April 25, 2009
WOOSTER, Ohio, April 25 - A campus-wide celebration of excellence in undergraduate research marked the beginning of a new tradition at The College of Wooster on Friday. Poster sessions, panel discussions, and presentations in five academic buildings across campus revealed the breadth and depth of Wooster's Independent Study program, which was showcased at the inaugural Senior Research Symposum.
"We are here to celebrate Wooster's heritage of undergraduate research," said Wooster President Grant Cornwell in his opening remarks. "I will declare it here proudly: The College of Wooster is the nation's premier liberal arts college for undergraduate research. There is not another place that can hold a candle to the quality and quantity of research that our seniors produce each year.
"What is more," added Cornwell, "we have ample evidence, through decades of testimony by our alumni, that our seniors leave here armed with more than deep expertise on a topic they are passionate about, but also a host of intellectual skills, analytic acuities, qualities of character, and abilities to communicate. These traits distinguish Wooster graduates, not just next year, but for lifetimes of productive careers."
Classes were canceled Friday so that everyone on campus could share in the intellectual exchange. Community members, alumni, and parents were also invited to attend. Hundreds of visitors weaved their way through crowded hallways to get a glimpse of the posters and crammed into classrooms and lecture halls to hear selected students present and defend their theses.
"The level of academic rigor was incredible," said Doug Hole, a 1963 Wooster graduate and a member of the alumni board. "What today's Wooster students are doing, particularly in their off-campus research experiences, represents an evolution in learning."
Paul Seling, a communication sciences and disorders major from Wooster, was among those who chose to take part in the symposium. His project, titled "A Responsibility or an Unreasonable Request? An Investigation of School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists' Attitudes Toward Involvement in Literacy," taught him a variety of valuable skills, including how to break a large project down into smaller, more manageable parts. Most importantly, he learned several important lessons about himself, and ultimately he decided that his call was in ministry, not speech pathology. He will join the Intervarsity staff at the Ohio State University after graduation and eventually plans to attend seminary.
Conversely, Wright Smith's I.S. experience served to affirm his career aspirations while building his self confidence. The economics major from Londonderry, N.H., conducted an empirical study of intra-team wage disparity and its effects on performance in Major League Baseball. What he discovered was, the greater the disparity among the highest-paid players and their teammates, the poorer the performance of the team. "Through I.S., I realized that I am capable of doing something of this magnitude," he said, noting the length (157 pages) of his study. "I spent the last year and a half on this, so I really feel like an authority on the subject."
Anne Hargleroad, a sociology major from Wheeling, W.Va., attracted a lot of attention with her title, "Pigs Donning Dresses, Bears Sporting Suits: A Content Analysis of Gender in First-Grade Basal Readers." Hargleroad found her research experience particularly valuable in light of her plans to become a teacher. Through her study, she learned that there are a number of elements embedded in school materials that affect the learning process, even though they are not directly part of the lesson plan. Hargleroad's parents, John and Patti, made the two-hour trip from Wheeling to share the moment with their daughter. "Hey, we invested in his," said her father. "We're very proud of her." Adding to their joy was the fact that she finished her project before anyone else in her class, earning the coveted No. 1 I.S. button.
In all, 122 students presented posters and 57 gave oral presentations, including Brian Frederico, whose father, Don, is a 1976 Wooster graduate and a member of the College's Board of Trustees. Brian worked with Jeffrey Lantis, professor of political science and international relations, on a project dealing with private military contractors. "He and I developed the project over months of consultation and research," said Lantis. "There wasn't a lot of existing data. Brian had to be innovative. He combined case-study research with interviews of the contractors and learned a lot about the increasingly important role they play and the impact they have on international security. His study exposed some of the challenges and dangers associated with this new wave of security response."
Several students and faculty members shared their experiences during a panel discussion in McGaw Chapel where moderator Denise Bostdorff, professor of communication, encouraged those in attendance to "celebrate and appreciate I.S. for the truly transformational process that it is." Anoop Parik talked about his unusual combination of economics and English as a double major and the importance of having a passion for both disciplines in "Reconstructing Reality: A Conversation between a Novelist and Economist about the Dust-Bowl Migration." Peter Havholm, professor of English, took on the role of the novelist, and Amyaz Moledina, assistant professor of economics, filled the role of the economist. The trio shared an interesting divergence of opinions and occasional disagreements, but in the end all three agreed that it was a rich and rewarding experience. Jamie Morris, another of the students on the panel, chronicled her return to Wooster in pursuit of a second degree and the resulting documentary about intergenerational theatre that she produced for her I.S.
The final panel featured four Wooster alumni, including Danny George, a 2004 graduate who explained how he brazenly slipped a copy of his I.S. under the door of a doctor who was researching Alzheimer's to get his attention and wound up being invited to join the doctor in his research. The result was co-authorship of a book, titled The Myth of Alzheimer's: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis. "I.S. opens doors, literally," said George, who advised underclass students to see I.S. as a personal asset, not drudgery. He also urged them to take risks, to be an energy giver not an energy taker, and most importantly, "never show a photo of yourself from I.S. Monday."
Erica Montbach, a 1997 graduate, said the value of I.S. lies in the experience it provides, the opportunity for hands-on research, and the confidence it instills in those who go through it. She captured the essence of Friday's celebration in her concluding remarks when she said, "I.S. sets us apart from the rest."
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