Fellowship Offers Underclassmen More Chances For Research

Julie French

By Julie FrenchThe Daily Northwestern

Most students wait until their junior year to start thinking about researching for their thesis. A new program in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences aims to change that mindset a few students at a time.

This year, Weinberg has awarded five $4,000 Davee Summer Fellowships to “under-represented” freshmen and sophomores in the humanities and social sciences.

The funds are provided by the Davee Foundation of Chicago, and unlike other research grants, such as the Summer Research Opportunity Program, the money is available exclusively to Northwestern students.

“The idea is to target people earlier before they would be eligible for an undergraduate research grant,” said psychology lecturer Joan Linsenmeier, the Davee Fellowship Coordinator. “The hope is that we’ll nurture their beginning interest in doing research so that they will be more competitive for these opportunities later.”

The program also uses a wide definition for the term “under-represented,” so that it includes not only minority students but also groups such as first-generation college students, Linsenmeier said.

Students are identified by professors as potential candidates for the fellowship.

Weinberg junior Almita Miranda was one of the students selected last year, in the program’s inaugural year. She spent the summer interviewing “mixed-status” Mexican-American families, in which one parent of American-born children is undocumented.

“This was my first ethnographic work and one that really helped me think more about a future in the field of anthropology,” Miranda said.

Miranda entered NU on the pre-med track, but she said she struggled to keep up. She said being identified for this program by anthropology lecturer Monica Russel y Rodriguez made her more aware of possibilities outside of medicine.

“I was very lucky to have a professor so involved in what I was doing,” she said. “I’m sure there aren’t a lot of undergraduates who have that experience, unless they’re working on a thesis.”

Russel y Rodriguez met weekly with Miranda to assess her progress, and urged Miranda to try several approaches to her research.

“It gave her the opportunity to do some research on her own and try ethnography,” Russel y Rodriguez said. “It’s a skill you have to learn.”

Weinberg freshman Aisha Smith, one of this year’s recipients, will be researching the psychology behind racial self-stereotyping.

“This will be the first major research experience I’ve ever done,” she said. “I will walk away with data I can continue looking into for some time. It will be interesting to have actual concrete data to back up some of the ideas that I have.”

Last year, the funding came in the middle of the year, leaving administrators scrambling to distribute the money, said Mary Finn, Weinberg’s associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs. As a result, a few upperclassmen were also admitted into the program.

Because part of the purpose of the fellowship is to get more students into the graduate school pipeline, getting younger students was crucial, Finn said.

“We’ve realized we have to move farther back in the curriculum than Spring Quarter junior year,” she said.

This year’s recipients are all freshmen and sophomores.

The program worked for Miranda, who has already presented her work in a graduate-level conference and is seriously considering graduate school.

“There are a lot of grant (committees) who choose from the best in the pool, but the Davee looked for potential and really offered students like me an opportunity,” she said.

Reach Julie French at [email protected]