May 4, 2011

Gearing up for summer research

Every summer, the Ronald E. McNair Program provides funding for first-generation college students and underrepresented groups to do research projects on a topic of their choice. A minimum of 10 students enroll each year. These students are chosen after their first year, before they have made any legitimate career choices, in order to set them on a path towards their chosen field early.

This year, only 10 scholars were selected for the award, but their project proposals are as diverse as the Knox community itself, ranging from a short film to sequencing microRNA. The project is carried out in eight weeks and is followed by a presentation of their papers at the University of California-Berkeley in California at the beginning of August.

Last week, the scholars presented their proposals to the Mcnair staff. A few of the scholars were able to talk to The Knox Student about the program, their goals for their projects and how the project will affect their future career plans.

Josh Gunter, Sophomore: “Imaging Chicago: Burnham’s Dream and Today’s Urban Reality”

Mentor: Greg Gilbert

Sophomore Joshua Gunter’s photography project started out as result of his interest in architecture and architectural styles, but later became a way for him to understand and contribute to the larger picture of urban planning. His research concerns the representations of urban spaces in the photographic record of the city of Chicago and how these representations influence and have influenced urban planning. An Art History major, Gunter wanted to take an approach that would suit his knowledge of the topic.

“I’m not really a social scientist or anything like that … I wouldn’t know how to conduct a project that was strictly analytical, so I decided to do it in photography,” he said.

Gunter will use photography to sketch a “historical narrative” of the city of Chicago from unconventional points of view.

“I’ll actually go and do separate research visits and actually take photographs of certain areas that I pick to further the photographic body of representations of the city,” he said.

Gunter hopes that the project will lead to future opportunities for a career in urban planning.

Through his extensive reading into city planning practices for the project, as well as his unique approach to the research, he will not only contribute an alternative historical narrative to the city of Chicago, but will also have laid down a firm foundation for a future in the field. He plans to go on to grad school for his masters and eventually use his experience with a consulting firm.

Jordan Newsom, Sophomore: “Feminist Studies in Short Fiction”

Mentor: Rob Smith

Sophomore English major Jordan Newsom is using her interest in short stories to examine Gothicism and the use of space and identity in Shirley Jackson’s work. In Jackson’s short stories, the female self is often brought up in the context of the household and the caring of children, dealing with how mothers reconcile a child as both apart from and part of themselves. The structure of a short story itself also has implications for identity that Newsom wants to flesh out through her project.

“It’s going to be a literary analysis of her work as an attempt to see how Shirley Jackson fits in as a Gothicist and a female Gothicist … I’m also interested in identity, how it’s formed in a short story,” she said.

This focus on the self was sparked by Newsom’s interest not only in short story, but also in female Gothic literature generally, an interest she says that was cultivated by her mentor Rob Smith, Professor of English.

“He’s guided basically every choice I’ve made … he’s the one who led me to choose Shirley Jackson and her work,” she said.

Newsom is still relatively unsure what the project will mean for her in the long run.

“I haven’t really thought about what I’m going to do. I just knew that I wanted to study English, so that’s as far as I’ve gotten,” she said.

Francisco Munoz, Junior: “Short Film: The Forlorn”

Mentor: Neil Blackadder

Although he only recently realized it, junior Francisco Munoz has a relatively clear picture of where he hopes his project will take him professionally. He recently revised his project topic from the study of Galesburg’s economy to the production of a short film shot in his hometown in New Jersey. His project shows the diversity of the topics in the McNair program and the flexibility of the McNair staff to accommodate students’ interests. Crediting the staff’s encouragement and support, Munoz said that the decision was directed much more towards his interests.

“I had come up with a science-related survey around Galesburg, but I wasn’t too excited about it. The McNair people noticed that, so they told me I could do what I wanted to do,” he said.

Munoz’s experience with film-making prior to coming to Knox as a transfer this past year will serve his project well. Due to his work in the film studies department at his former college in New Jersey, Munoz decided it would be most convenient to shoot the film in his home state using his former college’s equipment.

The McNair Program will bring Munoz a step closer to his dream job as a film director. To him, the field is about much more than just entertainment.

“I’m interested in all kinds of genres … I want to make socially-conscious films that inspire change,” he said.

Sam Brownson
Sam Brownson ’12 majored in philosophy and minored in anthropology and sociology. This is his second year copy editing for TKS; he is also currently a post-baccalaureate fellow in music and theater and will be composing the music for two productions as part of Knox’s Repertory Theatre Term. A self-described grammar Nazi, Sam worked as a TKS reporter and as a writer and editor for his high school newspaper before joining the TKS editorial staff. He also manages social media for Brownson Properties in Holland, Mich.

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