Many students dream up projects on a grand scale, fantasizing about making a documentary or inventing the next big thing. Because of a phenomenon known as crowd-funding, these dreams have become realities for students like recent Miami University graduate Meaghan Harris, who utilized a crowd-funding site called Fundageek.com to help fund her conservation research project in Borneo, Malaysia.
Director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies Glenn Platt said crowd-funding is a way to bypass traditional middlemen that fund start-ups, such as production companies or organizations that fund research, and appeal directly to people who might be interested in the end result of the project or research.
Some crowd-funding sites include Kickstarter.com, Pozible.com and Microryza.com.
“Because of the direct access to the fans and the audience that you think would be passionate about the thing that you would be doing…platforms like Kickstarter allow students to fund the creation of content by funding it through the people who would be directly interested in it,” Platt said.
According to Platt, anyone with a credit card and Internet access can fund projects that are posted on crowd-funding sites. Many times, Platt said, crowd-funding investors receive a reward for their investment, such as a product invented by a student, a CD or a DVD. But research-oriented crowd-funding sites like Fundageek.com typically attract investors or donors who believe in the research cause of the student seeking funds, Platt said.
Last year Harris posted her research expedition, an opportunity to collect field data on the Sunda Clouded Leopard in Borneo, on Fundageek.com. She said she would call her fundraising campaign a success.
“I didn’t reach my very tentative and ambitious goal of $4,200 but I still ended up raising I think $1,800 [through Fundageek] and a whole bunch of stuff on the side,” Harris said.
Harris did travel to Borneo to conduct field research at the Danau Girang Field Centre for two months, from June 3 to July 28, 2012. She graduated in December 2012 and is now permanently stationed in Borneo.
When she did research during the summer, she helped set up a grid of motion and heat sensing cameras that captured the wildlife in the area and gave the researchers at the field center an idea of the biodiversity, Harris said. Her project identified individual clouded leopards.
“So far we’ve identified at least nine,” Harris said.
Harris said little to nothing is known about the clouded leopard and the kind of research she conducted had not been done before in Borneo. She said the mystery of this research field appealed to her.
Harris said her summer research project led to her current position in the Kinabatangan Carnivore Program, where she will be tracking and collaring clouded leopards. In October, she will start her Ph.D. program monitoring seven different species of civets, small weasel-like carnivore.
Harris said field conservation biodiversity has been her passion since she was little. “Summer was kind of the springboard to everything I’ve wanted my whole life,” Harris said.
Professor of Zoology Chris Myer helped Harris get involved with Project Dragonfly, the large education project created by Miami faculty and students that hosts the Earth Expeditions course in Borneo. He said Harris’s research will contribute to a multi-dimensional understanding of Southeast Asian ecosystems and conservation systems.
“One of the issues of wildlife in Southeast Asia is destruction of habitat for palm oil plantations,” Myers said. “[There is] an urgent need to understand how these populations are responding to the conversion of incredibly diverse rainforest systems to plantations. [This will allow scientists to] better understand how changes in the ecosystem are impacting biodiversity.”
Harris isn’t the only student pursuing her passions. Platt said that because of crowd-funding, students are more empowered than ever before to design creative projects and do research.
“If you want to do a creative project or fund your research…you don’t need your professors to mediate that for you anymore,” Platt said. “If you want to do something, you can do it.”