While the world is slowly realizing that diversity in professional occupations would lead to better decision making, there are several obstacles left-over from previous social regimes. One of the biggest challenges facing first generation, low-income, students is that academic research is treated as a luxury by our society. Traveling to conferences, field work sites, or working with an institution further than a train ride away is financially impossible.
The Smithsonian Institute has been able to run a small program for students to help with this problem. The Minority Awards Program gave Janet the opportunity to be a visiting student fellow, awarding her with the necessary allowance to travel to and live in DC so that she can work with scholars at the institute and use its collections. This invaluable experience exposes students like Janet to the work of the Smithsonian and allows her to receive guidance from their brilliant staff. Janet is working with researchers from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, giving her access to scholars with experience working to expose the rich contributions the African diaspora has made to our culture.
While this work is fulfilling and necessary, it requires subject matter specialists. At the Smithsonian Institute Janet is building a bibliography of primary sources and secondary analyses related to the historical development of Matanzas Province in Cuba. This will facilitate an initial trip to the island to work with scholars there to finalize a research proposal to conduct field work alongside two potential host organizations. Once in Cuba Janet will investigate food garden culture and present day narratives of food sovereignty while drawing connections to land management practices of enslaved people during the 19th century plantation economy.
Janet Torres is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. She has a Master’s of Science in Water Management and Hydrology from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Urban Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her primary research interests revolve around climate change adaptation, multi-level governance, and sustainable development. Janet believes research on these topics requires an integrative and transdisciplinary strategy. She uses a mixed methods approach to her research, integrating physical geography, policy analysis, and ethnography within a relevant historical context.