Five Burch Fellows Take On The World This Summer

Five Carolina students have an opportunity to do exciting things this summer – from woodworking in Canada to teaching theater in Malawi – through the 2006 Burch Fellowships.

Each summer, the fellowships provide up to $6,000 each for up to six students for self-designed, off-campus study experiences to pursue passionate interests.

The Burch Fellows Program in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences was established in 1993 by a gift from Lucius E. Burch III ’63 of Nashville, Tenn., to recognize undergraduate students who possess extraordinary ability, promise and imagination.

This year’s fellows are Vera Fabian of Cary; Paul North of Hertfordshire, England; Sarah Plastino of Wayne, Pa.; Laura Williamson of Hillsborough; and Habib Yazdi of Boulder, Colo.

Fabian, a junior international studies and anthropology major, will lead the UNC student organization SWEAT (Students Working in the Environment for Active Transformation) in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – a project to raise funds for the Green Belt Movement.

The movement works to address underlying social, political and economic causes of poverty and environmental degradation. Fabian also will work directly with Green Belt and its partners in Kenya and Tanzania, following women’s grassroots organizations and micro-credit cooperatives to study alternative paths to food security and economic empowerment.

Green Belt’s founder, Wangari Maathai, won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for addressing East Africa’s most critical problems of environmental destruction and hunger.

North, a junior dramatic art major, will conduct theater-for-development workshops in two rural villages outside Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, with the goal of empowering residents.

North will intern with the Story Workshop, a popular entertainment and education agency based in Blantyre, Malawi. Under the auspices of World Camp for Kids, a North Carolina-based nonprofit specializing in HIV/AIDS education, North will guide residents toward self expression and problem-solving skills. He also will conduct a seminar with members of Malawi’s Writers Union.

Plastino, a junior public policy and international studies major, will study Latino immigration and global maternal health. Her fellowship will take her to three states in Mexico from which many North Carolina immigrants come: Guanajuato, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

Plastino will travel by bus to gain insight into the migrant journey and volunteer at a maternal health clinic and a mobile medical unit. She also will record women’s narratives through photography, film and interviews. She plans to make a documentary film when she returns to Chapel Hill.

Williamson, a sophomore English and psychology major, will study woodworking in Toronto under one of the most respected masters in the trade.

She will work with Michael Fortune on his current project, an office suite for the Governor General of Canada.

Williamson also will travel to France and Spain to explore the countries’ rich woodworking traditions. Returning to Toronto, Williamson will condense her ideas into a comprehensive design plan, a prototype of which will be constructed when she is back in North Carolina.

Yazdi, a sophomore communication studies major, will use his fellowship to study drumming in Ghana. His passion for traditional African drumming made Ghana an obvious choice for his fellowship experience. Yazdi hopes to incorporate the techniques of Ghanaian drumming into his own style of playing.

In Ghana, Yazdi will take lessons with a local drumming instructor, a native of the Cape Coast who has studied drumming his entire life. Yazdi will live with a host family and participate in local traditions. He plans to start an African drum circle at UNC when he returns.

Previous Burch Fellows have apprenticed under a master door carver in Tanzania, studied traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing, retraced the steps of a Medieval pilgrimage in France and Spain and biked 2,700 miles through Western China to study and film ethnic minority groups.

Burch’s gift also supports the Burch Field Research Seminars, which showcase the relationship between faculty research and undergraduate education by combining traditional coursework with active, experiential learning.