|Summer Research Involves Students Not Only in Science, but in Humanities
August 07, 2008
Contact: by Rachel Andoga
Research isn't just for scientists any more. This year's Davidson Research Initiative enrolled many more students in social science and humanities investigations than during its first year. Under the leadership of Verna Case, Professor of Biology and director of the DRI, almost half of the 20 Davidson College students involved in the highly competitive summer program are assisting professors studying subjects in history, English, political science and religion.
Summer research at Davidson has traditionally been heavily oriented toward student participation in biology, chemistry and psychology investigations. Suzanne Churchill, Associate Professor of English and summer mentor to DRI student Ethan Jaffee '09, noted that research experience can be just as valuable to students in English and history. "Collaborative research can present bigger challenges for those of us in the humanities because our models of research are more solitary -- the lone researcher in the library, poring over books and archives," said Churchill.
"We in the humanities, particularly in English, can benefit from thinking creatively about research and borrowing a laboratory model from the sciences. Using a lab model can not only aid our students, but also help us reimagine our own work."
Funded by a $750,000 grant from The Duke Endowment, the DRI students are working intensively with faculty mentors for up to 10 weeks.
Ethan Jaffee, who is spending his summer researching the emergence of free verse in small circulation periodicals from the early 20th century, sees the program as great experience-and maybe even a peek into his own future. "I think it can be job training if you're interested in pursuing research after college. Sort of how medical students shadow doctors -- I get to shadow a professor and see what she does, spend some time learning her research techniques, and spend some time doing it on my own to see if I enjoy doing it and if I want to think about pursuing it after college."
|(l-r) Ethan Jaffee '09 helped English Professor Suzanne Churchill research "little magazines."|
Marja Kunz '10, who is working with Professor of History and Humanities Jonathan Berkey, is using her summer to study texts produced by missionaries living in the Middle East during the early 20th century. "I'm looking at texts they produced when they arrived home -- how what they observed about Muslim and Arab life drew upon or was in contention with the preexisting attitudes seen in the media of the time," said Kunz.
In the fall, Kunz will be studying abroad at the American University in Cairo. "This project is definitely a nice segue into my abroad experience, since the American University was founded by missionaries." she said.
Other DRI students conducting summer research in the humanities and social sciences include Trevor Chamberlin '09, who is pursuing research in political science with Professor Pat Sellers, and Erica Cribbs, who is helping Professor Anne Wills on a project on American civil religion and the presidential campaign. Jessica Bradshaw '09 and Joe Harvey '09 are working with History Professor John Wertheimer along with five visiting DRI students from historically black colleges and universities. Harvey is conducting a study of civil cases promoted by African Americans in South Carolina around the turn of the century in response to lynchings. Bradshaw's research focuses on a racial identity case where two children were expelled from a school because they were considered to be "colored."
|Jaffee and Churchill often met at her home, where she could keep an eye on children in the next room.|
Science professors working with students this summer include psychologists Scott Tonidandel, Mark Smith, Julio Ramirez and Kristi Multhaup, biologists Karen Bernd, Malcolm Campbell, Maria Sarafova, Barbara Lom, Mike Dorcas and Dave Wesner, chemist David Brown, and mathematician Laurie Heyer.
In addition to conducting their own research, students and mentors meet weekly for topical group discussions, lectures and social functions. One of their charges this year came from Davidson College President Tom Ross '72, who has requested their opinions on the future of research at Davidson to be included in the current college-wide strategic assessment. The summer researchers, broken into four groups, will "create an 'ideal' Davidson environment that will allow students to choose from a variety of in-depth learning opportunities that will give students the ability to meet their own, individual educational goals, whether these goals are focused or exploratory," said Case.
The DRI reflects a national trend of growing support for undergraduate research opportunities. According to the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research, the popularity of undergraduate research programs has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, from what was once a practice undertaken primarily by faculty at four-year institutions to an important new interactive pedagogy.
"In today's world, engaged learning has clearly been shown to be a most effective means of education, and has benefits far beyond the exercise itself. We prepare students better for post-college challenges by providing them opportunities for undergraduate research," said Clark Ross, vice president for academic affairs at Davidson. "When students are given a more open-ended challenge, and work through it step-by-step with a professor, they learn how to learn, rather than just learning material."
DRI students will present their work in an on-campus poster session on Friday, September 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Lilly Family Gallery. Many will also make presentations at regional or national meetings within their discipline, and some will publish their results in professional journals.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz