Carson Scholars share research at public forum

by Lyra Kuhn,

When the gong sounded at 4:30 a.m., Luther Caulkins '16 crawled out of bed, threw on his robe and rushed to the main hall of the Chinese monastery. 

It was time to meditate.

Sitting on a mat, Caulkins tried to focus on his breath and clear his mind. He found that the morning chants and meditation provided a calm start to the day.  

“The goal of meditation, and chanting to a degree, is mindfulness,” Caulkins says. “It’s the quality of being fully aware of one’s experience in the moment of that experience. It develops awareness and prevents one from dampening experience by being lost in thought.” 

Caulkins’ curiosity about meditation made him want to visit to China — and a Carson Undergraduate Research Grant from Willamette made the trip possible. Established in 1989 and open to juniors and sophomores, the Carson program provides students grants of about $3,000 to study scholarly, professional or creative endeavors over the course of a summer.

Global Investigations

To research Buddhist education, Caulkins studied and practiced at the Hangzhou Buddhist Academy, Jiangxi Buddhist Academy and Donglin temple in Northwest China. After the morning chants and group meditation, visitors and monks alike swept the grounds and ate rice porridge for breakfast. Caulkins then attended classes, interviewed people and observed daily routines and practices.  

“One of the things I took away personally from being in China was coming face-to-face with the fact that the majority of the world doesn't experience the 21st century the same way that we do,” Caulkins says. “We're all vaguely aware of our privileged position in relation to the rest of the world’s population, but experiencing that firsthand helps put that into perspective.” 

Back at Willamette, Caulkins and many of this year's 13 Carson Grant recipients presented their findings to the campus and their peers in two November sessions. Their wide-ranging research explored diverse subjects such as communicating science through poetry, Black and Jewish identity in New York, child soldiers in Myanmar, and the impact of the built environment on obesity. 

“One of my favorite things about the grant program was that it was so self-directed. I got to choose my topic, my research questions and my participants,” says Naomi Morgan ’16, an anthropology major who interviewed midwives, public health nurses, and patients for her project on the the medicalization of the birthing process. 

“I loved being able to study something that I am passionate about, and I met many wonderful women who really inspired me.” 

Monique Bourque, Willamette’s director of Student Academic Grants and Awards, says the Carson grants aim to help students tackle a project they find exciting or fulfilling. Noting that many grant recipients use the results of their research to help launch careers after graduation, she says, “The program helps students reflect on what’s most important for them and plan for the future.” 

2015 Carson Scholars

The 2015 Carson scholars were: Luther Caulkins ’16 (politics); Caroline Fowler ’17 (exercise science); Elena Hinkle ’16 (anthropology); Edna Htet ’16 (politics); Maya Kaup ’17 (biology); Hania Marian '17 (anthropology); Naomi Morgan ’16 (anthropology); Taylor Saunders '17 (environmental science); Lark Smith ’16 (English); Hailee Vandiver '17 (politics); Margaret Woodcock ’16 (history); George Zenkler '16 (history); and Evann Zuckerman ’16 (English: creative writing).

The next deadline for Carson Grant proposals is Feb. 15. Learn more on the Student Academic Grants and Awards website.