Category Archives: Ford 2013

China’s High-Tech Industry: Book Editing and Curriculum Development

My summer work has been split evenly between developing a curriculum for a class on China’s environment and editing chapters intended for a book on innovation in China’s high-tech industry.

The latter project consisted mainly of line editing and referential crosschecking. I worked on the book’s introduction, as well as on chapters pertaining to the relationships between innovation and policymaking in China’s indigenous automobile sector, burgeoning green building program, cellular phone industry, and HSR network development. Exposure to such a wide array of state approaches to stimulating innovative practices – and even wider array of outcomes – helped me grasp the importance of regional and historical contexts in economic geography. I will also say that line editing gives one entirely new insights into language. While not technically part of this project, I also worked on a shorter article pertaining to the impact of Snowden’s revelations on the Chinese high-tech sector, an article that was eventually published by The National Interest.

The curriculum development portion of the project consisted of gathering and annotating sources, stitching together a source list and daily reading schedule, and finding and extracting relevant video clips. The class, titled Environmental China: nature, culture and development, will be taught at the 200 level in fall. The course won’t simply survey contemporary issues plaguing China’s environment (although establishing the interdependence and scale of these issues is important). Rather, it will trace China’s environment – as a physical and imagined/philosophical/politically valuable entity – throughout Chinese history, and across numerous regions. Continuity and breaks in historical environmental governance (especially water management) also highlight how environmental issues and solutions have always been a key arbiter of Chinese political structures and success, and promise to be influential again in the near future. The course primarily intends to establish the Chinese environment as a unique entity in need of unique approaches.


The CCTV Building during the ‘Airpocalypse.’ January, 2013.

The CCTV Building during the ‘Airpocalypse.’ January, 2013

A pertinent example of environmental governance’s long history in China: the Dujiangyan Dam and Irrigation System was built in 256BC and is still operational today.

A pertinent example of environmental governance’s long history in China: the Dujiangyan Dam and Irrigation System was built in 256BC and is still operational today.

Online Economics Experiment on Conscientiousness

Professor: Benjamin Ho
Student: Charlotte Yang

Conscientious Consumerism

Conscientious Consumerism

This project is a follow-up of the Conscientiousness research begun with a previous Ford Scholar project. That project successfully led to the development of a mathematical theory of the psychological concept of conscientiousness using game theory and behavioral economics. Conscientiousness is part of the Big 5 personality traits (along with Openness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) psychologists use to measure personality. Various large scale census studies have found that personality factors such as conscientiousness and grit may be a more important predictor of success in life than factors such as parental education or innate intelligence (Segal; Duckworth; Heckman). However, the traditional measures of conscientiousness have relied on self-reported survey instruments, whereas economics prefer measures based on actual incentivized choices.

Thus, just as the Berg-Dickhaut-McCabe experimental trust game revolutionized how economists study trust, we hope to change how economists think about Conscientiousness. Building on the work of last year’s Ford Scholar who came up with a mathematical theory of conscientiousness, we intend to test this model using online experiments. In the experiment, we ask every participant to do two rounds of the same task – each consisting of 10 steps – based on different payments: either a single payment of 2 dollars regardless of performance and a piece-rate payment of 20 cents for each one of the ten successfully completed steps of the task (commission based). We will then compare their performance and see if it relates to the payment structure, and in turn, conscientiousness. We also ask our participants to answer surveys regarding their risk and time preferences, personality, intelligence, and social behavior in order to correlate to the subject of our study.

We are using several online tools to conduct our experiment: Amazon Mechanical Turk, a service where we are able to recruit workers to participate in our study and issue payments; SoPHIE, a recently developed online survey tool; several other online experimenting/survey tools are also being tested out and summarized. So far we have developed an online experiment and just recently launched our pilot study consisting of 100 subjects. For the rest of the summer, we are planning to revise our study design, run the full-scale study, collect data, and hopefully analyze data as well.

Classroom Without Walls: Activism in the Class and Beyond

Pinar Batur, Prof. of Sociology and Director, Environmental Studies

Joanna Barnett ’14, Environmental Studies

Considering the profound challenges facing our globe, studying the environment today is not only crucial but also extremely daunting. While it is more critical than ever that we understand environmental risks, studying issues that are seemingly out of our control is not sufficient for effectively confronting the global crises we face. This is why our goal for the Ford Environmental Studies Project was to integrate elements of agency and activism into the Environmental Studies curriculum, and to ensure that the issues we study are addressed with an eye to how we can best translate our knowledge into action.

