Undergraduate Carson Scholars produce an array of research projects

The success of a farmworker labor union, the history of human interaction with a local forest, and the connection between female opera singers and the characters they portray were among the diverse topics studied by Willamette University's 2010 Carson Grant recipients.

Four of the ten undergraduate grant-winners recently presented on campus about their projects, which gave them unique insight into potential career or educational paths while also teaching them skills in how to conduct independent research.

The Carson Undergraduate Research Grants are awarded to sophomores or juniors who propose scholarly, creative or professional projects that fit in the scope of a summer and a budget — each of the scholars earns $3,000 to complete their investigation.

Monique Bourque, director of Student Academic Grants and Awards, says the program provides multiple benefits: practice at grant-writing, the chance to build a relationship with a faculty sponsor and, of course, the research itself.

"One of the distinctive parts of the program is that it is wide open to any topic," she says. "The research can focus on any discipline, and it doesn't even have to connect directly to the student's major."

Named after former College of Liberal Arts Dean Julie Carson, the grant program was created in 1988 thanks to a gift from Bill Long '59, who is a lifetime trustee for Willamette. The first scholars were selected the next year.

From Archaeology to Opera

The recent Carson presentations featured Sydney Gabbard '11, Ben Schreiner '11, Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz '11 and Kelli Maeshiro '11.

Gabbard, a music performance major, explored the divide between female roles in opera and actresses' interpretation and connection to them. She questioned the absence of a dialogue between performers and critics concerning women's views on the characters they play, and whether operas might perpetuate negative portrayals of women.

As an aspiring opera vocalist, Gabbard says her project allowed her to better understand the potential career she is entering.

Copes-Gerbitz, an environmental science and archaeology major, put both of her disciplines to work at Zena Forest, Willamette's outdoor research station. Using a Geographic Information System, or GIS, she compiled a cultural resource inventory of the property and explored the history of human interaction with the space since the 1860s.

Schreiner focused on the paradoxical success of local farmworker union PCUN: Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United. The politics major reviewed a failed PCUN endeavor in order to understand the overall success of the organization — part of his overall goal of encouraging discourse around union revitalization.

Maeshiro's project combined the personal story of her heritage with her career goals in studio art. She traveled to Tokyo, Japan, to immerse herself in the world of her unknown biological mother — and to gain an understanding of the connection between adopted children and birth mothers.

She turned her findings into about 50 mixed-media artworks, 35 of which are currently on display in the Art Building.

"My goal was to create a relationship, but it already existed," she says. "Through art, I found the means to communicate those things that are too difficult to find words for."

Learn More

Five more recent Carson Grant-winners will present their work Thursday, Nov. 11, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the Hatfield Room of Hatfield Library. Everyone from the Willamette community is invited to attend.

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