What We Did On Our Summer Vacations
St. Kate's Summer Scholars program emphasizes student-faculty collaboration; and stipend money helps make it possible.
By Karen K. Hansen
Spending the summer studying Harry Potter, children's TV programming or sustainable fashion sounds fun and fascinating. And it is. But underlying these pop culture topics are the serious scholarly endeavors of faculty and student researchers.
That this work is available to students pursuing bachelor's degrees is unusual. But it's the comprehensive, collaborative approach that truly sets St. Catherine University's emerging Summer Scholars program apart. The program encourages research proposals from all academic disciplines and elevates students to a sort of "junior colleague" status.
Faculty-student research is not unique to St. Kate's. "But we collaborate with our students at a different level," says program founder Lynda Szymanski, associate dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, and a psychology professor. "At other institutions it's often more of a faculty person supervising a student worker. We don't think of it that way. Here it involves mentoring relationships."
In 2008, the Association of American Colleges and Universities identified undergraduate research and collaborative assignments and projects as among the top 10 practices for a "high-impact" education, Szymanski says.
Certainly that has proven true with Summer Scholars. St. Kate's students and faculty presented last year — collaboratively, of course — at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and will do so again in March. English Professor Joanne Cavallaro and Carly Fischbeck '12, who is majoring in ASL/interpreting, presented last November at Streamlines: An Undergraduate Conference Celebrating Language, Literature and Writing, in Iowa. They are co-authoring a chapter about American Sign Language for Cavallaro's forthcoming general linguistics textbook.
Other teams have plans to present at the Costume Society of America National Symposium, the National Symposium on Healthcare Interpreting, the American Psychology Association Convention, the Textile Society of America' s Symposium and the International Association for the Scientific Study of Developmental Disabilities Conference.
The natural and social sciences tend to lend themselves to quantitative research. The Summer Scholars program, however, is deliberately designed to embrace a range of disciplines, including art, music, English, apparel design and fashion merchandising, and communication studies. Faculty benefit from engaging more deeply with their discipline; students enjoy the peer support and the chance to position themselves as more competitive applicants for fellowships, graduate school and jobs.
"That's the spirit of what St. Kate's is all about," Szymanski explains. "That inclusive nature is based on the foundation of our institution."
"Knowing that the University is willing to provide resources to this aspect of our profession is more important than one may initially think," says Assistant Professor of Psychology Arturo Sesma, who collaborated with two students on Summer Scholars research projects.
Director of Development Beth Riedel Carney '82 is working with her Corporate and Foundation Relations team to secure grants for Summer Scholars and directing her gift officers to speak with donors about the initiative. "Undergraduate research prepares students for graduate school and to lead and influence in the world," Carney says. "This is an exciting program and an opportunity for donors to support a value that has always been at the heart of the St. Catherine experience."
Modeling collaboration from the start, Szymanski engaged colleagues in all stages of the program's development, from design to workshop leadership. After debuting with five faculty-student teams in 2010, Summer Scholars grew to include 14 professors and 18 students last summer. In fact, more faculty members proposed projects than could be funded.
Among the novel projects:
"When students wear the researcher's and scholar's hat, they begin to think and act like one," says Assistant Professor Anupama Pasricha, who co-chairs the Department of Family, Consumer and Nutritional Sciences (FCNS).
Student researchers also bring diverse perspectives to their professors. Rachel Armstrong '12 was sure that her mentor, Professor of English Cecilia Konchar Farr, would counter some of her ideas and intellectual concepts. "Instead," Armstrong says, "we had deeper conversations in which I knew I wasn' t the only one being exposed to new ideas."
She laughs. "If I can hold my own in a theoretical argument with a professor like Cecilia," she quips, "I'm sure I can make it through graduate school interviews."
Other students report that the Summer Scholars experience helps them develop confidence and broaden their worldview. Panyia Kong '13 collaborated with Associate Professor of Sociology Hui Wilcox on a study of the sociological and health implications of Hmong agriculture in Minnesota. While Kong was analyzing data, she also was observing Hmong community values. "This understanding will be beneficial in my nursing career, in how to approach people with different values and backgrounds," she concludes.
Assistant Professor of Music Allison Adrian incorporated the research results in her new course, "Music and Healing," after she and Etty Hathaway '14 developed closed-circuit TV programming to appeal to patients, especially "tweens" and teenagers, at Children's Hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Barbara Buhr '46 was so moved by her own memories of collaborating as a student with longtime Professor of Theater Mabel Frey that she contributed to the Children' s Hospital project. "I' ve always been interested in theater and children," says Buhr, who worked in elementary education and speech pathology. "And hands-on research is a wonderful way for students to learn."
Sarah Wente '13 is part of a team that is working to publish an anthology titled A Wizard of Their Age: Essays from the Harry Potter Generation. The project started in the first Harry Potter literature class that Konchar Farr taught.
Summer Scholars Armstrong, Wente and Evan Gaydos '12 plus four editorial team members have been refining their own scholarly essays while preparing 16 essays written by peers from around the country for publication. The essays examine the Harry Potter books from diverse perspectives: theological, mythological, historical, psychological, postmodern, genetic, gendered, literary and even medical.
During a workshop where teams were energetically describing their endeavors, Konchar Farr lauded Gaydos' "mean imitation" of Harry Potter character Luna Lovegood within earshot of Adrian, who promptly cast Gaydos for an on-camera role in the Children' s Hospital show.
Since producing the pilot at Star Studio TV at Children's Hospital in August, St. Kate's volunteers plan to produce monthly programs — with kid-friendly titles such as Travelin' Tara's Globetrotters and Classy Cassy's Cool Kid Quirks — that include both entertainment and education. Naturally, there's a St. Kate's spin: The shows feature female characters, something often missing from child-focused entertainment.
Karen K. Hansen is a writer, photographer and musician who also teaches clarinet.