

After that, it’s truly a waiting game, for both you and for us.  We will closely monitor our enrollment in the freshman class between now and early to mid-May.  This blog will provide updates in May if there are updates to share (sometimes, as we wait, the update is that there is no update).  There is no way to predict whether or not we will go to the waitlist.  Linked in your decision email is a waitlist FAQ.  Review it when you can; it answers most questions about this process.  If we are able to admit additional students we have to then review those students on the waitlist, convene the Committee and decide who among those students is the most competitive for admission.  This process takes some time.  We do promise to send an update via email to all students remaining on the waitlist by mid-June.

Until then, we wish you all the best as your college search concludes.

Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission

Decisions, Decisions — 2014 Deny Edition

March 26, 2014 by

You can Admit It!  You’re likely sad.  Maybe angry.  Maybe deflated.  Likely confused.  You may be none too pleased with us at the moment.  All of those feelings and more are absolutely valid.  We honestly don’t equate a deny with a rejection, but we know that comparison is made; and regardless of semantics this decision is not an easy one to make or to receive.  Understand that we never vote to reject or deny applicants; we simply vote to admit others.

This year our applicant pool was the largest ever – over 14,500 applications.  From that group we’re admitting only 1/3 of those who apply (the admission rate is even lower for out-of-state students).  Statistically, the odds are simply against any student who applies.  That’s the truly unfortunate part of selective admission – we have to send out more bad news than good.  Being denied does not mean you’re unqualified or unaccomplished.  The students we deny are smart, talented, social, interesting and successful.  In an applicant pool such as ours, the majority of applicants are smart, talented, social, interesting and successful individuals.  Most of the students we deny are more than capable of being successful students at W&M.  This decision is not a reflection of you; it’s a reflection of how competitive our applicant pool is.

Here’s the best way we know how to provide some perspective on how competitive our pool is.  Say you’re in the top 10% of your class.  In your high school, you’re performing at a level that’s better than 90% of your peers.  What you’re doing is exceptional in your environment.  In selective applicant pools like W&M, being in the top 10% of your class is commonplace.  That doesn’t diminish how impressive that achievement is, it just provides some perspective on the students we’re evaluating.  It’s not the spectrum from 0-100 that’s applying; it’s just those in the 90-100 bracket from high schools across the nation and the world.  And that’s true across the board.  It’s that 90-100 bracket for grades, for standardized test scores, for extracurricular involvement, for leadership, and so on.  So you’re competing with the best of the best for a limited number of spaces.

We recognize that no matter what perspective we provide, no matter what we say, it likely doesn’t lessen the sting of this decision.  You are an amazing person and not admitting you is our loss.  As we’ve said in previous deny edition blogs, it’s not you, it’s us.  We are truly sorry the outcome couldn’t be more positive.  We know however that our loss is another college’s gain.  We wish you nothing but happiness and success at whatever school you choose.

Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission

Chaguite, Cuje, Clinic

March 24, 2014 by

We have worried about the value of our annual clinic since we first opened the doors in 2007.  We intended NOT to be a duffle-bag medicine project—arriving with U.S.-based notions about what our patients might need and dropping off short-dated medicines in small quantities.  Eight years later, we’re still trying to find ways to make our clinical efforts smarter, better founded, more integrated with local medical and health efforts, truer to the needs of our partners.  We are encouraged by this year’s meeting with Dr. Blanco.  We hope that our evolving relationship with the Totogalpa clinic will allow us to be more strategic and more attuned to needs defined by those who have responsibility for providing health care on a continuing basis.

Our community-based approach inclines us to learn as much as possible from those who live in the communities we intend to serve with health care efforts. Our work in Chaguite has provided us with systematic information and increasing understanding of the health and health care needs of residents of that community.  We know better than to generalize these understandings to residents of the remaining communities that comprise Cuje—the micro-region served by our annual clinic.  We envisioned a Cuje-level Comite de Salud (CdS; Health Committee) that would comprise representatives of residents of each of the communities.  We imagined collecting information from brigadistas in each of the communities and we hoped that we might, through snowball sampling and sociometric techniques, identify such a group as a start for consulting with residents about ways to make our clinic more responsive.

