Promoting collaborative research on ideas central to the pressing issues of our time.

Student Research Initiative

Rethinking Undergraduate Research in the Humanities

The Humanities Institute, with support from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence and Penn State Libraries, are happy to announce a new initiative focused on increasing engagement among undergraduate students with humanities research. We kicked off this initiative with a one-day symposium on October 15, 2021, which included presentations and discussions about current undergraduate-faculty/staff research projects, as well as how to foster greater collaboration between students and faculty in humanities-focused scholarship moving forward. Faculty, staff and graduate students from relevant departments and colleges at both University Park and commonwealth campuses were in attendance.

Lightning Round Descriptions

Group 1 (In-Person): Connections Inside and Outside of the Classroom

Pitch Exploration Lab: Innovation and Research Combining Arts & Sciences

In the media and for those in academe the research lab is often the setting from which scholarship emerges. In many disciplines it is the common context for scholarly activity and a shared concept of environment for the “work” of discovery. In the “hard” sciences a typical lab comprises a real space, real equipment, and real materials with which lab members complete their work. In the “soft” sciences, labs may comprise people and spaces where study participants take part in experiments, create art, or are observed by researchers and their assistants. We wish to put forth a model of an interdisciplinary arts research lab as an innovative—and perhaps partially virtual—space where students at all levels meet and work side-by-side with peers from across campus to brainstorm and solve arts-specific and arts-centric research problems.

  • Bryan E. Nichols, Asst. Professor of Music (PSU UPark)

Dear America: A Twenty-first Century Postcard

This presentation explores student projects for an inaugural Twenty-first Century Theatre class, inspired by community outreach in contemporary Ireland. Developed during the Covid-19 lockdown, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre curated a series of streamed arts projects called Dear Ireland aimed at using creative expression to build a national conversation. The final segment focused on “disenfranchised and marginalized groups,” and asked the question: “What does it feel like to be you, right now, in Ireland?” Responses were filmed as “three-minute postcards” addressed to Ireland, and featured an array of perspectives, from asylum seekers to LGBTQ youth. Renamed “Dear America,” the final project asked students to answer the inciting question for themselves and create a three-minute postcard of their own. The results were overwhelming. The students fully embraced the challenge of articulating an aspect of their identity and what they face in trying to live that identity authentically and freely in our society.

  • Elizabeth Bonjean, Lecturer in Theatre (PSU UPark)

One Little Spark: Leveraging Existing Programs to Fuel Curiosity Beyond the Classroom

What do you tell a student who stays after class to ask insightful questions, constantly digging deeper on ideas presented? How do you encourage a student’s curiosity when the constructed curricular path runs out of track? As educators, we can help identify opportunities for students to personalize their academic journey through experiential learning, including discovering research opportunities.

This presentation is about helping one student with a spark and motivation uncover self-directed research support and how that teamwork yielded shared success. Even without providing a student financial support, educators and advisers can provide mentorship. This student applied for two grants and one conference. She won one award and her presentation is in review. She has shared her experience and encouraged members of her cohort to apply for supportive grants to further their own academic curiosity. She is considering graduate school and an expanded career landscape. A spark turned into a blaze.

  • Kendall Mainzer, Director of Student Engagement, College of Arts & Architecture; Affiliate Instructor of Landscape Architecture (PSU UPark)

The Police and the Constitution: At the Boundaries of Law, Federal Budgets, and Legalized Police Subjective Supremacy

Our research project considered three hypotheses: First, while the Constitution is silent on the police, the Supreme Court has been vociferously specifying the limits and powers of the police, but how? Second, while the police is not a “federal” institution, police departments, the largest of them in fact, receive large amounts of “federal money,” and thus the Federal Government does have great impact on the police; Third, the Federal Government and SCOTUS are partly to blame for the contemporary crisis in policing by the way SCOTUS has granted the police “partial immunity.” We divided the research into three main areas: SCOTUS decisions on policing, Federal Funding of Police Department, The Obama Commission on Policing in the US. Our findings are revealing about the causes of the crisis of police violence that is plaguing the nation.

  • Eduardo Mendieta, Professor of Philosophy (PSU UPark)
  • Merriweather Elizabeth Gordon, Undergraduate student (PSU UPark)
  • Dakota Mikita, Undergraduate student (PSU UPark)
  • Jacob Muir, Undergraduate student (PSU UPark)

Using a Students-as-Partners Framework to Support Teaching and Learning Among an Undergraduate Student-PhD Student-Professor Triad

Research highlights the benefits for faculty and students when undergraduate students are engaged as student partners, observing class periods and providing insight into students’ perspectives on classroom interaction (e.g, Cook-Sather et al., 2014). The three of us—a professor, a PhD student and an undergraduate student—met weekly during the Fall 2020 semester to discuss research articles on student-centered teaching and ways to implement such methods in our German courses. In this presentation we will discuss how our interactions changed over the course of the term. The undergraduate student gained confidence in presenting her viewpoint and came to see herself as an equal partner in the triad. The PhD student similarly gained confidence in her ability as an instructor and researcher. The professor gained valuable insights into her own teaching and classroom interactions, that helped her take students’ perspectives into consideration. Our experience provides an example of how a triad with differing perspectives and experience can create a strong sense of community that positively reinforces common teaching goals.

