Building Community: How the Brackenridge Thrives on Difference

In my last post I introduced you all to my project on Jewish immigrant community building. Since then I have found myself wondering about my involvement in my own communities. How do I help create community? What defines being a member of a community? What is the value gained in joining a community? What is the role of each member, and what is my role? I find myself considering this lately as I scroll through Pitt’s “free and for sale” Facebook group and ponder grabbing a free lamp, or when I pick up the communal coffee creamer at the grocery store to bring home to my roommates, or even when I wave to my neighbor.

The Brackenridge fellowship is yet another community, albeit one that has thus far been all virtual. As I logged onto our first meeting I found myself excited and yet unsure of what to expect. How could I form a community with these individuals as we each worked on our  different projects in our different disciplines? How could we hope to relate to one another with so varied interests and a virtual landscape? What I have found is that in our differences we find strength. Community allows us temporary access to other’s experiences, perspectives and intellect. I have been amazed by the varying methodologies of my peers. Daniel Turillo’s podcast format aims to accessibly explore culture’s impact on far right movements, Frances Harrington’s use of a “modern symposium” on ancient questions, or Judy Zhang’s study of microneedle arrays to painlessly (!) treat peanut allergies. One of my personal weaknesses is to be creative and think out of my box, but I have been inspired by my colleagues to reimagine traditional methods and presentation styles for this project and future endeavors. 

In addition to differing methodologies and presentations, my peers have dynamic research interests. Research always focuses on solving human problems and answering humanity’s questions. As researchers we form a community of people on a quest for knowledge, and hope to contribute our findings to the conversations and understandings of society at large. Nicole Horan is studying excruciating pain caused by oral squamous cell carcinoma, Hannah Kirsch is studying gender cues and nonbinary “they” pronouns, Rutha Chivate is examining the vestibular system, Annika Agarwal is studying infant CMV, and Wyatt Kriebel is studying gene therapy for ocular disease. 

What all of this research has in common is its focus on helping other people and improving the knowledge of mankind. What is more communal than working toward reducing human suffering and understanding human behavior? I am beginning to understand that community is all about the ideas and abilities of different individuals combining to create better than they could alone. I have been continually inspired and excited by the projects of my fellow Brackenridge participants and look forward to getting to know everyone more this summer, and learning from this unique group. 

My seagull companion as I did research readings on the beach this week

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