Identity, climate change and other topics head Carson talks

by Jennifer Johnson,

Undergraduates present findings from Carson Undergraduate Research Grants.

As an adolescent raised in Hawaii, Carol Li ’17 didn’t believe that talking about race was important.

She didn’t realize she wanted to uphold the same notion of Hawaii the rest of the world did — a harmonious, multicultural paradise famous for its glorious beaches, food and mild weather. But when she enrolled at Willamette, she began to develop a more critical perspective.

“Yes, palm trees and beaches exist in Hawaii,” she says, “but what else does?”

So, after spending a year reflecting on her childhood experiences and knowing she wanted to explore her home more objectively, she applied for a Carson Undergraduate Research Grant. Li’s analysis — how constructed images of Hawaii have complicated discourse to the point of making invisible various issues such as social stratification, commodification of culture and colonialism — is one of five talks by grant recipients scheduled for Wednesday at the University Center.  

Li says, “This project became an outlet for me to look into not only how I was influenced (by the perception of Hawaii as a paradise) growing up, but how a lot of people in Hawaii are influenced by this idea of ‘aloha,’ the unconditional love and warmth toward others.”

Each year, Willamette offers 10 students up to $3,000 each through Carson grants to engage in a scholarly, creative or professional research project of their choice. On Wednesday, five of this year’s grant recipients will present on a wide range of topics, including climate change and education. The rest will give talks Nov. 10.  

Gaining confidence and experience

Emma Giron ’18 investigated the impact of Seattle’s minimum wage increase on the cost of living. Like other first-time grant recipients, she gained experience learning how to draft proposals, interview subjects, make more efficient use of her time and spend several months dedicated to one project.

She also developed confidence to apply for bigger grants and fellowships. She’s considering a fellowship through the American Institute for Economic Research, which requires a formal essay.

“I thought my project would be a great piece to submit and let me stand out from the rest of the applicants,” she says.

Monique Bourque, director of health professions advising and student academic grants and awards, encourages campus community members to attend the presentations. She says it also encourages students to consider applying for internal grants themselves.

Giron and Li urge students to apply for the Carson grants even if their concepts are not quite fully formed. They say that professors will help students develop their ideas, which can change throughout the research process.

Interested students can also attend info sessions to ask grant recipients about their experience. The next info session will be held Oct. 25 from 6–7 p.m. in Ford 204.

Other research opportunities

Carson grants aren’t the only research-based scholarships available to Willamette students.

Five College Colloquium Student Research Grants, modeled after the Carson grants, are available to first-year students each year.

Bourque says recipients can take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on and ask bigger questions, and use the skills they learn during the mentored process to apply for other grants and scholarships later. The deadline for applicants is Feb. 18.

Students can propose feasible projects on any topic as long as it connects to the colloquium course and is sponsored by their colloquium professor.

One of this year’s recipients, Michael Chergosky ’19, whose colloquium explored the influence of Buddhism on contemporary arts and artists like composer John Cage, has composed a piece of music for an ensemble of bull kelp and piano. He will perform his work at Rogers Rehearsal Hall on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Willamette also offers a Presidential Scholarship that provides a full semester's tuition waiver applied to a student's senior year or a $5,000 graduate fellowship, and $2,500 for research expenses for the summer preceding the student's senior year.