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Talk About Summer Discoveries!

Undergraduate research bloggers share their experiences from around the world

June 10, 2010 | by Wendy Leopold
Lydia Hsu is blogging from Rwanda this summer. As the recipient of a University immersion experience grant, she is developing an English language curriculum for a non-profit that helps rebuild communities destroyed by war and genocide.
EVANSTON, Ill. --- A kindly border guard poured Northwestern University student Sarah Smierciak a cup of tea as she waited more than nine hours to enter Syria from Egypt, writes the Northwestern University senior on a new website developed for the Office of the Provost.

Called "Away We Go," the site -- on topics ranging from Italian puppetry to Mayan medicine -- includes blogs by six students from four different Northwestern Provost Office undergraduate research grant programs. Located at http://blog.undergradresearch.northwestern.edu/, it allows interested grant recipients to share their experiences and interested Web users to follow them.

"The site gives our undergraduate researchers a way to process and document their experiences," said Peter Civetta. "We hope it also will provide a window for interested readers to look into the worlds of these and other student researchers and the far-flung places their research takes them."

As assistant to Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Ronald Braeutigam, Civetta helps oversee an ever-growing number of undergraduate research grants and opportunities.

"Research is by no means only the domain of graduate students," said Civetta. Between the Office of the Provost, the University's individual schools, its residential colleges and sponsored research, an estimated $1.5 million last year supported Northwestern undergraduates engaged in research.

In addition to "Dimashq: City of Old, City Untold," the blog by Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences junior Smierciak, who is studying Arabic this summer at the University of Syria, "Away We Go" includes blogs from five other students.

  • Like Smierciak, Katherine Jacobsen received an immersion language grant. The Slavic studies and French major will be studying Russian in Moscow at the American Council's Study Abroad Council. In her blog, "Fit for Consumption," Jacobsen makes a public promise that she will only write or speak English for scheduled phone calls home, blog postings and emergency situations.
  • A recipient of a summer undergraduate research grant (URG), School of Communication theatre major Colleen Werle is traveling all over Italy attending puppet shows, taking part in workshops and interviewing all the puppeteers, puppet enthusiasts and puppet specialists she can find. Her blog, "A World on Strings," aims to give a modern snapshot of Italy's three traditional puppet forms as they exist today. Little English-language literature is available about Italian puppetry, she writes. Werle plans to help fill that void.
  • An immersion experience grant recipient, Lydia Hsu is travelling to Rwanda to develop an effective English language curriculum for Network for Africa's Learning Centre, an organization that works to rebuild communities destroyed by war and genocide. In "The World is a Book: Turning a Page in Kigali," the Weinberg English and African studies major will discuss her efforts and comment on the upcoming August presidential election in Rwanda.
  • Summer URG recipient and cultural anthropology major Katie Smiley is in Belize this summer doing ethnographic research on a traditional Mayan healer specializing in abdominal/uterine massage. "I am passionate about the power of blogging to help break down walls between academia and public knowledge," the Weinberg junior writes in her introductory post in "Exploring Mayan Medicine and Medical Authority in Belize."
  • And, last but not least, Meixi Ng will document her "around the world" summer travels in a blog called "The Beat of the World: Meixi Circumnavigates the Globe." As the recipient of a Circumnavigators Club grant, the School of Education and Social Policy junior is literally traveling around the world. As part of a project she calls "Education as Transformation: The Power of Schools," Ng is visiting Guatemala, Peru, Thailand, Singapore, Ghana and France to study schools that focus on "transformative" education.

Civetta expects that more Northwestern student researchers will add their voices to the new undergraduate research website developed by NUAMPS (the Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio).

"Keep checking the website for new contributors and new insights," Civetta adds. "Interested readers can sign up to follow our individual bloggers via Facebook, Twitter and the like by clicking the bookmark symbol at the bottom of their blog."
Topics: Campus Life, Research