On an annual basis, 10 students of Knox College are selected to explore a research topic of their choice over the summer.
The McNair Scholars Program is a program available at 140 higher education institutions for first-generation or minority students interested in developing research or attending graduate school. The program has numerous benefits, many of which include opportunities to explore an area of interest with a faculty mentor, to do and present research, and to visit and apply to graduate schools without any financial burden. This year, 11 students showcased their project plans at a Research Symposium on Wednesday, May 9 in Wilson House.
After applying during Spring Term of her freshman year, sophomore Katana Smith was approved for funding in June 2017. A current creative writing major, Smith came into the program as an art history major. Over the past year, her major and research theme has evolved.
“With McNair, they definitely get you when you’re a novice at research,” Smith said. “So you come in and you’re like, ‘I wanna read some books…’ then you start to narrow in on a specific subject matter and a specific approach to the subject.”
Smith’s research project, entitled “Colonialism of the Mind: Politics, Magical Realism, and Contemporary Writers of Color,” explores contemporary black writing, which has taken on newer forms of expression than in the past through methods such as absurdism and magic realism. She cites Jordan Peele’s film Get Out and Childish Gambino’s music video for “This Is America” as examples of these forms manifesting in popular culture today.
“I think what’s interesting about the contemporary black writers is that after Obama was elected president, we kind of went through this moment where a lot of people were like ‘racism is over, this is awesome!’ which wasn’t true obviously,” she said. “I think contemporary writers have to reckon with that in a way that’s really complicated.”
The umbrella of different research projects funded by McNair is quite wide. Where some students plan to research social justice, others have organized lab experiments. Sophomore and neuroscience major Max Jones plans to study rats and the impact of health supplements on their memory. He plans to compare times that the rats take to go through a maze as a measure for their memory abilities.
“[My research will] honestly [be] very stereotypical. There’s rats, I’m gonna be putting them in a maze. If I can find a lab coat I’ll probably wear it,” Jones said. “It’s gonna be like everything you’ve seen in every kid’s science show.”
Jones admitted that he initially wanted to do a more interesting experiment, yet due to limited time and finances, he had to minimize his research approach and plan. Although he contends for these reasons that the McNair program has its limitations, he says it still offers great opportunities to a broad array of students, and that it’s not too late to apply after freshman year.
“It’s a good program; it gives you access to a lot of resources, and unless you’re a senior, it’s not too late to apply if you want to get in,” Jones said. “Most of the people in my cohort are doing stuff that isn’t hard science, but it’s still extremely fascinating.”
Using her funds toward research on mental health in Latino communities, sophomore biology and psychology double-major Isabel Temosihue will spend a portion of the summer in her hometown Chicago neighborhood in an attempt to measure stigma on Generalized Anxiety Disorder across two random populations separated by age. She expects to see a difference in the prevalence of stigma in an older generation.
“Growing up, [older generations] didn’t really have that kind of talk about mental health like we do now,” she said, citing examples such as school talks and Mental Health Awareness Month in May as recognizable adjustments toward awareness in today’s society. “They never had the opportunity because of things they had to worry about.”
Like other McNair recipients, Temosihue has set realistic standards for her research, as she has recognized that research projects can exhibit ambiguous or inconclusive data. Regardless of the results, she believes that her research will prove valuable in contributing to lacking research on mental health in minority communities.
“I thought through that idea … [the possibility if] I don’t find something majorly different,” Temosihue said. “At least I know somebody might look at [the research] one day and see ‘oh, she did this, maybe we should do this differently,’ or someone can think [of the research] in a different way.”