Best of Both Worlds

Disciplines, Cultures Come Together for Change

Disciplines, Cultures Come Together for Change

UMass Lowell volunteers arrive at the border of the Tohono O’odham Reservation. From left, Prof. John Duffy, Jackie Zani, Greg Baldwin, Emmanuel Meloncourt, Prof. Diana Archibald and Maia Benevente.

Sheila Eppolito

Prof. Diana Archibald may teach English and gender studies classes, but it turns out she has plenty in common with engineering Prof. John Duffy.

“John and I are of the same mind when it comes to tackling real world problems – we both believe that effective solutions come from true interdisciplinary efforts,” says Archibald.

The two have worked together with their students for years under the Village Empowerment Program, which helps improve living conditions for residents of small Peruvian communities and members of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona.

The efforts in Peru have included installation of solar-powered radios, vaccine refrigerators and lighting in medical clinics and other sustainable technology projects.

In Arizona, where Archibald recently traveled with alumnus Greg Baldwin ‘11 and English major Jacquelyn Zani, Baldwin completed his capstone project in gender studies by analyzing the role gender plays in the cooking practices of the O’odham.

Additionally, the team demonstrated use of a solar oven designed by solar engineering grad student and fellow Village Empowerment participant, Maia Benevente. The oven’s benefits are significant:  first, it eliminates the need to burn wood, helping to maintain the limited number of trees in the area while cutting down on pollution and resulting respiratory problems. Secondly, the oven requires less cooking oil, cutting calories and fat for a population that has high rates of obesity and diabetes.

To encourage use of the solar cooker, Archibald and her students made a traditional stew called Pisole, incorporating leaner cuts of pork and a variety of vegetables.

Calling on her writing skills, Zani developed a handbook for participating students to help prepare them for the program and to facilitate understanding and communication across the cultural divide. A cookbook with healthful recipes for the solar cooker is planned as a project for future student participants.

“At the end of the day, the project is about working together – no matter who you are, what your skills are, what conditions you live in,” says Archibald. “This project has been life-changing for me, and for my students. It changes the way we think about our role in the world, and how to best help others in tangible, meaningful ways.”