  • Anna Piotti, Ph.D. student in German (PSU UPark)
  • Elizabeth DeFelice, Undergraduate student (PSU UPark)
  • Carrie Jackson, Professor of German and Linguistics (PSU UPark)

Group 2 (In-Person): Digital Humanities and Archival Research

Connecting the 19th Century and the 21st Century through Digital Humanities

Digital humanities projects provide an experiential learning environment where students apply the critical and analytical skills they learn in humanities classes to long-term public-facing projects. Students have played an important role in my DH project about Civil War soldier newspapers, which collates bibliographic information about over 250 newspapers scattered across more than 65 archives, libraries, and databases and makes available the little-studied, but extensive archive of original poetry from these newspapers. Students have participated in all aspects of the project from compiling bibliographic data about the newspapers and poems, constructing the underlying database, learning how to use mapping and visualization tools, transcribing poetry, and developing digital exhibits in the digital platform Omeka to showcase their own research about soldier newspapers. During our presentation, we will share parts of the digital humanities project and discuss how faculty-student collaborations can transform students’ understanding of the value of the humanities.

  • James Berkey, Assistant Professor of English (PSU Brandywine)
  • Andrew Panzo, Undergraduate student (PSU Brandywine)

Engaging Undergraduates in Translation and Archival Research

Over the last five years, I have guided two students—both German majors—in complex historical research tasks related to my monograph-in-progress about multigenerational responses to forced Jewish migration from Vienna under Nazi occupation. This monograph started out as a translation project of a three-year-long correspondence between an elderly mother left behind in Vienna and her daughter’s family in California. One undergraduate student with near-native German skills helped me translate the weekly letters that crossed the Atlantic between 1939 and 1942. Under my close supervision, a second student conducted detailed historical research in the Quaker archives of the special collections at Bryn Mawr and Haverford College. My goal in engaging these two undergraduates in my own research was to introduce them to authentic, historical and personal German language texts.  In both cases the students made the leap from upper-level culture and literature classes taught at Penn State to reading and translating historical documents.

  • Bettina Brandt, Teaching Professor of German and Jewish Studies (PSU UPark)

Student-Centered Research of a Pandemic… During a Pandemic

My research project is titled “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe.” The project draws on nearly 1,000 flu survivors’ letters and interviews, from across ten European countries, to understand Europeans’ impressions of healthcare and disease at the beginning of Western medicine’s “golden age” and after the destruction of WWI. In order to gather as much information about the collection as possible, I hired a team of students to read the memories and generate blocks of data tags (e.g. “subject location,” “subject occupation,” “healthcare provider,” “symptom” etc.), which I then enter into a searchable database. Students not only gained historical knowledge about the 1918 flu, but they also learned how to conduct primary research, and use digital research and mapping tools. Beyond accomplishing the research, students gave me insights about the letter collection that aided my thinking about the pandemic.

  • John Eicher, Assistant Professor of History (PSU Altoona)

What’s in a Recipe? An Abington College Undergraduate Research Activity Project

The ACURA (Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities) initiative is a unique opportunity for Penn State students at the Abington campus to participate in hands-on, experiential academic research. Since 2016, Dr Marissa Nicosia, Associate Professor of English, offers “What’s in a recipe?”, an ACURA course related to her research on Early Modern Recipes with Christina Riehman-Murphy, the Reference and Instruction Librarian at PSU-Abington and Heather Froehlich, Literary Informatics Librarian at University Park.

With guidance from faculty leaders, students learn paleography through direct engagement with a seventeenth-century manuscript of recipes, then learn to analyze their text using a variety of digital and historical resources. In this talk, we’ll highlight some of our open pedagogical principles to drive the direction of both the project’s and individual students’ research interests and discuss several ways our students from the past several years have developed and implemented their own research projects.

  • Marissa Nicosia, Associate Professor of English (PSU Abington)
  • Christina Riehman-Murphy, Reference and Instruction Librarian (PSU Abington)
  • Heather Froehlich, Literary Informatics Librarian (PSU UPark)

Literary Archaeology in Practice: Archival Adventures with Students

The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition is an ongoing, 48-volume, NEH-funded project, published in Women Writers Online. Emerson (1774-1863) is best known as the brilliant self-educated aunt of American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yet in her own right, she was a scholar and author whose most significant literary accomplishment is a series of unpublished manuscripts she called “Almanacks,” which she kept from c. 1804-1855. Spanning over fifty years and 1,000 pages, these manuscripts comprise spiritual diaries, commonplace books, original compositions, and letters. Over the past several years, after helping establish a transcription of the Almanacks, PSU Altoona students have conducted research for the edition’s annotations by working in historical, literary, philosophical, and theological databases in order to locate the sources of Emerson’s wide-ranging references. Through this work, they gain editorial skills and research experience relevant to an early American woman’s intellectual life and writings.

