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This Is About Scholarship

(and not about bringing your professor coffee)

Every year Smith students get to show off—giving a one-day glimpse into an impressive range of research projects and unique scholarship that takes shape over the academic year. The culmination of the shared work between the next generation of biologists, dancers and sociologists and their professors was on display in April at Smith's Celebrating Collaborations: Students and Faculty Working Together.

This year, the scholarly collaborative work garnering so much attention involved some 250 students and 100 Smith professors. Their presentations spanned the breadth of the curricula—the arts, history, social sciences, language studies, education, science and engineering. For some, the work began as a research idea in the science lab. For others, the projects were honors theses or independent study evolving from an interest piqued by a year spent abroad, an internship or a class.

Carina Ahuja '12 (middle) with Samantha Hinds '12 worked with Peter de Villiers, Sophia and Austin Smith Professor of Psychology. Photo by Judith Roberge.

Among those on hand to discuss their work at the event were first-year students Carina Ahuja and Samantha Hinds. They both said they were surprised to be able to immerse themselves in scientific investigation almost as soon as they set foot on campus. They had teamed up with two renowned psychology professors who are studying whether storytelling can increase literacy among high-risk preschool children.

"We had no idea we would be able to work on a research project this significant in our first year," says Ahuja.

"I thought we would be bringing the professor coffee, or something, and not actually doing data analysis right away," notes Hinds of Syracuse, New York.

Ahuja and Hinds are participants in the AEMES (Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering and Sciences) program. It matches students in their first two years at Smith with a faculty member and an upper-level peer to answer questions about coursework and mentor them about their academic decisions. They have been conducting research with Peter de Villiers, Sophia and Austin Smith Professor of Psychology, and Jill de Villiers, professor of philosophy and Sophia and Austin Smith Professor of Psychology. The research is part of a National Institutes of Health program grant being carried out in Houston and Tallahassee, Florida, by a consortium of universities. Smith is responsible for studying several aspects of the data continuing into 2010.

Seniors Erin Molloy and Alyssa Pluss said they wanted to investigate cultural feminism in the wider context of women's history after taking classes in the study of women and gender program. They used the Sophia Smith Collection extensively, where they uncovered significant materials on women activists and, much to their surprise, female musicians of the 1970s. Molloy, who had a double major in history and the study of women and gender, focused on filmmaker and photographer Joan E. Biren. Pluss researched Olivia Records, the first women's music label, which eventually evolved from a grassroots label to a travel company and cruise line. They collaborated with Susan Van Dyne, professor of the study of women and gender, and Nancy Whittier, sociology professor.

Collaborations Photo Gallery

View a photo gallery of Collaborations 2009, including five featured projects.

As their research delved deep, both students grew familiar with the richness of the archives. "The collection is huge, and its resources are available to anyone who wants to do the research," says Molloy.

"In fact," adds Pluss, who also majored in the study of women and gender, "there is so much here, you can't get to it all."

American studies and dance major Lila Dodge 09 danced her way across campus for her honors thesis project, joined by three dancers who took the physical material of their immediate environment as the cues for the site-specific dance piece Dodge choreographed. Watch a video of the performance.

For her presentation, American studies and dance major Lila Dodge '09 danced her way across campus—literally—while demonstrating the subject of her honors thesis project: site-specific dance. Her research produced both a final paper chronicling the evolution of site-specific dance performances and an original dance, titled "Ply and Grain," performed by four dancers—Meleta Buckstaff '09, Christa Whitney '09, Abby Wilkins '10 and Dodge.

Explaining her choreography, Dodge says the live performance reflects the discovery of the dancers as they compare "being 'in place' with travel through and between places, and investigates the stream of sundry environmental textures that underpin both experiences." The 60-minute dance performance began at the reference desk of Neilson Library, then progressed outside and across campus.

Sliding across edifices and springing over sidewalks, the dancers followed a route that led to a street in downtown Northampton where the dance came to a conclusion before surprised onlookers.

Her thesis advisers were dance professors Susan Waltner and Rodger Blum, who also mentored Dodge this spring as she applied for a post-graduation fellowship for further study in Africa. Not long after her Celebrating Collaborations performance, Dodge was notified that she was a recipient of a Fulbright fellowship. She will spend next year researching the traditions and innovations of contemporary African dance in Burkina Faso in West Africa.

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