Our project focused on the syllabi for both the Environmental Studies introductory class and the Senior Seminar. Looking at these classes as the “bookends” of the ENST curriculum, our goal was to incorporate the study of environmental activism as a core component at both levels. For the first class, Environmentalisms in Perspective, we chose readings that will provide a background of environmentalism, while enabling students to examine activism through historical and current movements. The Senior Seminar will be focused specifically on the food system–a topic that will build upon the varied interests, studies, and experiences of ENST majors. We will conclude the class with a project utilizing Vassar as a model for mobilizing a food movement, in which ENST majors will apply their understanding of activism to analyze the food supply at our school, and determine the best pathways for future action.

Arlington Farmer’s Market

For the student aspect of our project, I chose to focus on the role that large, though ostensibly ethical, food providers have on local farmers, businesses, and food movements. I’m interested in the efforts and challenges of “scaling up” the values traditionally promoted by smaller businesses, and am looking forward to continuing this research into the coming year. We also plan to expand on our project next semester by building an inventory of alumni who are involved in activism, enabling students to explore how their peers are taking action after Vassar. Adding a focus on activism into the ENST curriculum will not only offer students a better understanding of their role within all they are studying, but also will contribute to Vassar’s greater efforts toward promoting a sustainable and just community.

Seasons of Freedom: A Role-Playing Computer Game Based on the Civil Rights Movement

My Ford project was working with Professor Tom Ellman of the Computer Science and Media Studies Departments on Seasons of Freedom, an educational role-playing game about the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

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In this game, the player assumes the role of two characters from different time periods: a teenager living in a modern-day city loosely based on Poughkeepsie, and a civil rights activist working in a town located in the Deep South during the early 1960’s. In presenting these two parallel worlds, our goal is simply to raise questions: How has racism changed since the Civil Rights Movement? Are there residual issues of race and equality that still need to be dealt with? Have subtler, more complex forms of racism emerged?


At first glance, it might seem insensitive to represent a struggle as visceral as the Civil Rights Movement with a game. The word “game” provokes an image that is whimsical at best, insensitive and violent at worst. But we believe that an interactive medium confers several advantages to our project. In games, players take on active roles in stories. They can take actions and observe the consequences of those actions on the world in which they are situated. 


This property of games lends itself well to telling the story of a civil rights worker. When any civil rights worker tried to organize a movement in the early 1960’s, they were faced with particular dilemmas. Which demographic groups in my town do I attempt to recruit for help? How do I identify the local leaders of my community and persuade them to support the movement? How do I respond to violent responses towards black mobilization? Should I urge someone to join my movement if they could suffer dire economic or physical consequences? In presenting players with multiple paths for action, we hope that players will grapple with these issues more critically than if they were passively observing history.

 – Luke Gehorsam, Class of 2014

College Transitions: Exploring First Generation Student Experiences in Higher Education

Scholarship from the past 15 years explains that first-generation college students in the United States – a population that is largely female, Black African American or Latina/o, with dependent children, and from low-income backgrounds – are more likely to attend public two-year institutions, commute to school, take part-time classes while working full time, and to need remedial coursework in comparison with their peers whose parents had college degrees. These characteristics affect students’ experiences in regards to academic success, social and cultural transition, financial adjustment, and relationships with peers and faculty members, creating conditions that lead to hardship transitioning into college and put first-generation students at risk of dropping out.

At a private four year institution such as Vassar College, with more need-based financial aid and work study opportunities on campus, guaranteed housing, faculty advising and student support structures than the public two-year institutions first generation students are more likely to attend, these demographic and enrollment characteristics and experiences are quite different.

The narratives of first generation students at Vassar and similar colleges and small universities in this project take a holistic look at student’s paths to and in college, exploring

transitionspic– the influence of exposure to and lessons in privilege and privileged institutions through educational and extracurricular experiences before college;

– the kinds of parental and family involvement and encouragement they received before going to college;

– the structures and programs at their colleges that have impacted their transition;

and their sense of belonging at institutions that are often a dramatic departure from their racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and sexual (to name a few of the more salient) identities, cultures, and communities.

