Student creates new literary journal that combines art forms

May 6, 2011

They say that college is all about finding what excites you and discovering what you want to do with the rest of your life. For Heidi Nielson, her undergraduate experience at ASU helped her not only find those passions, but connect them in a unique way.

Nielson will be graduating from Barrett, The Honors College and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this May with a bachelor’s in English with a focus on creative writing and a cumulative GPA of 4.06. Download Full Image

Nielson’s honors thesis project was the creation of a new literary journal, called merj ( that promotes artistic collaboration by requiring artists to collaborate on submissions. The project has already taken off, with a launch event held April 2 and the hiring of two interns.

“I saw an example of collaborative art performed by a poet and disc jockey at an event, and the idea really intrigued me,” said Nielson. “I loved the idea combining the two art forms and creating new and innovative forms of art.”

Nielson is a Mesa native, who attended Mountain View High School and plays four instruments—starting with the violin, which she started learning at age three. She chose to go to ASU after receiving the President’s Scholarship.

Nielson didn’t know what she wanted to major in from the start, however. She started her undergraduate education as a journalism major, switched to business, spent a little time as a music therapy major, and then finally found her way to English. “I've always been an avid reader and writer,” she said. “I wrote my first ‘story’ about a hamster when I was six years old.” It was when Nielson took an introductory creative writing class with Melissa Pritchard that she knew she was in the right place.

The summer after her freshman year, Nielson interned with Hayden's Ferry Review at ASU, which she described as her first introduction to literary journals. She then interned with the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) as the marketing and community outreach intern and at Superstition Review, another literary journal.

All of these internships led her towards the creation of merj. “Initially, I wanted merj to be an online publication dedicated to collaborative art that also had a component that would allow artists to find collaborators,” Nielson said.  “The idea really expanded when I met Chris Johnson, my thesis partner and the co-founder of merj. Together, I think we've created something really special and unique.”

Following graduation, Nielson hopes to expand merj. “We’re looking into the idea of creating more internship experiences for students to learn about publishing, marketing, event planning, and collaborative art,” she explained.

The summer issue of merj is forthcoming, and will focus on collaborations between artists on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
However, merj isn’t the only thing on her horizon. “I'm planning to attend law school in 2012 to study international law,”

Nielson said. She’s also planning to take a year off to get experience and to give back, either in the AmeriCorps or by working for a non-profit or NGO.

“I worked as a research assistant to Dr. Dallen Timothy, who is studying the situation in Nogales, Ariz. and Nogales, Sonora-Mexico, and I was really struck by the dire humanitarian situation there,” she said. “This experience, as well as my study abroad experience in London, made me really passionate about pursuing a career in international law.”

For more information about merj, visit the web at" target="_blank">

Jeanne Schaser
Media Relations

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

Student studies human perceptions to help solve global issues

May 6, 2011

ASU anthropology graduate student Ashlan Falletta-Cowden is committed to bringing about global change by researching the human condition here and abroad.

Last summer, Falletta-Cowden flew to Bangladesh to study a crisis affecting upwards of 25 million people: poisoning by arsenic that occurs naturally in the groundwater. She collected data from local women to help determine how they understand and deal with the associated risks. Perceptions regarding pregnant women, fetuses and nursing infants were of primary concern. Download Full Image

She found that all participants knew arsenic was a danger to health, but their understanding of how it affects health didn’t necessarily match biomedical and public health models. For example, women in her sample believed breastfeeding puts infants at risk for arsenic exposure, though biomedical findings suggest that arsenic cannot be transmitted through breast milk.

“This field experience was transformative for me because it gave me a new way of seeing Bangladesh’s arsenic crisis and presented new avenues for approaching research on health risk perception,” she said. Ultimately, she hopes her findings contribute to messaging and policies that help the people of Bangladesh safely navigate their difficult environs.

With a range of interests that includes biocultural anthropology and nutrition, Falletta-Cowden has assisted several ASU professors with research projects. Recently, she was part of a cross-cultural examination of fat stigma and body image. The study, led by professor Alexandra Brewis, executive director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC), was published in the April issue of Current Anthropology and has received widespread media attention by showing that fat stigma has rapidly gone global.

Falletta-Cowden, who also is pursuing a certificate in museum studies, continued her water issue-related work this spring by contributing to the ASU Museum of Anthropology exhibit, “Choosing a Future with Water: Lessons from the Hohokam.” She conceptualized one of the interactive features of the faculty research-based presentation that looks at sustainable water use in the Phoenix area.

Falletta-Cowden will travel to Reykjavik, Iceland, this summer to marry fellow anthropology student Sveinn Sigurdsson. Then, she’ll hop right back into research mode by spending two weeks collecting data in Iceland for a research project led by ASU anthropologist Daniel Hruschka on how virtues come into conflict in daily life.

This April, Falletta-Cowden presented on her Bangladesh experience at the 6th Annual SHESC Master’s Research Symposium. She will receive a master’s degree in May and continue her studies at ASU as a sociocultural anthropology doctoral student.

Contributed by Rebecca Howe, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

Lisa Robbins

Assistant Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications