Research with nomadic street kids is basis for Myers Research Fellowship winner’s honors thesis
Senior Liz de Lise is the inaugural recipient of Connecticut College’s Myers Research Fellowship, which awards up to $5,000 to a sophomore or junior of extraordinary promise to support a self-directed and intensive summer of research, exploration and travel. She wrote the following first-person piece about her summer experience studying the culture of nomadic street kids living in Portland, Ore. De Lise, an anthropology major, musician and songwriter from Ambler, Penn., first met some of Portland’s street kids while playing her guitar on the street in the summer of 2011.
I’ll farm the land ‘til the end of my days, as soon as I stop my rambling ways …
I had driven cross-country the summer after my sophomore year at Connecticut College to immerse myself in Portland’s famed music scene. When I wasn’t performing in bars, I played guitar on street corners (“busking”) around town. Friday nights were some of the most entertaining times to play. The Portland streets were ripe for people watching.
On one such night, two young men sat to listen while I played. They carried large backpacks. A kitten was nestled in one man’s tangled black hair. Soon a small group of backpack-laden folks had formed. They invited me to join them at the waterfront. My parents’ voices resounded in my head, reminding me not to be “too rash.” But a second, thrilled voice chimed in. The anthropologist in me won this round, and I was off to the waterfront.
That night was my first encounter with U.S. street kid subculture. Unlike street kids in less economically affluent countries, street kids in the United States are generally in their teens or twenties. Many street kids I met in Portland live a nomadic lifestyle, hopping trains, hitchhiking, or walking from place to place. These self-proclaimed “kids” elect to live a life on the street. I was intrigued.
I had just finished relaying stories about my summer in Portland when a friend mentioned Connecticut College’s new research grant, the Myers Research Fellowship, which provides students a stipend to conduct original research anywhere in the world. Modeled after the Watson Fellowship, the Myers focuses on both academic and personal growth and applicants are encouraged to explore and to be curious.
The open-ended structure of the grant appealed to me. I discussed the idea with my adviser, Anthropology Professor Anthony Graesch, and he agreed the topic was worthy of further exploration.
I was lucky enough to receive the Myers Fellowship and spent the summer of 2012 interviewing nomadic street kids passing through Portland.
With my guitar on my back, I felt more confident approaching street kids in the park. It proved to be my greatest asset. I played and passed the guitar around the circle for others to take their turn. In this way, rapport was established with a few individuals, and I was able to conduct in-depth interviews.
This was one of the most challenging endeavors in my life thus far. While I did not live on the streets, I was able to observe and interview individuals who self-identified with the street kid culture and I learned so much about them – and about myself. Looking back, I would probably change a million things about my project, but the beauty of the Myers is that it allows one to dive into the great unknown – and emerge, ready for the next challenge.
My summer research forms the basis of the senior honors thesis I am currently writing under the guidance of Professor Graesch, “Situating Street Kids: Ethnography of Nomadic Street Kid Culture in Portland, Oregon.” It also continues to serve as inspiration for my music. Through an independent study with Music Professor Arthur Kreiger, I am working to turn the stories of Portland’s street kids into songs.
… And I feel what you feel, that inner tumult and turmoil, to reconcile my raising with these new dreams I’m chasing, before the journey’s end.
About the Myers Research Fellowship
The Myers Research Fellowship was established in 2012 by the family of Minor Myers, jr., (who always spelled his name as such), a Connecticut College professor of government from 1968 to 1984. Interested students should contact Dean Theresa Ammirati at firstname.lastname@example.org.