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Sociology and Anthropology students and faculty conduct research, volunteer in Dominican Republic

This past summer, eight undergraduate students and one graduate student from the University journeyed to the Dominican Republic for a field school where they partnered with a social and education development nongovernmental organization called Project Esperanza.

The two-week program was part of a six-week course offered through the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and was co-taught by Dr. Karie Peralta and Dr. Shahna Arps. The program was designed to follow the steps a researcher would take to enter a community and begin work for the first time.

UT students Jacalyn DeSelms, left, and Perfenee Womack ran a camp activity with local children at the Project Esperanza’s school in the Dominican Republic.

During the first few days, students visited cultural museums and local monuments to become more familiar with the history and culture of the Dominican Republic. Students then began volunteering at Project Esperanza’s annual summer camp, which serves the children who attend the organization’s grassroots, bilingual Haitian Creole and Spanish school.

“For many of our students, this was their first time gaining experience working with children, particularly in an educational setting, and several of them recognized that they were good at it,” Peralta, assistant professor of sociology, said. “This involvement was important for our students because it facilitated connections with and deeper understandings of the children whose parents were participants in our household survey.”

Students spent eight mornings running the camp and seven afternoons conducting surveys to gather data on the social demographics and living conditions of families with children who attend Project Esperanza’s school. They collaborated with interpreters and local community guides in the data collection phase, which enhanced students’ cross-cultural research skills. Under the guidance of Peralta and Arps, they also worked on data coding and data entry.

Dr. Shahna Arps, standing left, and Meg Perry started a craft activity with camp participants in the Dominican Republic. UT students Madeline Bengela, seated left, and Melissa Tehan also were on hand to help.

“From a faculty perspective, it was fascinating to observe our students gain confidence in their survey administration, note-taking, observation, and data entry skills,” Peralta said. 

“Our students were eager to learn, adaptable and open-minded,” Arps, lecturer in sociology, added.

In total, the students ended with 92 surveys. The data collected will help inform Project Esperanza’s programming efforts.  

Students also were given the opportunity to attend a talk by a local teacher on Haitian-Dominican relations and Vodou, a creolized religion; a presentation on natural medicine and herbal remedies made from common plants; and a discussion on sustainable tourism.

They also learned about the historical and present challenges of coffee growing, and they planted coffee seeds, made bug traps, and brewed coffee.

“The field school in the Dominican Republic was an outstanding opportunity and experience, and I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of it,” said Meg Perry, a fourth-year anthropology student. “Working with a developing, materialistically impoverished population has added to my worldview and has made me a more empathetic and humble person.” 

Students who went on the trip presented a panel session titled “Reflections on Field School Research in the Dominican Republic” Oct. 20 at the 16th annual Ohio Latin Americanist Conference at Ohio State University.