Montana State University

MSU student receives Fulbright for Indonesian research

May 27, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Brent Leavell, an MSU graduate student in geography, is dedicated to learning more about Indonesia. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- A Montana State University student who says he's equally at home in the Alaskan bush and the streets of Jakarta has received a Fulbright grant to conduct research in Indonesia.

Brent Leavell, a master's degree student in geography, will spend November through August 2009 learning how the Indonesian culture supports its economy, especially in traditional village markets. Based on the islands of Bali and Java, he will spend considerable time interviewing, observing and surveying villagers. He will also ask them to draw what's important to them, a research technique known as mental mapping.

Bali and Java are a couple of miles apart, but Leavell's research sites are 300 miles apart. Bali is primarily Hindu, while Java is mostly Islamic.

"I'm just fascinated at how everything is built around the family and the community," Leavell said. "I think that's such an intriguing part of the world because of that."

Leavell, the youngest of seven children in a close-knit family, said he can relate to the Indonesians because they place a high value on family. He also wants to learn more about the priority Indonesians give to tolerance.

"I'm dedicated to learning more of the Indonesian culture and people" Leavell said.

He started traveling to Indonesia in the early 1990s when his sister lived there, and he has returned at least a dozen times, Leavell said. At one time, he had a business there. He designed kites and met with Indonesians who turned his designs into "pieces of art that flew." Then he sold the hand-painted kites at museum science centers and high-end specialty shops in the United States.

"Each time I returned, I just became more impressed with the culture there," Leavell said. "I built a network of friends. Also I find it very fascinating for how people are so tied to their religion and traditional way of doing things."

A graduate of Oregon State University and a river guide for 20 years, Leavell said he decided to enroll at MSU after driving through Bozeman on his way home from Florida to live closer to family. As an MSU student, he sought out Indonesian students and organized the Global Culture Club to build cultural awareness through adventure. He also researched Indonesian-related topics through MSU's Undergraduate Scholars program and as a graduate student.

The Fulbright will allow him to delve deeper into a country that has become increasingly dear to him, Leavell said.

Sally O'Neill, Fulbright adviser at MSU, said, "They (the Fulbrights) are hard to get. They are very prestigious, especially for certain countries. You are up against competitors from all over the United States."

Leavell is one of two MSU students who received Fulbrights this year. Cathy Heidner, a spring graduate in secondary education, received a teacher's assistantship to teach English in Germany.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or