May 26, 2003
Grad student juggles studies and solidarity work
By Jennifer McNulty
In a blend of academics and activism, UC Santa Cruz graduate student
Maxwell Boykoff is pursuing his doctorate in environmental studies and
helping poor children in rural Honduras finish their own schooling.
Maxwell Boykoff with Honduran children.
In his third year at UCSC, Boykoff is raising money to help youngsters
in the agricultural village of Duyure, where he served as a Peace Corps
volunteer in the late 1990s. It was an experience that shaped Boykoffs
academic goals and forged a desire to provide ongoing help to the community.
Boykoff was in Honduras in 1998 when the country was devastated by
Hurricane Mitch, considered the most destructive storm to hit the Western
Hemisphere in 200 years. The destruction sparked Boykoffs interest
in exploring the link between global warming and the growing number
of natural disasters like Hurricane Mitch, which caused torrential floods
and landslides, destroyed the capital city of Tegucigalpa, killed thousands,
and left countless numbers homeless. "We helped evacuate people
who were gathering their belongings before their homes were submerged,"
recalled Boykoff, now 29. "We piggybacked children across the water,
and then it was an hour-and-a-half hike up the mountain to higher ground."
Cut off from the Panamerican Highway by landslides and fallen bridges,
Duyure was accessible only by helicopter. Boykoff and others helped
residents for seven days before being evacuated to Panama by the U.S.
Boykoffs unscheduled departure at a time of crisis, coupled with
some lingering dissatisfaction with the Peace Corps program, deepened
his commitment to help the people of Duyure. Upon returning to the United
States, Boykoff and fellow Peace Corps volunteer Monica Moore, who married
in 2000, began fundraising to support the rebuilding effort. Encouraged
by their success, they turned toward funding scholarships and established
a nonprofit to sell coffee and funnel the proceeds to children in Duyure.
"Kindergarten through sixth grade is compulsory and free, but
the next three years cost $150 each, which is beyond the reach of most
families," said Boykoff, whose Café Adelante Scholarship
Project has provided scholarships to 12 students so far.
"These people are barely getting by," said Boykoff, describing
typical homes with adobe walls, corrugated tin roofs, and dirt floors.
"The scholarships provide just enough that some families are able
to take the risk of having their children continue their education.
School is seen as an investment in the future."
Now, Boykoff delivers fair-trade, organic, shade-grown coffee to friends
and colleagues In the Environmental Studies Department, and Moore delivers
coffee to colleagues at Amesti Elementary School in Watsonville where
she teaches. They hope to build sales and provide five scholarships
Boykoffs academic interests were also shaped by his experiences
in Honduras. His doctoral research explores the role of the mass media
in shaping the publics understanding of global climate change.
Boykoff is examining how the media "translate" scientific
findings and how journalistic, economic, and political norms contribute
to the publics poor understanding of the threat of global warming.
"I want to lay bare the social and political processes that are
often veiled in these translations," said Boykoff. "I want
to draw attention to those processes."
On the path to his doctorate, Boykoff has received a teaching assistant
award from the Environmental Studies Department and a Chancellors
Award in 2002. He also cofounded a weekly political ecology reading
group that brings professors from other disciplines to the department
for informal seminars, and hes a shop steward for the teaching
assistant labor union.
"And Im a dad, so Im tired," said Boykoff, smiling
as he gestures toward a photo of his toddler son, Elijah. "But
this is an opportunity I have, and its only for a definite amount
of time. I want to take advantage of it. Particularly at UCSC, there
are just so many opportunities."
Return to Front Page