August 13, 2008

Williams College Colloquium Offers Undergraduates Unique Research Opportunities


Contact: Jo Procter, Williams College News Director, +1-413-597- 4279, [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Aug. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A unique Research Colloquium at Williams College offers undergraduates a two- year immersion in the life of a research scholar as either a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow (MMUF) or Williams College Undergraduate Research Fellow (WCURF).

"Mellon Mays is a national program and WCURF is the college's flagship program to honor its diversity commitment," said Stewart Burns, acting coordinator of Special Academic Programs. These programs are designed to reduce a "dearth of faculty from underrepresented groups in the nation's colleges," he said.

Each fellowship is a two-year distinction awarded to 10 Williams undergraduates. Fellows receive stipends to conduct research during the summer before their junior and senior years, collaborating with faculty mentors to gain experience in advanced research and prepare for graduate school.

Cristina Florea, '10, of Bucharest, Romania, Susan Tan, '10, of Concord, Mass., and Stefan Elrington, '09, of Kingston, Jamaica, shared their thoughts about this summer's work. Elrington and Florea are Williams College Undergraduate Research Fellows and Tan is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow.

Florea is majoring in anthropology and history. Her mentor is Antonia Foias, associate professor of anthropology and sociology.

WCURF presented her with a rare academic opportunity, Florea said. "I've always wanted to be a professor and that goes back to the first grade," she said. "I used to line up all my dolls and teach them. That was a learning strategy for me."

Her study of Romanian gypsies now living in New York City, a demographic cloaked with mystery, led her to the city several times for first-hand observations of the gypsies' way of life and their ability to acclimate to a large, crowded American city.

The individuals she met eventually shared a concern for her, based on their own beliefs and expectations, she said, "including worrying about how I would find a husband since I am already 21- years-old."

Elrington, who is working with physics professor Daniel Aalberts, said, "The summer colloquium has been terrific. I've been interested in research since I was a freshman and Prof. Aalberts is giving me a tremendous amount of support and I feel real accountability for the research."

Elrington's project focuses on terahertz spectroscopy. The work requires a dedicated approach that benefits from the colloquium's structure, he said.

"They teach you a lot about time management and about how to fully utilize college resources," Elrington said.

Tan's majors are English and history. Her mentor, English professor Robert Bell, is an excellent advisor, she said.

Tan's work examines the representations of race in theatrical and cinematic versions of the William Shakespeare work "Othello.""What strikes me is how the play changes when a white man plays the part of 'Othello'," she said.

The workload and fellowship expectations provide a strong graduate school foundation, Florea, Tan, and Elrington agreed. "This program is geared to people who want to pursue Ph.D.s and I think this will help with the transition to graduate school," Tan said.

"The students become part of a talented, highly motivated cohort," said Bell. "All are considering graduate studies and teaching careers. The college has really organized and refined this program. I've never seen a better thought out, well-run program."

The Mellon Mays and Williams College fellowships offer parallel curriculums. The two-year time frame is an asset, Bell said. "With the long time line, [Tan] is able to explore other elements of the subject and focus her inquiry," Bell said. "It's a great opportunity for me to meet with a gifted student and a wonderful way to encourage students to consider the life of the mind."

The fellowship curriculums require student dedication, said Robert A. Blay, assistant for Special Academic Programs. The fellows are performing exceptionally well, he said. "They work together, they bounce ideas, they discuss their papers," he said. "At the end, these students will know more, they are the experts on their topic."

The level of work accomplished during the program is outstanding and approaches or meets graduate school standards, Blay said. It boasts more than a 95 percent acceptance rate by graduate schools including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton, he said.

The Mellon Mays fellowship has been part of the Williams campus since 1989, while the WCURF program launched in 1999. The fellowships offer superior student opportunities, said Williams psychology professor Steven Fein, a student mentor for several years.

"These are excellent programs for several reasons," he said. "First, they provide a terrific incentive to encourage students that are traditionally underrepresented in academia to think about doing original research and becoming active scholars who have the potential to make real contributions to the fields in which they are interested."

2008 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows, 2008 Summer Research Topic, Faculty Mentors, Majors, and Undergraduates' Hometowns

Patricia Cho, "The Acquisition of Chinese Fricatives," advised by Cecilia Chang (associate professor of Chinese), Asian studies, Corona, Calif.

Anthony Coleman, "Making a Difference: How Contemporary Multiculturalism Gets It Wrong," advised by Monique Deveaux (associate professor of political science), political science, Germantown, Tenn.

Lauren Hobby, "Playing with Other: A Look at the Negotiation of Racial Identity in ZZ Packer's Fiction," advised by Gail Newman (Harold J. Henry Professor of German), American studies and art history, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Majida Kargbo, "Migrating (Hetero) sexualities," advised by Sara Dubow (visiting assistant professor of history), English and history, Westchester, Calif.

Susan Tan, "'I am not what I am': Blackface and Performance in Laurence Olivier's Othello," advised by Robert Bell (Frederick Latimer Wells Professor of English), English and history, Concord, Mass.

Williams College Undergraduate Research Fellows

Kevin Delucio, "The (Not So) Self-Made Man: The Psychological Effects Behind Media Constructions of Masculinity," advised by Steven Fein (professor of psychology), psychology, Hemet, Calif.

Yanie Fecu, "Diglossia and Musical Discourse in Haitian Hymnody," advised by Anthony Sheppard (professor of music), comparative literature and music, Jersey City, N.J.

Cristina Florea, "Performing Life: The Gypsy Actors on Your Stage," advised by Antonia Foias (chair and associate professor of anthropology/sociology), anthropology and history, Bucharest, Romania

Burcu Gurcay, "The Priority Heuristic Under Investigation: Is It Really a Better Heuristic?" advised by Kris Kirby (professor of psychology), psychology, Istanbul, Turkey

Juanita Monsalve, "Does Race Even Matter: A Clue to Race and Racism Today," advised by Maria Elena Cepeda (assistant professor in Latina/o studies), philosophy and German, Orlando, Fla.

Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college's 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students' educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student's financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted. To visit the college on the Internet: http:/ /

Media contact: Jo Procter, Williams College News Director; tele:(413) 597-4279; email: [email protected]

SOURCE Williams College

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