McPherson Newell wants to incorporate disability practices into the field of engineering, and a Fulbright Graduate Study Award to England will help provide knowledge and experience to reach that aspiration.
Newell, of Augusta, earned a number of prestigious awards as a student at Mercer, including being named a Stamps Scholar, Goldwater Scholar, Newman Civic Fellow, Truman Scholarship finalist and Marshall Scholarship finalist.
“McPherson is very deserving of the Fulbright Scholarship,” said Dr. Michael MacCarthy, associate professor of environmental and civil engineering and program director for the Engineering for Development program. “With their intellect and rare leadership skills, this opportunity will allow McPherson to advance their budding career as an academic scholar and over the mid-term will surely result in benefitting marginalized groups in the U.S., the U.K. and beyond.”
Through the Fulbright Award, Newell will travel to West Yorkshire, England, in September to pursue a one-year master’s degree in disability studies from the University of Leeds. Newell is excited to get involved in the Leeds Disabled People’s Organization and learn about grassroots activism strategies.
“The master’s of disability studies at Leeds is internationally recognized as a leading program in the field. They’re also one of the top 10 schools in the U.K. for social policies. The degree program is uniquely situated to prepare me for the kind of work I want to do in activism,” Newell said. “I’m really excited to learn from people who are at the top of the field. It’s a wealth of knowledge to benefit from.”
The field of engineering would greatly benefit from the inclusion of disability studies, Newell said. It’s not about making someone able-bodied but meeting their specific needs.
As a student at Mercer, Newell conducted research on low-cost assistive mobility technology with the Engineering for Development program. Newell also designed a lecture on accessibility and mobility and presented it virtually in 2020 and in person before the 2021 Mercer On Mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The attendees’ responses were encouraging and empowering to Newell, who is committed to this lifelong work.
“McPherson is an incredibly dedicated student — in research, coursework and service,” Dr. MacCarthy said. “Their passion for and commitment to finding solutions that improve lives of others is commendable — be that in developing low-cost mobility and accessibility solutions for disabled and elderly people, or in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. Their insight into both the social and technical aspects of developing sustainable solutions is particularly impressive.”
Newell plans to later pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and become a professor of rehabilitation engineering at a research university. Newell wants to continue to focus on mobility research and create research opportunities for LGBTQ+ and disabled students.
“I want to advocate for increased accessibility and more affirming environments for marginalized students in academia,” Newell said. “Having experience in activism and advocacy will prepare me to advocate for my students and for them to be able to have an equitable education.”
While at Mercer, Newell served as the president of Common Ground, Mercer’s official LGBTQ+ and ally group, and led the development of an online LGBTQ+ sensitivity course for faculty and staff called Rainbow Connection. The course is one of Newell’s proudest accomplishments, with more than 100 hours of work going into it, and has been well-received by participants.
“It was so exciting to know that a lot of people have a desire to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ students,” Newell said. “Providing that resource and having so many people take advantage of it was a very rewarding experience.”