Journalism major goes behind the veil to learn about Muslim religion

April 29, 2013

Brittany Morris, a junior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has been awarded a research scholarship from the Center for Religion and Conflict to travel to Kuwait to study the participation of Muslim women in civil society.

The Arizona native grew up with the lush landscape of Pinetop at her door before moving to Mesa. As a child, Morris enjoyed immersing herself in writing and reading books. Her mother, a die-hard Sun Devil fan, would frequently share stories about attending Arizona State University. Download Full Image

It’s only fitting that when it came time to select a college, she only applied to ASU and sought a career in journalism so she could one day report on current events.

It was with help of her cousin, a member of the United States Air Force, that she was able to discover a fascination with the Middle East. While on deployment to Kuwait and Iraq, he would send her local newspapers written in Arabic and Farsi. Morris then became “obsessed” with learning about the land and the Muslim culture.

“I started reading literature and nonfiction about the Middle East. I also began following the news surrounding the war and they way the news was covered. I became very passionate about becoming a journalist to debunk the crazy news,” she said.

While walking around campus, Morris noticed that many female students wore a veil or burqa to cover their face and head. She then asked her Arabic professor, Souad T. Ali, for some background information on the custom. From there her interest in the Muslim culture grew into a point of focus for her student research.

Morris began attending events held by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, where she found a common belief in the need for peace and understanding among different religious groups and cultures.

“I love the center. They aren’t afraid to cover hotbed topics throughout the world including aspects of Islam,” she said.

The relationship she began building with the center led to a fellowship to focus her research on the effect of veil bans for Muslim women. Morris traveled to France to collect firsthand accounts. She says that many of the women she spoke with who could not wear a veil under the new law were met with criticism, had been raped or knew women that were killed. They felt that wearing a veil would offer them protection and allow them to showcase their knowledge instead of their looks. Others felt that wearing a veil was a family tradition and a way to own their Muslim identity.

With the help of the Friends of the Center scholarship, Morris will soon travel to Kuwait on a study abroad trip offered through the School of International Languages and Cultures to examine the role of education in Muslim women’s empowerment. Students will also study Arabic and Islamic culture/literature. The opportunity brings together her prior research of women’s experiences and the impact of education.

The biggest lesson she has learned through her research is that opening one door may solve a problem, but it also brings forth many new questions to ponder. On the other hand, the unexpected outcomes keep her research interesting.

Morris is expected to graduate in May of 2014, but is already looking forward to applying to the skills she has learned in the classroom.

“I’m excited to be able put my skills and passion into helping women in the Middle East. I really love school but I’m ready to go out and save the world,” she said.

To save the world, Morris plans to travel to places such as India, Afghanistan and Kuwait spreading a message of peace. In the future she would like to become a K-12 teacher

“When I volunteered with Teach for America I was able to work with youngsters and I really enjoyed it. I’m also considering joining AmeriCorps,” she said.

Coffee grounds: the magic ingredient to ASU's newly lush flowerbeds

April 30, 2013

Flower beds throughout ASU's Tempe campus are looking lusher than ever, and many of the citrus trees and lawns are greener and healthier looking, thanks in part to an innovative program started by a couple of Grounds Services employees who also are ASU students.

With majors in sustainable engineering and urban horticulture, Vicente Solis and Rigoberto Polanco have been able to demonstrate that a cup or two of coffee can be just as beneficial to campus plants as it is to the rest of us. Vicente Solis (left) and Rigoberto Polanco Download Full Image

For more than a year, Sollis and Polanco have been collecting more than 500 pounds a week of used coffee grounds, using them as a natural fertilizer and soil amendment around campus.

Their “Grounds for Grounds” program has saved the equivalent of about $10,000 in fertilizer costs and $900 in waste removal fees, and has diverted almost a ton of waste from the landfill monthly. It has greatly improved campus soil quality, while avoiding the negative environmental impacts of synthetic fertilizers.

Facilities Management Grounds Services has won an ASU President’s Award for Innovation for the program. The award recognizes ASU faculty and staff who have developed creative and inspiring projects that address one or more of the challenges before us.

“What prompted us was the need for fertilizer, specifically an organic fertilizer because we wanted to avoid synthetics,” says Solis. “The past years have been rough on the university’s budget, so instead of sitting around and waiting for things to bounce back so we could buy fertilizer, we found another means.

“The bulk of the waste is from the four Starbucks and the three cafes that serve Starbucks coffee on the Tempe campus. We worked with partners at Aramark and ASU Facilities Management to develop the program, placing 96-gallon green bins on the Memorial Union loading dock and behind Oasis Café. These bins are filled once a day by Starbucks employees.”

When that program proved successful, Aramark trained its employees at campus convenience stories to recycle coffee grounds, and the team also recruited the Biodesign Institute to begin coffee grounds collection in academic buildings.

Coffee grounds are a low-nitrogen, slow release fertilizer which can bring down the pH levels of the soil and improve the availability of nutrients for plant life, Solis says. Used at high enough quantities, they improve the soil structure over time and attract earthworms, which improve the soil even more.

By contrast, synthetic fertilizers cause metal accumulation in soils, deplete oxygen in run-off waters and increase levels of nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere. Grounds Services is focused on maintaining organic landscapes, and it has enlisted student involvement in the program through Greek Life and the ASU Chavez Program.

“Recycling food waste is an essential component of ASU’s goal to be a Zero Waste Campus,” says Solis. “We believe this is the first program on campus to do that.

“We’ve noticed a ‘greener’ difference in our flower beds. The beds are holding more moisture, and flowers are looking beautiful throughout campus. The citrus trees are showing similar results, and the lawns did green up during the time of our test period.”

The two also give credit to Gary Matyas, who has been appointed to be in charge of the flower crew, and to the rest of the Grounds Services employees who carry out the project. 

“Because of Gary’s knowledge, experience, and his willingness and initiative to implement the Grounds for Grounds program in his beds, he is responsible for making it a big success,” says Polanco. 

Polanco, 31, is a New York City native who chose an urban horticulture major because he loves working with plants and soil. Solis, 29, says he was drawn to engineering because he enjoys problem-solving. They have been working at ASU and attending classes part-time for years, and both hope to graduate in 2014.

The two, who also won a Pitchfork Award this spring for their project, pointed out that most Starbucks shops will provide 5-pound bags of used grounds to individuals interested in using coffee grounds as a fertilizer at home.