MONKTON — When Monkton resident Nora Parren was casting around for a way to drum up scholarship money, the Vassar College student assumed she’d be left to writing essays until the end of time.
So when she stumbled across a contest sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency challenging students to create videos promoting water quality, Parren was pleasantly surprised. A hobby animator, for some time she’d been making stop-motion videos in her dorm room.
She was even more surprised a few months later, though, when the 21-year-old cognitive science and anthropology student found out she’d won the national contest, earning $2,500 she spent on a research trip to South Africa.
Her video, “Dastardly Deeds and the Water Pollution Monster,” uses stop-motion animation to illustrate how fertilizers and other pollutants can affect water quality.
Though Parren’s own academic passions lie in the field of cognitive science, she said that paying attention to water quality and conservation were always important in both her Monkton home and at her New York college.
“As a household and a college, it’s something we’ve paid attention to,” she said. “I definitely think it’s important.”
That’s a message that Parren also grew up learning from her father, Steve Parren, a rare species biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife Department.
Her video specifically highlights storm drains as a place where pollutants can be unintentionally funneled into bodies of water. Though storm drains aren’t prevalent in most of Vermont, it gets at the larger issue of water runoff, Parren said.
“People don’t even think about (what’s getting washed into the water),” she said.
Parren made the video while studying abroad in Belfast, though she found herself in Barcelona visiting friends from college when it came time to actually produce the short clip. She’d used clay before in some of her stop-animation clips, but supplies were in short order. She had her camera at the time, which she used to photograph each frame of the film, but little else.
Parren improvised. She collected scraps of paper, trash and old posters from the streets of Barcelona, and fashioned the paper in a rough collage. She used chewing gum to attach the scraps to a wall in a friend’s dorm room, and then painstakingly began photographing each frame of her video while altering the content of each scene just slightly.
“The concept is pretty simple,” said Parren of the stop-motion technique. “But the devil is in the details.”
In addition to pointing out the ways that individuals inadvertently hurt water quality — like treating grass and gardens with fertilizers, or not disposing of pet waste properly — Parren also uses her brief video to give viewers suggestions for water stewardship.
“Once we see the problems that water pollution causes, we can take steps to prevent it and help keep our water clean,” she says in the video.
Those suggestions include using compost instead of fertilizers, checking cars for oil leaks, and planting gardens to filter pollution and prevent soil erosion.
The entry beat out more than 200 other entries to win the EPA’s contest. The good news came to Parren when she was in South Africa, on the same research trip she’d hoped to fund in part with the scholarship money.
She was there for a conference, and to assist with research among the native Zulu population in South Africa.
Parren is already working on another video entry for a scholarship competition. The money would be nice, she said, but the process of making the videos alone is worthwhile enough.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “With cognitive science, work is reading and writing. It’s not that it’s not interesting, but art has always been for me something that I’ve been able to focus completely on and not tear myself away until I was done. Something about it being a visceral product and a visual image makes a difference.”