Immigration Representation and the Rule of Law


For our Ford Scholars project, Professor Jamie Kelly and I have been researching the constitutional protections afforded to litigants in immigration proceedings in the United States. The project began by questioning why defendants in immigration proceedings, unlike defendants in other areas of U.S. law, are denied the right to appointed legal counsel. Our preliminary research revealed a quick and unsatisfactory answer to this question. Immigration proceedings – whether deportation, removal, naturalization, or other – are classified as civil matters and, as such, are not subject to the constitutional protections guaranteed in criminal proceedings. Therefore, the right to legal representation is but one of several constitutional protections denied to those facing immigration proceedings – standard constitutional protections against retroactive laws and double jeopardy also do not apply. While these restrictions may be justifiable in other civil matters, immigration proceedings seem to be importantly different. Although numerous authors have criticized this denial of standard constitutional protections by claiming that immigration proceedings ought to be understood as criminal rather than civil matters, Professor Kelly and I plan to use the rule of law as the standard of criticism in our argument against the denial of constitutional protections to those facing immigration proceedings. Therefore, in the concluding weeks of the project, both Professor Kelly and I will be surveying literature on the rule of law.

Another aspect of our research is determining if any Department of Justice accredited non-profit religious, charitable, or social service organizations are operating in Duchess County to provide legal counsel to defendants in immigration court proceedings. Although the DOJ has accredited numerous organizations to serve this purpose throughout the country and throughout New York State, our preliminary research has revealed that none seem to be operating in Poughkeepsie or the surrounding area. In the final weeks of the project, we will continue to explore what legal resources are available to immigrants living in Duchess County.


The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) is a prominent organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of immigrants. The organization has programs throughout the country and several throughout New York state. However, CLINIC is noticeably absent in both Poughkeepsie and the surrounding community.

-Marlena Santos ’14

The Zhuangzi and His Interpreters


The “Butterfly Dream” is perhaps the most famous image from the Zhuangzi.

The Zhuangzi and His Interpreters is one phase of a long-term project that aims to make accessible the engaging and compelling commentaries of Lin Xiyi, a thirteenth century writer who drew on Confucian and Buddhist philosophies to interpret the Zhuangzi, one of the most crucial texts of Daoist thought. Lin’s reading of the text -synthesizing classical poetry with philosophical writings – was typical of Song dynasty scholarship; this practice revitalized the Daoist classics, keeping them widely influential not only among Daoist thinkers but also among Confucian and Chan Buddhist scholars in East Asia. The project, representing the first attempt to translate Lin’s writing into a Western language, will contribute new knowledge to the study of Daoist classics in Western scholarship. Apart from producing a translation of Lin Xiyi’s notes and commentaries, an accompanying translation of the Zhuangzi – as seen through Lin’s interpretation – will also be written.

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The first lines of the Zhuangzi describe a large fish named Kun. Here Lin Xiyi discusses introduces image.

My work began with reviewing and comparing prominent English interpretations of the key notions of the Zhuangzi with Lin’s, necessitating the close reading of the original text of the Zhuangzi as well as Lin Xiyi’s commentary, written in thirteenth century Chinese. From this, a comparative analysis of the extant translations was devised, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses with respect to accuracy, clarity, and accessibility as related to the understanding that Lin Xiyi provides. To create structure for the comparisons, key terms and images were selected from each of the first three chapters; short essays were synthesized that conducted detailed explorations of the terms from, contents of, and commentaries for each chapter.

Having read preexisting translations and studied both ancient texts, I began proofreading Professor Qiu’s translation of the Zhuangzi and Lin’s commentary, providing constructive feedback on the translation so as to convey the subtlety of the texts in English and to ensure the accessibility of the text to the general reader. The project will conclude with a paper that discusses the existing English interpretations of the key concepts in the first chapters of the Zhuangzi and what Lin Xiyi’s commentary has brought to light about these concepts.

Michael Norton ’14

Developing children’s movement awareness lesson series

This summer, I worked with Professor Palmer on Feldenkrais, a movement-learning method using awareness to improve human functioning. Movement without awareness does not promote learning; movement with awareness makes possible better function. Key features include remaining aware of one’s movement; varying movement through directed trial and error to find ease; noticing links between physical and emotional sensations; and taking brief rests between movements.

Although young, children already have movement habits that can be broadened by exploring a more full range of activity. Furthermore, this work helps anyone develop skill in self-reflection–an emergent skill in early childhood. Teachers express desire for anything useful to help young children self-regulate, be respectful of others, and listen well. Inspired by materials developed by Feldenkrais experts working with children, we designed an early childhood lesson series with the goal of providing teachers with additional tools for nurturing some of these skills in a holistic, multisensory manner. This approach will expand children’s abilities to attend and engage with others and accelerate developmental achievements such as self-regulation, empathy, and sense of competence.

