by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
It's 9:30 on a subzero Saturday morning, and most of the campus is still. But breakfast—and energized conversation—is already underway in the Stern Center Great Room, where the American Studies Senior Research Symposium is about to begin.
The daylong event provides a platform for graduating seniors in the American-studies program—who, like most members of the class of 2014, are busy wrapping up senior theses and projects—to present their ongoing research to an audience of professors, students, family and friends. Audience members are then encouraged to offer comments and ask questions about the work.
“It's exciting to be able to talk about our research now, after working on it all year,” says Jenny Catherine Barrett, whose thesis investigates Italian-American identity struggle. “And because our topics are so different, it's been interesting to learn about each other's research.”
During the morning sessions, Elizabeth Bruno, Zara O'Brien and
Alicia Reynolds presented research on body aesthetics, while Dana
Metcalf, Elizabeth Mudge and Alan Nick examined the culture of
disabilities and illness in America. After lunch, Barrett, Sarah Koch and Peter
Shapiro delved into the relationships between history and identity,
and Abigail Bowman, Leah Shafer and Caroline Taylor shared their findings on
the role of mass media and pop culture in American life.
Many expressed deep personal ties to their research. Shapiro, an impassioned advocate for LGBTQ issues, is researching LGBTQ culture on college campuses. Metcalf's research on gendered ADHD culture has led her to consider a career as an occupational therapist, while Mudge's research on American death culture, informed by her analyses of blogs and memoirs by and about end-stage cancer patients, has inspired her to consider work as a grief counselor.
Research symposiums like these, while relatively uncommon for undergraduates, are mainstays at Dickinson for students majoring in the sciences and, increasingly, in other disciplines. The idea is to prepare students for further scholarship in their field.
Now in its sixth year, the American-studies symposium is a highlight for students enrolled the American-studies senior-research seminar, a two-semester course that brings the emerging scholars together each week to report on their progress, share resources and ideas and troubleshoot challenges along the way.
“It's been a very positive experience, because we've gotten to know each other well, and we're all supportive of each other and have helped each other along the way,” says Koch, whose work draws comparisons between the philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokeley Carmichael. “It's also been helpful to me to have to present today to people who don't already know about it, because it's helped me collect my ideas and formulate my argument more clearly.”
Even more significant, the symposium gives students a chance to contribute meaningfully to Dickinson's vital intellectual community, says Assistant Professor of American Studies Jerry Philogene, who co-teaches this year's senior seminar with department chair Sharon O'Brien. By presenting new research to scholars and students with different areas of expertise, the students both benefit from and contribute to a deep well of resources and an ever-growing, multifaceted body of work."That's a valuable opportunity, and it's something that's not available to students at a larger research institution," Philogene notes.
American-studies major Aaron Hock '15, who attended symposium, agrees. “It's also completely different from anything you'll experience in high school, where it's all about finding that one answer to the question on that standardized test,” he says. “Here, you throw ideas off each other, which lead to more ideas, and a lot of times, there's no one right answer. That's what I love about it.”
Published March 11, 2014