Undergraduate research helps expand boundaries of learning

Author: Arts and Letters


Can dance and other creative activity help heal the emotional scars of Rwandan orphans?

How does the hip hop music of Jeff Stephens impact Notre Dame?

What does the current, younger generation of Egyptian women think about education, family roles and birth control? Are their perceptions changing?

Some 60 Notre Dame undergraduate students spent their Christmas vacations, spring breaks or summers delving into these and other topics through research projects that took them around the world to seek the answers.

Armed with a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity and grants from the College of Arts and Letters’ Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), students funded for this year’s program represent a cross-section of disciplines. Winning proposals came from the departments of political science, American studies, anthropology, art, English, theology, history, music, economics, Spanish and the Program of Liberal Studies.

Created in 1993 by the college’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, UROP offers two kinds of financial support to undergraduates for independent research and creative projects: Research and materials grants, awarded throughout the academic year, provide up to $1,500 for materials, supplies, travel and other needs. Summer fellowships, up to $3,600 for three months, allow students to concentrate on projects without having to hold summer jobs.

UROP experiences expose undergraduates to the entire process of conducting research – from writing the proposal and preparing a budget, to conducting the research and summarizing the findings in a written report or presentation. Any Arts and Letters undergraduate who is in good academic standing can apply, and neither a specific grade point average nor extensive research experience in the chosen field is required, making the awards accessible to a broad group of students.

Some of this year’s research projects have explored:

  • Identity and healing through the arts among children of Rwanda. Senior Danice Brown, an anthropology and music major, studied the role of creative ventures within the structure of an orphanage in Gitarama, Rwanda, at a home for abandoned or orphaned girls. Her findings will serve as the basis for her senior thesis, and Brown hopes to have her findings published.
  • Women’s perceptions of social structures in Egypt and how they have changed in recent years. In “Surveying Gender Issues across Generations,” senior English and Spanish major Laura Hamman, together with five other students, spent two weeks in Cairo interviewing a range of Egyptian women about their perceptions of westernization on their culture. The research project examined the impact of modernization on the social and political climate in Egypt and how those changes have directly affected women in that society.
  • Art and artifact on tombstones of poets in Rome and Naples – both Italian and those of expatriates. Having been impressed by the beauty of Italian cemeteries while studying abroad, recent PLS graduate Mary Elizabeth Steffan embarked on a project titled “A Poetic Pilgrimage: Investigating the Great Books’ Tombstones,” in which she examined the tombstones of Dante, Virgil, Keats and Shelley and others to find out _how_they were buried and if their physical memorials defined their identities, their works and their memory.

More information about the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, including application deadlines, can be found at: www.nd.edu/~isla .

Originally published by Susan Guibert at newsinfo.nd.edu on August 22, 2006.