KU News Release

May 13, 2011
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, 785-864-8855

Graduation stories: Nick Mott’s drive for social justice underpins a varied path

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LAWRENCE — When Johnson County native Nick Mott was applying to colleges, the University of Kansas appealed to him because it seemed like a new scene to explore, even though he grew up just down the road.

“My mom had gone to KU, but I hadn’t had a lot of experience with Lawrence,” Mott said. “A whole lot of people from Overland Park come here, but many of my very close friends from high school didn’t. So KU was still sort of a new experience for me, even though I lived very close.”

Nick Mott (photo by Chuck France, University Relations)

Mott intended to study film at first, but his plan changed when he chose instead to embrace a wider range of disciplines woven together by his sense of social change.

“I’m still very interested in film and creative writing, but I changed to a double philosophy and sociology major,” Mott said. “A passion for social justice motivates me through anything I do, but I also love to do things that are creative.”

Between his freshman and sophomore years, Mott interned with Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore’s successful 2008 reelection campaign, where he helped to organize events while learning about the political process.

“It was very cool — I was working in his campaign office, doing a lot of work that most interns do that isn’t too fun, like making a whole lot of calls,” said Mott. “But I also did things like participating in parades and different rallies.”

Back at KU as a sophomore, Mott served as a peer educator in the Capitalism on Film Learning Community and as a tutor for a calculus class. The following summer, he studied abroad in England at the International Law program of Cambridge University.

“We went with two law professors from KU and one history professor to take two classes on international law,” said Mott. “It was a month-long, fantastic experience, and I still keep in touch with many of the people I met there. It helped me figure out what I want to do in the future.”

As a junior, Mott worked as an ambassador for the University Honors Program and started working as an assistant debate and forensics coach at his old high school. In spring 2010, he began serving as a research assistant for Derrick Darby, associate professor of philosophy, looking into inequality in education and health care, and studying the philosophies of John Dewey and Amartya Sen.

For spring break that year, he traveled to Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, Calif., and installed solar panels in low-income housing with GRID alternatives. He also produced documentary work about sustainable organizations in the area, which was part of a KU class on the environmental justice and green design designed by Simran Sethi, associate professor of journalism.

Soon, Mott also took a role at KU’s Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets as a student journalist, which he’ll continue until graduation.

“I’m in change of interacting with the different researchers, doing interviews, updating social media and our website, and writing stories for our newsletter,” he said. “It’s been really interesting for me, coming from a nonscientific background, to actually be immersed in this scientific world and see where climate science and policy can meet.”

This January, Mott decided to go to Haiti to help with earthquake relief efforts in that country, working with a group called European Disaster Volunteers, an organization that aids disaster-affected communities by providing initial relief and contributing to sustainable recovery .

“I just went down on my own,” Mott said. “It was very shocking and moving. EDV had just secured a house for an orphanage; the kids had been living in tents for 11 months. I arrived shortly after they’d moved in, and the house was empty. The children ate on the floor, had class sitting on cinder blocks. I designed and built tables, benches and desks so the students could have places to sit, places to learn.”

Mott returned to Haiti in March to work again with European Disaster Volunteers. In addition to helping with English classes and producing video, through the group Mott helped prepare workspace for Rebuild Globally, a group that hires Haitians to make sandals from discarded tires that otherwise would be burned.

“We helped prepare an expanded site that would enable them to employ 40 more locals,” Mott said.

Mott currently is turning his experience in Haiti into an independent research project for Ebenezer Obadare, assistant professor of sociology.

“He is an excellent student, a humanist and a fantastic human being,” Obadare said of Mott. “He is destined to go places.”

For now, Mott says he is looking to spend some time “out of the country” for the next year or two, working for social justice, while he decides where he might go to graduate school. His possibilities for the upcoming year include teaching English in Somaliland.

“Right now, I’m just applying to everything I can to see what I can do,” said Mott.

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