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Spotlight on Student Scholarship

04/10/2013

How important is research at MCLA? We celebrate it! Each April, the College devotes an entire day to undergraduate scholarship and creative activity in all fields of study as MCLA's Annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) provides a campus-wide salute to the talent and dedication of our students.  

On Thursday, April 18, hundreds will present their research as a poster, an oral presentation or a performance - on everything from the cultural significance of Japanese fashion to local amphibians, surface acoustic waves, medieval texts and learning in Appalachia - at the 11th Annual URC.

Part of the College's Undergraduate Research Program, the URC is an ideal forum for students to demonstrate the value of active participation in a liberal arts education. They work with a faculty sponsor to produce outstanding academic research, which they present to an audience of their peers, faculty and staff, and members of the community. 

"The whole point of doing research is to show it off and educate other people," said Olivia Bolner '13 of North Adams, Mass.

As part of her research, the psychology major interviewed students who were a part of a class in which someone disclosed information about their mental health. She wanted to find out how they felt about hearing such a disclosure.

"The URC allows the school to become aware of current research, and people can learn a lot about a sensitive and highly occurring topic," Bolner explained.

Fascinated by history and the way in which people around the world understand their pasts, Julia Ashton '13 of Leominster, Mass., envisions a career working for a museum where she might engage with the public on their interpretations of history. To that end, at this year's URC she will present her research on the politics of archaeology in Israel.

"Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, there has been intense conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over shared archaeological space, which underscores a struggle over their definitions of national identity," Ashton explained. "Through my research, I look at how - within Israel and Palestine - Muslims, Jews and Christians have all tried to use archaeology to promote their cultural history as being the most valuable."

In addition, Catherine Obrzut '14 of Ware, Mass., who plans to attend graduate school to study library science, researched John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost and his masque Comus, to compare the texts and interpret them with information about Milton's life and time.

And Catt Chaput '13 of Dracut, Mass., will present two research projects, both of which are related to her career goals in progressive public policy - about the shortcomings of tourism as an economic stimulus and the social detriments it can cause, and "The (Uphill) Pathway to Zero Waste," where she will discuss how everything we consume might be reused or recycled.

"I've always wanted to participate in the URC, even when I was a freshman," Obrzut said. "I was so impressed by everyone's hard work that they put into their projects.

"Presenting in the URC will help me learn how to talk through my research, a skill that everyone should have," she continued. "It is one thing to write a research paper, but being able to sum up the most important points and clearly express one's research is a vital skill, both in school and in a career."

Many of our undergraduates participate in this conference multiple times. Last year, Ashton presented a paper about how Western nations helped to create the stereotype of Egypt being a mysterious, ancient land, and how Egyptians in the 21st century continue to perpetuate this stereotype through their tourism industry.

"I had a wonderful time. The URC provides great opportunities to learn about the exciting research being done by MCLA students and to have others engage you about your own research," Ashton said. "You learn so much by both attending presentations and presenting yourself at the conference."

The URC will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Venable Gym. It is free and open to the public. For more information on locations and the complete schedule, go to www.mcla.edu/urc.