Hear from Summer 2023 Fellows: Nic, Kristoff, and Tin!

1 March 2024

Every year, a number of Carleton students take advantage of Carleton funded fellowships. Check on our Instagram on Monday and Thursdays and the news section of the Carleton Fellowships website on Fridays to hear from our Fellows.

Nic Berry ’24

Where did you travel and what did you do?

I traveled to Gomde CA, a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center in the Northern California redwoods. I participated in Tibetan Buddhist study and practice with two highly respected Tibetan Buddhist masters. The program is focused on incredibly profound Tibetan Buddhist teachings on the nature of mind and reality and the steps to realize this. All activities and members of the community are incredibly sincere and there to experience what Tibetan Buddhism can offer in realizing the true nature. 

What was the most interesting/rewarding part of what you did?

The program culminated with the arrival and teachings of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, one of the most respected meditation masters in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. During his time teaching us, he discussed an incredibly detailed and respected text about Dzogchen and Mahamudra meditation titled Naturally Liberating Whatever You Meet by Khenpo Gangshar. It was profound beyond explanation. Almost a year after meeting Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche at the Buddhist studies program I attended last fall, it was great to see him again and receive his wisdom. 

How will the experience you had add to your Carleton education?

In the most direct way, as a cognitive science major interested in consciousness studies, I will be incorporating what I learned for my comps project. This summer experience felt like a continuation of the Buddhist studies abroad program I attended last fall, which was essential to solidifying my interest in continuing to explore consciousness studies from a cognitive science and Buddhist perspective. This program provided me the opportunity to embody the ultimate qualities that Carleton offers as a liberal arts institution; the ability to explore your interests and intellectual curiosities. 

What would you tell someone applying for a Carleton-funded fellowship?

If there is a particular activity or program that you think will help you grow intellectually or personally, or if there is something that piques your curiosity, apply with that sincerity in mind! 

Kristoff Cao ’25

Where did you travel and what did you do?

The original plan to travel to Sichuan Province with my research partner did not come to fruition after our reassessment, so my partner and I conducted field work separately in neighborhoods in Shanghai and Suzhou, respectively. I worked as a summer volunteer for a residential committee (RC) in Suzhou and my field work began with participant observation of their daily working—how the RC staff run their community and cooperate with sub district-level government office. Then after familiarizing myself with all the RC workers, I approached them for a series of informal interviews, intending to know more about their personal account of their working experiences during the Zero-Covid Campaign, which has been the central topic we aim to investigate.

What was the most interesting/rewarding part of what you did?

For me the most interesting/rewarding part is the ethnographic nature of my approach to study the residential committee. Doing ethnographies usually requires the investigators to be “immersed” in the community/social group of interest, which was exactly what I accomplished. For almost two weeks, I worked alongside those RC staff members—doing the paperwork, compiling documents, mediating conflicts among the residents, and even patrolling the entire neighborhood when necessary. Such thorough participation in RC’s daily work allows me to draw valuable first-hand information through observations and interactions.

How will the experience you had add to your Carleton education?

At Carleton’s Political Science department, I have been exposed to a wide array of great theories, discussions, and quantitative analysis based on collected data regarding Chinese politics, but due to past Covid-19 travel restrictions, post-pandemic first-hand sources from field work in China were extremely lacking. My experience this summer served greatly to connect the gap between theory and practice, allowing me to experiment with ethnographic approach and use the qualitative data I collected in the field to update/complement existing theories of China’s urban micro-governance, especially in the context of pandemic management.

What would you tell someone applying for a Carleton-funded fellowship?

I would say that Carleton fellowship is a great supporting system for students that are eager to investigate any topics of interest, both academic or not. And I believe the entire application process feels like a rehearsal for dedicated future scholars: writing personal statements, looking for recommendation letters, designing a research proposal and convincing the review board why your research matters, estimating your budget, etc. Since researchers in higher learning institutions are expected to repeat those steps constantly through their careers, going through this procedure gives applicants some ideas of what doing independent research feels like.

Tin Nguyen ’24

Where did you travel and what did you do?

With the support of the Class of 1963 Student Research Fellowship, I pursued an independent research project about how a nonprofit creates community. I collaborated with United Playaz, a violence prevention organization based in San Francisco, to conduct participant observations and interviews. One integral aspect of their services is providing out-of-school programs for K-12 grade students throughout the school year and summer time. With this field opportunity, I had the chance to lead math and literacy activities for students in grade k-8. My role involved integrating math, reading and spelling into recognizable and enjoyable for students. One example is a variation on “shark and minnows” where students were assigned letters, and at the end of the game, the “sharks” and remaining “minnows” broke into groups to form words using the letters they had. It was a pleasure to work with United Playaz and see their creativity to fulfill their mission and their dedication to the youth and communities they serve.

What was the most interesting/rewarding part of what you did?

I found my interactions with students and staff to be interesting and rewarding aspects of my experience. Aligned with United Playaz’s mission to stop the violence, the organization collaborated with the mayoral office and police department to host an annual gun buyback event where the public can exchange weapons for money with no question asked. The directors’ gumption and collaboration to organize such events was profoundly informative. 

Additionally, the relationships the students and I cultivated were certainly special to me. One of the math activities we did was a virtual and real life escape room where students had to use math skills to figure out clues and solve puzzles to escape. I had quality time in listening to students and engaging their thought processes. During these escape rooms, I saw the students’ growing enthusiasm to solve the puzzles and determination to succeed.  

How will the experience you had add to your Carleton education?

This experience provided me with the necessary insights for my comps and what it meant to organize to promote social welfare. During my time with the organization, I had the privilege of interviewing directors and staff to learn about their perspectives. These experiences deepened my analysis for my senior comprehensive study on the expansion of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex and the democratic-bureaucratic operations within non-profit organizations. 

What would you tell someone applying for a Carleton-funded fellowship?

My advice is to schedule a meeting with Marynel and ask her questions as you start thinking about your fellowship. Such meetings allow you to introduce yourself and become familiar with the fellowship resources. Personally, I had my first meeting with Marynel at the end of my sophomore year. At that point, I did not have a clear direction about my research or comps. But that initial meeting helped me understand the different fellowships available and what I needed to do to access them. I kept the opportunities in mind as I continued with my courses. Whenever topics sparked my interest, I would talk to the professor. By junior spring, I worked with my Sociology professor to design a research project and applied for a Carleton fellowship. All this is to say, Carleton funds a wide range of projects and deciding on a fellowship topic looks different for everyone. However, knowing your available options and having conversations with Marynel will certainly help you along the way.