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Reilly Wilson

College: Graduate Center
Awards: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2013

Children, Playgrounds and Civil War

When she worked as a nanny, Reilly Bergin Wilson spent a good deal of time in playgrounds, most of which, she says, were not interesting. “When kids interact with it in a way that goes beyond what the original designer conceived, it’s called vandalism.”

But since 1943 (in Denmark, during a world war), some European cities have taken a different approach - adventure playgrounds. For example, The Big Swing in Bradford, England - themed around the primal elements of earth, wind, fire and water - comes with tools, building supplies, paint and even a fire pit, so that youngsters (with adult supervision) can construct their own playgrounds and equipment.

For the past year, Wilson has volunteered at The Big Swing to supplement archival research at Leeds University, which she has attended with the help of a 2013 Fulbright Fellowship and where she is earning an MRes (master’s of research) degree. “I’m looking historically at the social and political environment surrounding the introduction of these playgrounds,” she says.

This work sets up her forthcoming doctoral research at the CUNY Graduate Center. Wilson (Temple University, B.A. in geography and urban studies, 2013) will carry it out with a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship that she postponed accepting last year to do the Fulbright.

Her doctoral research will focus on a very different kind of interaction with a built environment. In the 1990s Bihać, a town in northwestern Bosnia, suffered three years of siege during the multiethnic war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.

“Bihać was massively rebuilt in the center, but the farther away you go, the more likely you are to find bombed-out houses next door to new construction,” says Wilson, who also is studying the local language. “In the post-socialist era, there has been a lot of road building, and that has significantly changed where kids can safely go and where parents feel safe letting them go. This built environment therefore affects children’s experience more than a historical memory of the war.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, administered by the Department of State to increase understanding between U.S. citizens and those of other countries, offers fellowships for study, research and/or teaching English abroad. A stipend covers living expenses.

The National Science foundation Graduate Research Fellowship is the most prestigious for graduate studies in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This federal grant provides $132,000 over three years for doctoral-level research.