Published: Oct. 2, 2012

Excited as she was about being at CU-Boulder, Melanie Ferraro’s freshman year got off to a rocky start.

Ferraro was eventually able to find her footing, however, in a class she was required to take as a Norlin Scholarship recipient, called Constructions of Knowledge. It wasn’t the class itself that led to her transformation from scared and unhappy to confident and successful. It was the connections and friendships she made with the other students.

Now a junior, Ferraro is a Learning Assistant (LA) in that same class so she can help others who might be going through a similar struggle to find their way as well.  

“I had a rough transition from high school to college,” said Ferraro, who is from Broomfield, Colo. “I was having a hard time being on my own and trying to make friends and develop new social circles. The family community that grew through that freshman class kept me going and got me through my first semester of college. It kept me on my feet.”

As an LA, Ferraro receives a $700 scholarship per semester to assist the professor in class, help students with classwork, and act as a mentor to the students.

 “As an LA, I am the go-between for students and the professor,” she said. “My motivation to do this was because I thought I could give help to a student who might be going through the same thing.  It’s been interesting going back to that class and seeing bits of myself in those students.”

The confidence she gained from the experience has led her to try out other opportunities at CU-Boulder.

Ferraro is majoring in geography and is also working on a Peace and Conflict Studies Certificate through the College of Arts and Sciences.  For the past year she has been a research assistant in the geography department collecting and geocoding data for the Institute of Behavioral Science at CU-Boulder to see if there’s a correlation between climate change and the severity of armed conflict in Sub Saharan Africa.

The project required that Ferraro read thousands of news articles from English language news sources that reported on violence occurring in the Sudan during the late 1980s. When she came across an article that mentioned protests or shootings between rebels and the Sudanese government, Ferraro logged the date and the longitude and latitude coordinates of where it happened. The goal is to see what climate changes, if any, were present at the time, such as a drought causing a lack of access to fresh water.

The research findings on this problem of societal concern could be of benefit to policymakers so they are not making policies based on assumptions about climate change and violence without the data to back it up.

For two years Ferraro has served as an ambassador for the Office of Admissions giving tours to prospective students and their families. She also is involved with Lutheran Campus Ministry and recently went on a sponsored trip to Guatemala. The students volunteered at a Catholic Mission in San Lucas that provides health services, a school, and a women’s center for the community, as well as creating employment for local farmers through a mission-owned coffee company.

“I’ve tried so many new things that I never would have seen myself trying years ago,” she said. “I’ve had some really great life lessons since I’ve been here. College changes who you are. I’m a lot more mature now and it’s interesting to see how differently I interpret things as a junior.”