Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

College of Liberal Arts News

Undergraduate Carson Scholars present an array of scholarly research projects


Julie Carson, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, stands with her husband Guy Whitehead and recent Carson Scholars after a presentation Nov. 10.Julie Carson, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, stands with her husband Guy Whitehead and recent Carson Scholars after a presentation Nov. 10.

Stephanie Jones ’12 knows she wants to become a math teacher when she graduates.

That’s why she spent her summer questioning 20 area high school teachers about how best to engage and encourage students.

“Building relationships has a lot to do with teaching math,” Jones says about what she learned. “Never, ever let students give up on themselves and never give up on your students.”

Jones was one of six recent Carson Grant recipients who shared findings of their research projects in the Hatfield Library Nov. 10. On average, 10 or more grants of up to $3,000 are available each year and are awarded to sophomores and juniors who undertake scholarly, creative or professional projects during the summer.

The latest Carson presentations featured Sarah Worthing ’12, Elizabeth Calixtro ’13, Adam Lozier ’12, Rachael Mayer ’12, Jake Hagood ’12 and Jones.

From Stalin to art

In her project, Worthing examined the historical memory of Joseph Stalin among Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and Russians. She found that despite the horrors committed by Stalin, many post-Soviet populations remember the dictator in positive terms.

Calixtro studied variables within the Latino population that may affect domestic violence reporting, while Lozier explored ways in which Neoclassical economic theory guides opinions about immigration and agriculture work in America.

Mayer used her grant to study how Māori weaving connects artists to their ancestors and the community, and Hagood explored the role of universities in curtailing homophobia.

Jones spent her summer interviewing high school math teachers about their professions – learning not only why they teach but what lessons they’ve learned from their students.

“This grant gave me an opportunity to do something I wouldn’t have had the ability to do in a class here,” she says. “It really enhanced what I’ve learned at Willamette.”

Learn more

Monique Bourque, director of Student Academic Grants and Awards, says the Carson Scholars program offers many benefits to undergraduates.

Most notably, it gives students experience with grant writing and research – which helps them prepare for graduate school and the job market. It also enables students to study topics that interest them, even if the subjects are not directly tied to their majors.

“Through the program, students can explore areas that don’t fit within their curriculum,” she says. “It can help them confirm they’re in the right direction or help them find a new direction.”

Named after former College of Liberal Arts Dean Julie Carson, the grant program was created in 1988 through a gift from Bill Long ’59, a lifetime trustee for Willamette. The first scholars were chosen the following year.

Carson, who regularly attends the campus presentations, says she hopes the program gives students an incentive to pursue their passions.

“I want them to develop confidence in their own ideas and intuitions,” she says. “You need to have confidence when you’re young. If you do, you’ll have it for the rest of your life.”

The next deadline for Carson Grant proposals is Feb. 14. Learn more on the Student Academic Grants and Awards website.

Laura Curtis '13 sings of heartbreak, pride in new album, "Loving a Ghost"

Laura Curtis '13Laura Curtis '13

Sample music

When something happens in her life, Laura Curtis ’13 reaches for her guitar.

She sings about heartbreak, pride and the need to prove herself, about experiences real and imagined, personal and profound.

For this Willamette student, song writing is both a creative outlet and an emotional release.

“I write about things everyone goes through, but not everyone writes about,” she says. “When people hear my songs, they make them into their own stories. Music is about communication between people.”

Curtis recorded 12 songs on her new album, “Loving a Ghost,” produced by Brad Tisdel, Sisters singer/songwriter and executive director of the Sisters Folk Festival. Released earlier this year, Curtis’ album is as personal as a diary and as limitless as her imagination, with lyrics that give insight into a folk musician who’s made a new life for herself at Willamette University.

“I thought I’d come here for one year, then I’d transfer,” Curtis says. “But once I got here, I ended up loving it. My classes were engaging and eye opening. They were a great challenge, and I enjoyed rising to the occasion.”

Musical roots

A native of Sisters, Curtis began writing songs as a sophomore in high school. Her first lyrics weren’t eloquent, Curtis says, but they affirmed she was on the right path.

“It’s definitely a big part of my identity,” she says about her music. “It’s not just a hobby. It’s not just something I do for fun. It’s really shaped me.”

Curtis has been influenced by many sources, from the Sisters Folk Festival to musician Patty Griffin. Even at Willamette, Curtis says her writing has improved because of the courses she’s taken.

“I’ve noticed a new maturity in the way I write my lyrics,” she says.

Bill Duvall, E. Jerry Whipple professor of history, has listened to Curtis’ music and says he’s impressed by her talent.

“It’s mature beyond her age, dealing with issues of love and hurt that are very intense and passionate,” he says, adding he’s confident she’ll reach whatever goals she sets for herself. “She will be successful as a human being, just by the very nature of the person she is. Whatever she touches will come out just right.”

David Gutterman, associate professor of the Politics Department, agrees, saying Curtis quietly pursues her lofty ambitions with remarkable determination.

“There are songs on this album that are harrowing," he says, adding that her voice and guitar complement one another beautifully. "I am eagerly looking forward to hearing her next album.”

Tisdel, too, shares this sentiment. He’s known Curtis for about eight years, and during that time, he says she has evolved into a thoughtful and kind person with an amazing gift.

“Her poetry and delivery is beautiful,” he says. “It has an intensity that asks the listener to pay attention.”

Balancing act

While music is a big part of her life, it has taken a back seat to her studies. A politics major, Curtis devotes her time to giving campus tours, working as director of the Collegiate Readership Program through the Associated Students of Willamette University and serving as a leader during Opening Days – a summer orientation program offered to new students.

“When I was a freshman, I was so scared. I needed Opening Days to become acclimated here,” Curtis says. “It’s a really valuable program.”

Curtis is maintaining a 3.8 grade point average and is a Merit Scholar. She recently received the Mary Stewart Rogers Scholarship, which is awarded to juniors who demonstrate dedication, compassion and self-discipline. She has also participated in the Liberal Arts Research Collaborative, a competitive research project guided by faculty advisors each summer.

Still, what Curtis has accomplished pales in comparison to what she has planned. She is studying in Ireland next semester. She wants to record another album, and she’s committed to continuing her music career in Austin, Texas after she graduates. Law school, she says, may also be on the horizon. 

“No matter where I end up, I know that both my musical experiences and the academic foundation I have built at Willamette will be what gives me the ability to succeed,” she says. “Whether I end up going into politics, pursuing a career in music or doing something completely different, music will always be a part of my life.”