Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Research Tries to Fight World Hunger

For some, deciding a major is the biggest decision of their college career. But for Austin Drukker ’15, when his advisor told him ‘just do what you love,’ the choice was easy: math. And what started as a few equations has evolved into a double major in economics and math, and a research project to battle world hunger.

Dr. Michael Veatch, head of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, approached Drukker at the end of the third quad of this past academic year and presented the idea to him. Veatch reached out to a colleague at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to see what projects he had underway, and soon the MIT professor sent Veatch something he was working on for the World Food Program (WFP).

The WFP is an agency of the United Nations that responds to natural disasters or civil conflicts and provides food to people in need. Its programs continue after the crisis has ended in order to assist in rebuilding the community affected. But if there isn’t enough food available on the market in that region, how can the agency respond? That is where Drukker’s research will come in.

Currently, the WFP is working in Darfur region of west Sudan to establish a food voucher program similar to the United States’ SNAP (food stamp) program. In order to accurately predict prices and quantity of food, the program will use a mathematical model that takes into account factors including wholesale prices and transportation costs. “We’re not completing the model, but contributing to it,” said Drukker.

Since about 80 percent of the model had been completed when Drukker became involved, his research this summer has focused on how seasonality—the changing of weather—can affect food supplies. He also researches whether there is even enough food in the market to meet the needs of the planned Darfur program, using harvest reports from previous years to assess how many people the voucher program can assist.

In an office in the Ken Olsen Science Center this spring, Drukker surrounded himself with maps of the country and literature on the topic. “I spent the bulk of two weeks just reading information,” he said. “I hadn’t done work like this before, but it’s good to experience what research is.”

Drukker’s 10 weeks of work on this project are funded by an undergraduate research grant he and Veatch applied for before the summer. “It’s a great opportunity for people who want to do research,” Drukker said.

Students wishing to pursue further study in a specific area have multiple options, including the Undergraduate Research Council (URC). The council exists in order to provide students at Gordon with the funds to cover the costs of attending or presenting at conferences. “If this is something you want to do the funds are out there,” said Drukker.

Jesse Steele, ’15, is a communication arts major focusing on journalism with a minor in kinesiology. He plans to attend grad school for public health to work in Central America, growing mangos and fighting disease.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gordon Alumna Gives to The Giver

Venetia (second from the left) with her Walden Media colleagues. 
From a small town called Surrey, London, to an international relations program at Lafayette College, Venetia Breene ’14 struggled to find the right path towards her vocation. But after transferring to Gordon and diving deep into the communication arts major, Breene has found herself at Walden Media, working in the marketing department for the new film, The Giver.

Venetia always knew that she wanted to work in a setting that involved meeting new people and in which she would focus on the relational side of her job. “I also always had a creative flair that was waiting to break out,” she said, “but I always just assumed that my creativity had to be suppressed in my career path, and things like photography would just be a hobby.”

Early in her college career, Venetia discovered "cause-related marketing," a system that pairs for-profit businesses with non-profit organizations with the hope of generating a wide network of supporters for outreach efforts. Within this field, she saw herself using her love for images to get people to stop and think about how they can change the world. Thinking long-term, Venetia says, “I’d like to be the creative director of a non-profit campaign, like (RED) or MADD, or something along those lines.”

As her time at Gordon came to a close, Venetia began to look toward finding a job. In the summer of 2013 she had interned with Arnold Worldwide, assisting in its advertising department. This gave her the concrete direction she needed. “I was finally able to attach abstract learning to practical skills and prove to someone that I was willing to put in the long hours to learn and grow,” she said. “I had already decided to go into cause-related advertising and Arnold gave me some structure to organize my abstract thoughts.”

As graduation approached, Venetia found a job opportunity during Gordon's annual Celebration of Faithful Leadership dinner. She attended the dinner as one of the College's student ambassadors. Her father sits on the Board of Trustees, so during the pre-dinner meeting her family introduced Venetia to Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media. Founded in 2001, Walden is known for bringing Christian themes and educational content into Hollywood films, producing movies such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Waiting for Superman. By the end of their conversation, Flaherty had offered Venetia a job for the summer.

So for the past several months she has done marketing for The Giver, which entered theaters on August 15 and features Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. The movie follows Jonas, a boy living in a seemingly perfect world who learns a deep secret hidden in his community's past. Venetia has monitored social media for the film, organized private screenings and focus groups to test the movie, and worked to get the word out to anyone who could spread positive buzz about the film (such as newspaper columnists, radio hosts and media personalities). While balancing all those tasks, Venetia must also manage Flaherty’s schedule and supervise Walden’s interns.

Being in charge of marketing right out of college might seem impossible, but Venetia found herself pulling resources from her past experiences. Principles from her marketing class helped in ensuring screenings were attracting Walden's target audience. The information she learned in Media Criticism helped as she looked through different movie cuts or adjusted the scripts. But even with her solid educational foundation, Venetia's first job out of college is taking her skills to the next level.

As the movie unfolds, Venetia future lies in limbo. Already she has received a job offer for the fall at Arnold Worldwide in its New York offices, and the possibility that she might continue her work with Walden still lays open. With this important decision awaiting Venetia she is able to stay calm, knowing the connections she has made at Walden will be very helpful for her in the future. “For now," Venetia says, "you could say I’m living life on the edge.”

Jesse Steele ’15 is a communication arts major focusing on journalism with a minor in kinesiology. He's right off the plane from a summer in Rwanda where he interned with the International Justice Mission.