On the Daily: Student nails Pornhub essay contest

Sunday, April 16, 2017 - 3:15pm

 If you click past the home page of popular pornography website Pornhub, an entirely different image of the company appears. The webpage, titled Pornhub Cares and adorned with a little heart-shaped icon, is the new side of Pornhub that recently gave a $25,000 scholarship to University of Michigan graduate student Natalie Nevarez, according to the Washington Post.   

“Pornhub works hard to make millions of people happy every single day,” the website reads. “This is no easy feat and we couldn't do it without some of the awesome women on our team of developers, engineers and analysts. We do, however, recognize that women are vastly underrepresented in tech, with the latest diversity reports estimating that women are filling as little as just 20-30% of positions in the field.”

The application involved an essay and an optional video to discuss the type of work an applicant does. Pornhub Vice President Corey Price said in a statement that Nevarez, who is finishing her Ph.D. in biopsychology, was a perfect choice for the award.

“We wanted to do our part in not only recognizing women’s outstanding accomplishments in the STEM fields, but also encourage them to continue to achieve both their academic and societal aspirations and make the world around us a better place,” Price said. “Natalie embodies everything we were looking for and more. Her academic achievements in STEM really stood out to us as did her inspiring personal story to give back and provide for her community.”

This is the second year the scholarship has been offered. It was announced to Nevarez she won the award via video chat with Pornhub Aria, a pornstar and spokeswoman for the website.

Nevarez told the Daily she was thrilled to learn she won the award.

“To me, it really is for paying off debt and being able to move to a new city,” Nevarez said. “I know it will improve my quality of life and it’s really going to help.”

As the daughter of migrant farmers, Nevarez grew up moving around California and Arizona every six months so her parents could follow the seasonal crops. She knew she didn’t want that kind of life for herself, and looked to education as a way out.

“I basically just saw an education as a way to get out of that lifestyle,” she said. “Neither of my parents had finished elementary school, so I knew that was a big contributor to why we had the lifestyle we had. … (Migrant work) is a lifestyle that really takes your parents away from you and I didn’t want that.”

Since then, her educational journey has taken her down many different paths. Her undergraduate degree is in communications, and it first piqued her interest in shyness and human connection. Lately, she’s moved away from human subjects, but her current research on addiction and monogamy in prairie voles seems to have many implications for human life.

Nevarez hopes her research will help to improve society, but when the Pornhub scholarship application asked for an essay on how she’s working toward making the world a better place, she chose to write about something else.

“I’ve been involved in all kinds of outreach since I was a kid,” Nevarez said. “When I got to Ann Arbor in 2012, I really wanted to be involved in outreach … I understand that Ann Arbor is a very beautiful city, and we always get ranked as very educated and all these good things, but no city is completely without poverty.”

So, Nevarez did some research and found that there are more than 355 families in Ann Arbor that live below the poverty line in low-income housing centers across the city. She decided she needed to get involved.

“They’re essentially just hidden in plain sight,” Nevarez said. “And I just really connected with that, because that was really similar to my experiences in the migrant camps. So I started this organization called MYELIN. It stands for Mentoring Youth and Early Leaders in Neuroscience.”

MYELIN helps to educate and inspire a passion for science in these low-income Ann Arbor students. Just this year, the program expanded to include college prep programs, as well.

After she receives her Ph.D. this spring, Nevarez will take a post-doctoral position at Stanford University.

She’s grateful for the exposure her research has gotten from the award, and even though it’s a slightly unconventional one, she thinks the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Nevarez added she actually thinks her research on monogamy fits pretty well with Pornhub’s overall image.

“Obviously, as a researcher in social attachment, a lot of these things are related to sexual research with the animals, and the animals have to mate in order to develop their bonds, so I’m comfortable with all types of sexual topics,” she said. “I’ve been really, really happy with the response … all the researchers in my area have talked about it. This brings to light the fact that our government right now is bringing about lots of changes in our research funding, and this highlights the fact that we all have to be open minded about where our research funding comes from.”