Students investigate career paths through Lilly Project summer grants

This summer Astra Lincoln ’14 learned the hard way that research projects don’t always go according to plan.

Lincoln received a Lilly grant to study WWOOF —Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms— in Canada, but instead found herself deported by border patrol officers who suspected her of attempting to illegally immigrate.

Lincoln wasn’t discouraged by the set back, which she viewed as an opportunity to take her research in a new direction,

“I ended up hitchhiking over 2,800 miles to different spots in the U.S., including a [Community Supported Agriculture] homestead in Vermont and a freegan commune in California,” Lincoln says. “These experiences allowed me to add a greater variety of personal anecdotes to my research than if I had stayed in one place.”

Lincoln was one of three of this year’s Lilly Project Summer Research Grant recipients to present her findings in the Hatfield Library on Oct. 31. The other presenters were Ceara Lewis ’13 and Jill Mayer ’15.

Lilly grants provide $3,000 stipends for students to perform summer research related to the exploration of vocation.

“These grants allow our students to ask questions about the theological, ethical or spiritual underpinnings of the choices that people make for their lives,” says Karen Wood, the university chaplain. “As our students gain insight into other people's choices, the importance of their own opportunities and decisions becomes more evident.”

With funding from the Lilly Project, Lincoln studied how to use WWOOF and other work-exchange programs to live and travel long-term without an income.

Lewis investigated Aleut traditional fishing in Naknek, Alaska through interviews with three generations of her family and friends. And Mayer explored the lifestyle and community surrounding sean-nós singing in Cill Chiaráin, Ireland.

As a music major with a passion for singing, Mayer plans to incorporate her new understanding of the sean-nós culture and music into her own life.

“When I perform now, I try to tell a story and make the performance about the song instead of about me,” Mayer says. “If the Lilly Project hadn't funded my curiosity, I wouldn't have been able to complete my project at all.”

Lincoln’s research has been accepted by an e-book publishing company — an achievement she attributes to the connections she made through her Lilly grant project.

“Vocation is a certain attitude toward approaching life, not just a job,” Lincoln says. “The Lilly grant opened new doors, and I'm now in touch with dozens of people, farmers and scholars who are as passionate about wandering as I am.”