This summer, Professor of Biology Elizabeth Newell is stepping outside her typical field of work in plant physiological ecology and tropical ecology to travel to Colombia with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, an activist group devoted to “taking action to reduce violence in the world.” Newell and her partner, Sue Dickson, are based in the region of Urabá, a region close to the border with Panama.
While the focus of the program admittedly seems far afield from Newell’s area of expertise, the biology professor expects the trip to enhance her classes. “I’m going to be visiting farming communities, where they’ve had to shift from their highland homelands to resettle on the coast. It will be very interesting to talk with them about the challenges of modifying their crops and farming techniques to the change in climate – that’s an issue that is very relevant to my courses,” she says.
According to Newell, the goal of the Colombian program is twofold. They aim to learn more about the struggles of the people and the ways local Colombian Presbyterian communities are working for human rights as well as to serve as an international witness to help prevent human rights violations.
Newell, who participated in a training workshop in 2011, finds that interacting with victims of the violence that has gripped Colombia is a moving experience. “It’s amazing to hear their stories and learn how they have come together to build non-violent communities of faith,” she says. “When I return to the U.S., my obligation to the people I’ve met will be to share their stories and to do what I can to influence U.S. policy in ways that improve their human rights.”
To read Newell’s reports from Colombia, visit: http://presbypeacefellowship.org/newsletter/colombia_reports
Since coming to the Colleges in 1988, she has completed research projects in Costa Rica and Panama. Newell has numerous journal articles published in the area of plant physiological ecology, has also written web-based science education materials, and was a Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Newell received her B.S. from Bates College and her Ph.D. from Stanford University.
In the photo above, Newell stands with Pastor Gustavo in Apartadó, Colombia.