  • Sandra Petrulionis, Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies (PSU Altoona)
  • Sidra Arshad, Undergraduate student (PSU Altoona)

Group 3 (Virtual): Digital Humanities and Immersive Technologies

Black DH and a Challenge in Document Data Modeling: Anna Julia Cooper’s Responses to the Survey of Negro College Graduates

In the 1930s, Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, educator and foremother of Black feminist thought, responded to a Survey of Negro College Graduates. Cooper’s response to one question about her “racial philosophy” exceeded the limits of the form and was later published as an essay, removed from its original context. In Fall 2020, Alice Rong led undergraduates in PSU Behrend’s Text Encoding class to prepare a digital scholarly edition of the entire document. In preparing the project assignment, Prof. Elisa Beshero-Bondar was guided by Prof. Shirley Moody-Turner, who helped digitize Cooper’s collection at Howard University. The project represents a new approach to modeling documents that enmesh print with handwriting in a back-and-forth dialogue. Our collaboration highlights the importance of digital scholarly editing for Black digital humanities research that involves undergraduates with faculty scholars in making resources legible and findable.

  • Elisa Beshero-Bondar, Professor of Digital Humanities (PSU Behrend)
  • Alice Rong, Undergraduate student (PSU Behrend)
  • Shirley Moody-Turner, Assoc. Professor of English and African-American Studies (PSU UPark)

Finding Value in Undergraduate Research Assistants from Design Majors: Examples from Landscape Architecture

The College of Arts & Architecture’s Strategic Plan aspires to increase student engagement experiences, including research opportunities and financial support for students. However, often undergraduate students of the performing, visual, and design arts lack traditional research training and coursework analogous to the social and life sciences. From Fall 2018 to Summer 2021, I have sought to establish value in hiring landscape architecture majors as undergraduate research assistants (URAs) on funded research projects. My talk will include qualitative feedback from the URAs about how engaging with research has affected the students’ academic path and perceptions about the field of landscape architecture, and potential impacts for the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) program.

  • Stephen Mainzer, Asst. Professor of Landscape Architecture (PSU UPark)

The ubiquity of cameras and the push of many archives provide digitized sources presents a new challenge for many historians: how to keep track of thousands of images such that relevant items can be easily accessed. My undergraduate research assistantships help prepare students who intend to undertake archival research after graduation. I created and explained spreadsheet templates where they could record key metadata: date, sender, recipient, box/folder, and image numbers. Then, the students applied themselves to practicing reading historic handwriting (paleography if we’re being technical), often complicated by abbreviations and phonetic spellings. After reading each document, the students then abstracted it, summarizing key points, tagged it with keywords, and flagged the documents that they thought would be useful for my research. Having practiced these mundane but critical research skills will save them significant frustration when they dive into the archives themselves.

  • Lindsay Keiter, Asst. Professor of History (PSU Altoona)

Creating Transformative Experiences: The Art of Student Engagement and Engaged Scholarship

Our presentation reflects on the journey, outcomes and impacts of a 2-year research study conducted by Penn State University undergraduate students. The study explores the potential benefits of leveraging the arts in higher education to promote student engagement, engaged scholarship, and a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive teaching and learning environment. Four separate teams of undergraduate research assistants from University Park, Commonwealth Campuses, and World Campus conducted video interviews with students, faculty, and staff from Penn State and other universities, and performed secondary research on the application of the arts. The study’s primary impact is discussed – The Virtual Transformational Leadership Development (VTLD) Experience – a virtual learning experience that launches fall 2021 semester in collaboration with TLT and CPA. We discuss how the VTLD Experience uses the study’s research to generate meaningful learning outcomes for students by developing a global mindset, inclusive leadership skills and intercultural competencies.

  • Tom C. Hogan, Professor of Practice in Human Resource Management (PSU UPark)

Event Program

Page 2 of Flyer States: "Schedule of Events: 9:35am-9:45am Welcome in Foster Auditorium, 9:45am-11:00am Lightning Rounds: In these short presentations, Penn State faculty and students will inspire us with descriptions of current undergraduate research projects on the humanities. Group 1: Connections inside and outside of the Classroom. Group 2: Digital Humanities. Group 3: Digital Humanities and Immersive Technologies. 11:00am-11:15am Break. 11:15am-12:15pm Panel Discussion in Foster Auditorium. Join our panelists for a lively conversation about the challenges and opportunities inherent in expanding student engagement in humanities-focused research.
Page 3 of Flyer States: 12:15pm-1:30pm Lunch. 1:45pm-3:00pm Workshop Sessions. 3:00pm-3:15pm Break. 3:15pm-4:45pm Keynote Session in the Mann Assembly Room delivered by Eric Hartman, Executive Director for the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship.

Photos from the Event