Academic centers look to student research

As the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) and John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities (HCAH) have become increasingly important funding sources for independent student projects and research, now they are exploring new ways to support and enhance experiences in the classroom.

In the past few years, both the CPGC and HCAH have increased in profile and gained new sources of funding, allowing them to grow and reshape their programs.

While the number of applications for their summer internship program continues to increase, the CPGC doesn’t plan on expanding it significantly in the future. Instead, they are shifting focus from their summer internship program, which will support 65 students this summer, to independent student research and faculty support. “We are definitely seeing growth in the area of student research” said Executive Director Parker Snowe ’79, pointing to the CPGC’s $15,000 annual student research budget, which was quickly used up by February.

The center is also exploring new ways to incorporate faculty into its programs. For example, the CPGC’s newest China internship in Xi’an was created through contacts made by Professor of Asian Studies Shizhe Huang. And after Visiting Professor Biswajit Banerjee took his economics class to Brussels and Frankfurt to study the European debt crisis, a project funded jointly by the Provost’s Office and CPGC, a number of faculty have pitched proposals for overseas study tours. This summer, Associate Professor of Independent College Programs Kaye Edwards is leading a delegation to Nicaragua to study public health.

Prof. Biswajit Banerjee's economics class at the European Central Bank. This summer, Kaye Edwards will guide a study tour in Nicaragua.

 

Previously a source of funding for one-time projects, the Hurford Center is moving to support longer-term endeavors and new academic experiments. In addition to the ten internships it offers every summer, the Center has created two summer research projects, with the purpose of giving thesis support to students in the humanities “who might not normally have it..at the College,” said assistant director James Weissinger, “with the aim of starting a conversation of a broader college-wide research fund for students.

They’re also reshaping elements of the internship program after the CPGC. Although the number of internships remains the same, the HCAH has adjusted how funding is allocated to account for different living costs for students doing internships in the city.

The Hurford Center was renamed in December to reflect the broader tasks taken on in the last two years, including management of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and a three-year artist residency grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation. This new injection of money will help the Center support faculty from across the three academic divisions in curriculum-based artist residencies, coordinated with parallel grants at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore.

“Last year a student came to [the Hurford Center] with a great project but it required travel abroad to do thesis research, and we realized that there was kind of this disjuncture in terms of how the College broadly funds theses,” said assistant director James Weissinger ’06. “If it’s written on our front doors that every student writes a thesis…then every student should get support for that.”

Although every Haverford student writes a senior thesis, at many institutions, the thesis is optional. Some colleges only require a thesis for certain majors or Honors students. The ‘Academics’ homepage of the College website gives a prominent place to “The Academic Capstone: The Senior Thesis,” framing it as the culmination of a Haverford education.

“Some of us have never felt that the thesis is a proper thing for all majors,” said professor of History Linda Gerstein. “For some students it’s not a good experience – they’re happy enough writing term papers or doing research for a course.”

According to Gerstein, unlike majors in the natural sciences, where student research projects and a thesis have long been the norm, it wasn’t until recently that the thesis became a requirement for students across the History Department.

“I have been at Haverford for over 35 years, and at least chemistry, almost all our majors have always done senior research and written theses,” said professor of Chemistry Terry Newirth, who is retiring this year.

Gerstein believes that a discourse of student research has pushed the senior thesis as a selling point for the institution. “Now our Admissions Office is using it as a draw, the high quality of student senior research – but the fact is, if you go anywhere you can do this,” Gerstein said. “I think we’re joining a bandwagon.”

In addition to the CPGC and HCAH, students can seek funding through the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC), the Career Development Office (CDO) and individual academic departments.

If there is any perceived inequality between the humanities and the natural sciences, this may be due to a longer history of regular student research, and funding for it, in the natural sciences. Robert Scarrow, professor of Chemistry and KINSC director, explains that funding can differ across different departments, often depending on what areas of research are favored by government agencies like the National Institute of Health and external sources like the National Science Foundation.

“I think it’s a combination of the opportunities available to the departments and how much it’s a part of the culture within the department to go after those grants, and other funding opportunities that support student summer research,” said Scarrow.

Like the other two academic centers, the KINSC is funded by a combination of endowments, but also external grants brought in by individual members of the faculty, and funding partnerships with organizations like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Mellon Foundation. Scarrow says for the most part, the amount and sources of funding the KINSC receives has remained stable.

But across the College’s academic centers and departments, there is no centralized source for students to view and apply to internship and funding opportunities.

“We don’t have a centralized system, so students have to have…initiative and talk to faculty members about [research opportunities],” Scarrow said. “A student that contacts them earlier in the year is more likely to get it.”

In hopes of streamlining the process, Weissinger has created www.haverford.edu/studentresearch as a “one-stop shop” for funding. Although the site is just an initial version of the final product, Weissinger hopes to have constructed a more complete resource after consulting the students, faculty and staff involved with these grants. For one, he says creating a “common application” for different grants and internships would reduce the number of applications students fill out.

“I think if..the thesis experience is going to be the defining experience of a Haverford education, it shouldn’t be something..that’s supported in an ad hoc manner by a bunch of small centers on campus,” Weissinger said. “It’s all [the Hurford Center] can afford at this moment to support [two student research fellowships], but we hope it’ll encourage students to start a campus conversation about the next steps for broader funding.”

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