From Hitchcock to Nanoparticles

Class of 2017 members Bridget Jones (foreground) and Melissa Rifkin present original research during a reception in their honor.

Class of 2017 members Bridget Jones (foreground) and Melissa Rifkin (at podium) present original research during a reception in their honor.

Dickinson honors First-Year Seminar Writing Award winners

An air of intrigue swept through the Biblio Café on Feb. 11, as students, faculty members and administrators gathered to honor the recipients of the First-Year Seminar Writing Award. The award, which recognizes students who produce exceptional research papers during their first semester at Dickinson, was bestowed on class of 2017 members Bridget Jones and Melissa Rifkin, who delved into related topics—sleuthing and forensic science—but from very different points of view.

Jones, a New Jersey native and longtime fiction fan, took Writing Program faculty member Sarah Kersh’s first-year seminar on the detective genre in fiction and film. In her paper, she analyzed the feminized and strong leading female characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and in a recent episode of the TV series Sherlock. "I wanted to actively set up, break down and rearrange [the audience's perceptions of] the characters," she said, "and I was surprised to find that the characterizations were similarly complex, even though the movie and show were made 50 years apart."

Rifkin, a native of Maryland who plans to pursue a career in forensic science, selected Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sarah St. Angelo’s first-year seminar on nanotechnology. She found an article linking the science of atom and molecule manipulation with the science of crime-fighting, and after discussing research possibilities with St. Angelo, decided to focus on the ways in which nanoparticles, dyed gold for easier detection, can be used to inexpensively and efficiently perform drug testing and fingerprint analysis.

Dickinson's First-Year Seminar program introduces students to the college as a “community of inquiry” by developing habits of mind essential to the liberal-arts experience. Through the study of a compelling issue or broad topic chosen by their professors, students hone the critical-thinking, research and writing skills they will use and continue to develop throughout their time at Dickinson.

When asked to describe what it was like to write their first college papers, both award-winners smiled.

“Writing papers in college is extremely different than in high school, because in high school you have to write a square, contained, five-paragraph essay, and you fit your ideas into that structure," Jones said. "Here, you get your ideas out there and [structure the paper according to] the ideas.”

“Most of my writing in high school was about literature, so being about to write about something I’m truly passionate about is exciting,” added Rifkin. “It made me excited to research and write.”

Read the award-winning papers

Published February 12, 2014