U.Va. Duo Receives Davis Peace Project Grant

April 6, 2009 — Two University of Virginia students have received a Davis Projects for Peace prize for a proposal to empower women in Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Courtney Mallow, a third-year student who is double-majoring in economics and environmental thought and practice, and Evelyn Hall, a fourth-year human biology major, will share the $10,000 prize, which is to be used to finance their project.

Working with community partners in Nicaragua this summer, Mallow and Hall plan to develop business, health and gender equality training for a women's microcredit institution. They want to promote economic, emotional and physical peace by empowering and educating women.

Both students said they are honored at being selected for the Davis Projects for Peace prize.

"I am excited, enthusiastic and looking forward to this wonderful challenge," said Hall, 21, of Kalamazoo, Mich. "I want to meet and learn from the people there and put this project into place."

They will be working with existing structures and organizations to create a sustainable model.

"We're not just going in and feeling good about ourselves and then leaving," she said. "We want to develop something that is fundamentally useful."

Hall has worked in South Africa, where she researched sexual and domestic violence programs. This will be Mallow's third journey to Bluefields, where she worked during a 2008 January term course and again last summer with the assistance of a "Double Hoo" research grant. Mallow and Hall plan to build their model on Mallow's earlier research.

"We observed frequent concerns related to a troubled economy, limited job opportunities, a lack of access to adequate health care and economic resources, and domestic violence," Mallow said. "Many community members mentioned that offering microcredit loans to women could be a viable option for women to become economically independent and less vulnerable to violence."

Hall plans to pursue a medical degree and a master's in public health to be followed by a career in international women's health, believing that through culturally sensitive learning she can identify universal concepts and practices she can apply to medical school and beyond.

"The experience and exposure afforded by Projects for Peace will be invaluable," Hall said. "My intention in taking a gap year between university and medical school is to become proficient in Spanish, gain exposure to public health, become immersed in a foreign culture and learn to serve others in that context." 

Mallow, 21, of Raleigh, N.C., plans to pursue a master's degree in public affairs, focusing on gender issues in international development.

"My fieldwork this summer will enhance my understanding of gender concerns, providing me with the practical experience and skills to pursue a career in international public service," Mallow said. "It will also allow me to help strengthen the existing relationship between U.Va. and the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University."

Faculty familiar with them and their work say the students are ready for their summer challenge.

"They are both brilliant students," said Rae Lesser Blumberg, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and a mentor to both researchers. "They combine high academic achievement with a commitment for social development. Courtney's work in Bluefields has already led to building the first women's shelter there. And Evie has worked on issues of domestic violence in South Africa and done an amazing job."

Brad Brown, an associate professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, worked with Mallow on her January Term course. "Courtney Mallow is one of the brightest and most enthusiastic students I have ever met," he said. "Her desire to apply everything she learns to supporting her passions makes her an ideal student: inquisitive, grateful for the opportunity to learn more and apply her knowledge, and relentless in her quest to figure out how the world works and how she can make it a better place in which to live."

Robert J. Swap, a professor of environmental sciences, worked with Hall on her South Africa project. . "She is a very diligent and conscientious worker, and she is aware of the bigger picture. The people she worked with thought she was very responsible and effective. She represents what is great about this University – she has taken her experiences and wants to share them in a socially responsible way elsewhere."

Mallow is the co-chair of the Arts & Enrichment Committee of the University Programs Council, lab manager of the Vecon Experimental Economics Lab, chairwoman of the Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED) events committee, team leader of the SEED Bluefields project and a 2008 trip leader for Alternative Spring Break. She is a member of the Student Council Environmental Sustainability Committee and the Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity.

Hall, a Lawn resident, is co-chairwoman of the Sexual Assault Leadership Council, Pancakes for Parkinson's and Take Back the Night, an intern at the Women's Center and a member of the Survivor Support Team and Sexual Assault Peer Advocacy.

Kathryn Davis, a philanthropist and the widow of Shelby Cullom Davis, a businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, put up $1 million in each of the past three years to fund 100 "Projects for Peace."

The Davis United World College Scholars Program, which administers the Projects for Peace program, invited all undergraduates at colleges and universities participating in the Davis Program to design and propose grassroots projects they can implement during a summer. The 100 "most promising and doable" proposals each receive $10,000 in funding. This is the second year U.Va. students have received a Davis prize.

For information on the Davis Projects for Peace program, contact the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

— By Matt Kelly