Risa Cromer ’04 has earned a Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowship, the nation’s largest and most prestigious honor for PhD candidates in the humanities and social sciences.
Only 5 percent of applicants from across the country receive the fellowship, which supports students exploring questions of ethical and religious values. The award includes a $25,000 stipend, which will support Cromer’s final year of dissertation work at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).
Stunned and delighted by the honor, Cromer says it gives her a jolt of energy in the final stages of completing her dissertation. Titled “Saved: Science, Religion and the Frozen Embryo Problem in the United States,” her work examines the ethical dilemmas posed by frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization and saved for future use.
“My main curiosity concerns the ways IVF embryos are pressed into service for diverse political and practical agendas by groups as varied as stem cell researchers and infertile Christian adopters,” says Cromer, who majored in women's and gender studies at Willamette.
While at Willamette, Cromer served as a member and student leader of the Women’s Center. She helped found Take a Break, the university’s alternative spring break program, and she volunteered as an Opening Days leader.
Cromer became engaged with reproductive justice during her senior year. In the morning, she volunteered as a patient advocate in an abortion clinic, and in the afternoon, she took capstone courses in feminist theory with English professor Frann Michel.
“That dynamism I experienced between the clinic and classroom set me on a path after graduation that would characterize the next decade of my life,” Cromer says.
Cromer spent two years working as a community organizer for Planned Parenthood in Oregon before pursuing her doctoral studies at the CUNY Graduate Center Department of Anthropology.
She now works as a researcher within the mental health division of the Veteran Affairs Portland Health System. Through her job, she consults with psychiatrist-researchers, who are investigating issues ranging from chronic pain to suicide prevention.
Cromer says she’s interested in continuing research that directly informs care practices or health policy. She’s also considering faculty positions in anthropology, women’s studies, American studies and science and technology studies.
“My long-term professional goal is to serve as an informed advocate and educator on topics related to health care and reproductive issues,” she says. “Wherever I go, I hope my work continues to be characterized by a dynamic balance between the intrigue of ideas and lived experiences of real people.”