Research project leads Novos to Iceland

By Jim DeLa

Sociology Professor David Brain, and New College students Billy Cooney and Maria Vanallen traveled to Iceland to confer with research partners and to attend an invitation-only symposium on the future of public space.
Sociology Professor David Brain, and New College students Billy Cooney and Maria Vanallen traveled to Iceland to confer with research partners and to attend an invitation-only symposium on the future of public space.

New College students are working with scholars from around the world to compile a comprehensive database on research relating to public spaces within urban environments.

The work is taking two students and their sociology professor, Dr. David Brain, to Iceland this week to confer with research partners and to attend an invitation-only symposium on the future of public space.

It’s a project that Brain has been working on for more than two years. The aim is to help professionals, including urban planners, researchers, architects, psychologists and sociologists, easily access research on public space. “There’s a practical application for this,” he explained. “There’s a lot of scattered research. The idea is to pull together a curated database that all the disciplines could use on the issues of policy and design.”

Besides working with researchers from the City University of New York and and the University of Cincinnati, Brain and his students are collaborating with The Centre for the Future of Places at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and the Ax: son Johnson Foundation.

Brain says his team has sent their work to reviewers, who will meet them in Reykjavik, Iceland. “We’ll be getting feedback from reviewers and then figure out what the next step will be.”

Maria Vanallen, a third-year Environmental Studies/Urban Studies AOC, has been working on the project since last August. She’s been finding, summarizing and cataloging articles from various research journals, “Creating a place for planners and architects to go to find information,” she said.

Vanallen says she wants to become an architect, so this work has personal significance. “In architecture, it’s important to think about the space around a building, not just the building itself. It’s something that I’ll likely be asked to work on in any public project.”

Billy Cooney is also working on the project, even though the Social Sciences/Urban Studies AOC graduated from New College last year. He’s currently working for Sarasota County as a planning technician. He says he’s grateful the county is giving him time during the week to continue his work with Professor Brain. The trip abroad is icing on the cake. “It’s pretty sweet,” Cooney said. He’s looking forward to meeting other researchers and getting feedback about the project.

Vanallen says although the team members are in touch regularly by Skype, a face-to-face meeting will be exciting. “I feel very lucky to be able to go,” she said. “I’m quite shocked to fall into this in the middle of a research job.” Having the opportunity to take this trip will be good for her resume. “It will put me in a very good position when I apply to grad school.”

Brain says his students, the only undergraduate students working on this project, have performed well. “I’ve been watching how well our undergrads have been doing. They (other researchers) weren’t sure about them. Everyone’s been really happy with them.”

Brain says the trip will be a great experience for his students. “They have the chance to travel to an interesting city, to be in the company of accomplished scholars. It will give them the opportunity to be treated as equal members of the team.”

— Jim DeLa is digital communications coordinator at New College of Florida.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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