In pursuit of that goal, we reprised our satellite-sites approach to the annual clinic this year.  The objective was to take each day’s clinic as close as possible to the geographic center of the remote communities of Cuje.  Working from those locations, we would dispatch team researchers to conduct interviews with the communities’ brigadistas and with members of randomly selected households to identify community residents who might be (1) interested in participating in discussions about improving the clinic services; (2) trusted to represent residents’ beliefs and needs.  After the first day’s efforts, student researchers reported that there is something wrong with the questions we’re asking or with the respondent-selection process.  Respondents usually were able to identify their community’s brigadistas or other leaders, but they routinely reported that these people did not represent their interests, did not understand their needs, and did not work with them or on their behalf.  We tweaked the questions and the general strategy and tried again the next day.  The results were unchanged.

None of the students on the current MANOS team participated in the first round of interviews in Chaguite.  We were asking very similar questions then—and we got answers very similar to what we are hearing this year in other communities.  That seems nearly impossible to believe now and, seen from our now customary view of collaboration in Chaguite, these other communities seem desperately (1) unfamiliar (because they are) and (2) lacking in social infrastructure (which they may be).  I have the benefit of historical perspective.  I recall residents of Chaguite who were able to identify two or three key leaders (some of whom were brigadistas) — and I remember the same residents saying that they do not work with these leaders and that these leaders do not represent their interests.  I remember the leaders saying that they try to hold community meetings but that residents will not attend and will not collaborate in projects with potential value for the whole community.

This year’s effort to “sample” our way into some rough understanding of the other communities and their social infrastructures was a well-intended effort to find a short-cut for gaining information from residents throughout Cuje.  We want to hear their voices as we think about how our clinic can be more than duffle-bag medicine.  At this moment, it does not appear that there is a short-cut, no substitute for the years of work in the community, on the ground, in the homes, working with good social science methods to learn, using the resulting information and knowledge to build relationships.

Dr. John Showalter (M.D., Knoxville, TN) played a significant role in our follow-up conversation with Dr. Blanco (Totogalpa Clinic Director).  His understanding of our approach and shared frustration with the apparent limited value of our annual clinical efforts were crucial to the discussion.  Speaking medical professional to medical professional, Dr. Showalter was able to convince Dr. Blanco of our determination to be more than another itinerant bunch with good intentions.  We will do all we can to build on this step forward.

Dr. Showalter joined us at the end of the week in two additional meetings, one at a medical school in Managua and the second at the American Nicaraguan Foundation (more on that in a later post).  Through inquiries by Kristina Ripley, we have been in contact with a professor of medicine at this university.  We toured the medical school, talked briefly about our projects in Cuje, and learned about our host’s interests in extending health services to the under-served in Managua.  Dr. Showalter inquired about good strategies for short-term, annual clinical projects and about sources of medicines that would be appropriate for the Cuje population.  His participation in the discussions clearly elevated the seriousness with which are efforts are regarded by this local medical professional.

Baby steps—but they seem to be in a good direction.  We don’t know yet how to make our clinic more responsive and more responsible.  We’ll add more research on brigade and short-term, international clinical approaches to our work for the remainder of the semester and it will top the list of topics for next fall’s seminar.

It’s Not Linear; 2/28/14

March 24, 2014 by

In November 0f 2009, I wrote that SHC was becoming MANOS and that the timing seemed more than incidental.  (And, it happened even before Chrissy Sherman joined the team.)  It seemed clear to me then that the project was evolving from the “service learning” group of 2006 and was finding its way.  The new name, Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship, was in part a proclamation of  vision: to learn, to research, to engage with, to be mindful of presumptions about what we’re doing and how it may be received by those with whom we intend to partner.

In a post dated March 11, 2010, I noted that we would begin this year to focus our community efforts in Chaguite.  We estimated that there are about 40 houses in this community and by the end of the 2010 March trip, we were close to completing interviews in all of the homes.  From the same trip, I described meeting with a local “brigidista.”  His name is Ysidro and it’s clear that he works very hard to care for his family and still finds time to serve in a volunteer capacity that involves “looking after” the health and health care needs of the community.

And so it is 2014, and we keep coming back—now routinely three times each year, in some fashion:  Small teams in January (like the one this year that facilitated community meetings with representatives of our newest partners from the Engineers Without Borders chapter at Cal Poly – Pomona);  the full team each March; and a team of three to eight students in the summers.  The work proceeds—slowly, deliberately, sometimes seemingly as much sideways as forward, but always as fully as possible in step with community partners.  Chrissy Sherman ’14 has traveled to do research in the community eight times, as has Lester Chavez ’14.  Other experienced team members have traveled from three to seven times each and, through that dedication, have developed understandings, appreciations, and real friendships within the community.

We now know the residents of the households in Chaguite, which number about 50.  We have mapped the region, the households, the health problems and assets. We seem to be realizing the vision in our name—and we continue to worry about our presence, our role, our relationships, and our partnership. Through repeated interviews in all households in the community, we have come to know residents and we have learned about their health and healthcare concerns, needs, and priorities.  We learned about the leaders and about interpersonal networks – those groups of people who communicate with one another and collaborate on occasion.  In our earliest interviews, we were struck by the paucity of communications and collaboration even as residents were able to identify “leaders.”  Residents told us that they did not work with leaders and that leaders did not work with them or understand their concerns and needs.  Through Social Networks Analysis (SNA), we identified “organic” networks of communication, groups of residents who do talk together and we encouraged them to meet together and with us to help us to understand the health and healthcare priorities.  They were modest in number, scope, and inclusiveness.

The social networks analysis (SNA) techniques enabled us to calculate measures of “network density” (the proportion of interpersonal connections reported as a proportion of the total possible connections for the respondents).  It is an imperfect method and an imperfect indicator, but SNA measures of network density provide an empirical and quantitative way to gauge communications and collaboration within communities.  In general, there is inadequate research to allow us to estimate what levels of density are “normal” or “typical,” but at a minimum, we can take measures at different points in time and compare these to observe change.  Our first round of research provided a network density estimate of less than two percent – that is, of all the dyadic (two-person) relationships that might exist in the community, less than two percent were reported as existing.

We have been working with these organic groups (which we began calling “regional groups”) for several years now and through communications within and across these groups, have worked with residents to create and authorize a five-year plan to improve health and healthcare.  Through these groups, we have partnered with the community to advance a project with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). We strongly suspect that our next round of SNA research will reveal significant changes in the level of estimated network density.  We believe, further, that network density is crucial to the development of effective social infrastructure – the organizing of resources, activities, and tasks needed for communities to collaborate to build sustainable solutions to shared problems.  We won’t know until we do a second round of systematic research, but it appears that levels of communication and collaboration have increased markedly over the last four years as we have encouraged engagement through the organic networks and participation through these in regular community meetings.  (We’ll be sure to report our findings to Chrissy Sherman no matter where her FOMO efforts may take her next.)

This year, we undertook interviews in households that have not been represented regularly (or at all) in regional group meetings or community meetings.  We are trying to understand how we might make engagement in community-level efforts to improve health more inviting, more accessible.  We were accompanied by community members from the respective regional groups in our hope to engage residents more fully in our research efforts.  The residents were more inclined to chastise those we visited than we preferred and we encouraged a point of view that emphasizes the value for all in increasing participation—particularly in the developing project to provide access to water for everyone in the community.

In a final note:  Chrissy Sherman once drove for approximately 3 seconds in Nicaragua.