We tested pilot lessons with 3-6 year olds at a summer camp. Lessons gave us practical feedback about how the lessons worked with this developmental range. During lessons, children acted out familiar stories; the children were equal to the challenge, excited by the lessons, and wanted more at the end of each lesson. For example, a Jack and the Beanstalk story invited children to imagine personal “bubbles” that were sometimes small and sometimes grew larger, allowing them to explore how to move around the room without bumping each other. Following the pilot, we refined and expanded the series to be flexible in time (e.g., 5-30 minutes) and detail. The designed progression follows a developmental sequence (e.g., hand-to-foot happens earlier than full body rotation), though lessons can be used individually or in different sequences.

This lesson series leads children to self-discovery and enables them to understand the next thing they are able to learn no matter the complexity of the task. Our goal is for children to awaken to themselves and cultivate the ability to learn and grow.

Faculty Mentor: Carolyn Palmer
Scholar: Patrick Gardullo

Framing Autism in U.S. Policy and Practice

Although the definition of autism has only existed for about seventy years, in the past few decades it has rapidly emerged as one of the most prominent and discussed disabilities in our modern society.  The reason for this spike in prevalence remains largely disputed, proposed contributions including broader diagnostic criteria, the decline of institutionalization, environmental factors, and increased understanding and recognition of the disorder.  Regardless of its causation, the autism community, comprised of autistic individuals and their allies, is growing; statistics estimate that 1 out of every 88 to 150 people fall on the autistic spectrum.  Despite the size of its community, autism spectrum disorder is also one of the most complex and fractured disability communities due to its contested debates on epidemiology, treatment, representation, and advocacy.


Through this Ford project, I had the opportunity to assist Professor Erin McCloskey in designing a new course on autism, cross-listed in the American Studies and Education Departments, to be offered this coming fall.  Because autism is a component of social identity and therefore both personal and political, the class will take a multidisciplinary approach to examining the condition, incorporating perspectives from the neurobiological, psychological, educational, political, and sociological sciences.  The objective of the course is to consider the impact and interactions between those various different perspectives, recognize their influence in our modern society’s perception of autism, and challenge those current perceptions.


Professor McCloskey and I spent the first part of this summer immersing ourselves in the wide variety of material on autism and gathering a diverse array of perspectives on major issues.  We then began to draft the progression of the course, using Stuart Murray’s book Autism, which integrate’s science and culture as a basic organizational text.  Students will also be exposed to autobiographies and personal narratives, guest speakers, films, and projects such as student-run panels and cultural representation analyses.  We will finish the summer by drafting lesson plans and working on the syllabus.  This class is intended not only to engage students in a “hot button” disability topic, but to foster greater understanding and respect for the individuals affected by U.S. autism policy and practice.


Caroline Locke ’14




Nelson Mandela and the History of 20th Century South Africa

For our Ford Scholars project, Professor Ismail Rashid and I designed a course on 20th century South Africa.  This course will be taught in fall 2013 for 100-level students using Nelson Mandela and his 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom Long_Walk_to_Freedomas the primary point of entrance into South Africa in the 20th century. In many ways, Mandela, born in 1918, is the perfect guide for the study of 20th century South Africa.  As one of the most famous South Africans and one of the most influential figures of the time, Mandela’s unique life story touches on nearly all of the major events and themes of 20th century South Africa.

I began this project with a deep reading of Mandela’s autobiography, as well as surveying comparable courses from around the world as a way to identify the weekly topics that will form the backbone of the course.  Readings will include Mark Mathabane’s novel, Kaffir Boy, and Afrikaans poet Antjie Krog’s book on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Country of My Skull.

I concluded the project by collecting film, photographs, and other media for student use, both in and outside of class.  Films to be included are the PBS documentary, Have You Heard from Johannesburg?; the multimedia project, Afrikaner Blood; and Deborah Hoffman and Frances Reid’s A Long Nights Journey into Day.  With most of the groundwork completed, I am looking forward to seeing how the course takes shape in the fall. ~Paul Clarke ’14

Limestone quarry where the high security political prisoners like Mandela were forced to do hard labor. The dust from the limestone caused lung damage and accounts for many of Mandela’s current health problems.

A young Nelson Mandela leaves Pretoria Courthouse following the dismissal of the state's case against him in the so-called Treason Trial.

A young Nelson Mandela leaves Pretoria Courthouse following the dismissal of the state’s case against him in the so-called Treason Trial.