Home » Newberry Seminar Participant Virginia Henry Receives 2011 Award for Outstanding Research

Newberry Seminar Participant Virginia Henry Receives 2011 Award for Outstanding Research

Newberry Seminar Participant Virginia Henry Receives 2011 Award for Outstanding Research April 25, 2011

Three students who participated in ACM off-campus study programs last year have been honored for the independent research projects they conducted at the Newberry Library in Chicago, on a cacao farm in Costa Rica, and among the Maasai people in northern Tanzania.

Virginia HenryVirginia Henry at the Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study.

Virginia Henry, a senior at the College of Wooster, was presented with the first annual Award for Outstanding Research on an ACM Program at the recent ACM Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study. She also gave a presentation about her project “Reading the Faces: Portraiture as Means to Investigate Representational Containment of Native Americans” at the Symposium.

Paul Hawkins, a senior at Colorado College, and University of Chicago senior Amy Ferguson were also honored as finalists for the 2011 award for their work in Costa Rica and Tanzania, respectively.

In announcing the winner and finalists, ACM President Christopher Welna noted that the students’ projects are “solid evidence of the value of student research on off-campus study.”

The Award for Outstanding Research was created this year to highlight the high quality of independent research conducted by students in five ACM programs that include such projects as part of the curriculum:

Students are nominated for the award by the program directors based on the originality of the student’s project, research design and methodology, and the final product. A committee including faculty and staff drawn from the ACM colleges selects finalists in three subject areas – the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences – and chooses one of the finalists to receive the award.

Extensively researched, and then going beyond

As a participant in the fall 2009 Newberry Seminar: Research in the Humanities, Virginia Henry wanted to research a topic that would incorporate images and visual text – she had taken art classes before deciding to major in English – and tap into her deep interest in Native American history. She found all of that in her study analyzing and comparing two sets of portraits of Native Americans – one set created by 19th-century Euro-Americans and the other by contemporary Native artists.

In lauding Henry’s work, the selection committee’s citation said:

At its heart “Reading the Faces” is a demonstration project, arguing (and demonstrating) that “portraits of Indians help to illustrate and code Euro-American/Native relations and native identity.” It does this with remarkable poise and clarity. It is extensively researched, making excellent use of the Newberry collection but going beyond those materials. The student integrates her written sources gracefully and chooses and uses her visual sources effectively. She moves with sophistication from necessary background (i.e. her exposition on “containment”) to the considerable evidence she has amassed, demonstrating along the way her comfort with the discourse of the field (but magically avoiding sounding jargony). She sustains her argument over 47 pages. She negotiates some very tricky territory, sensitively exploring issues of “native” and “individual” identity. She makes wonderful observations about collections (such as the one held by the Newberry) and collecting. She introduces us to talented contemporary native artists in ways that made me want to run out and see more of their work. To me, this looks like Master’s level work.

For more about Henry’s research project, watch the video of her presentation at the ACM Student Symposium.

Experience available only through study abroad

An environmental sciences major who participated in the spring 2010 Costa Rica: Field Research in the Environment, Social Sciences, & Humanities program, Paul Hawkins was this year’s finalist in the natural sciences category.

Paul HawkinsPaul Hawkins (center) at his field research site. At right is Mike McCoy, the program’s Research Coordinator in the natural sciences.

During his field research on an organic cacao farm in Pueblo Nuevo, Hawkins examined the effectiveness of several sprayable solutions – using vinegar, salt, and copper sulfate – in controlling a thick, dense epiphytic plant mass growing on cacao trees that prevents the cacao flowers underneath from protruding, pollinating, and bearing fruit. His conclusion was that vinegar products could help alleviate the problem and raise the productivity of the trees.

Hugo Hermelink, the advisor for Hawkins’ project, praised him for conducting research that would have a positive impact on local cacao growers. An agricultural economist who is, himself, a cacao farmer, Hermelink is one of more than two dozen experts who serve as research advisors for students on the program.

The award committee noted that the project, “Epiphyte Control on Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Trees,” was “an excellent example of the type of experience available only through a study abroad program, as well as illustrating the use of appropriate technologies to address a local problem. Paul was able to bring his knowledge of experimental design to bear on the project, and used appropriate statistical tools to distinguish between treatments. The result was not only a satisfying scientific project, but also a useful contribution to agricultural knowledge in the region.”

Multidimensional research

Amy FergusonAmy Ferguson in Tanzania.

Photo courtesy of Chester Cain

In the social sciences category, the committee honored Amy Ferguson, an anthropology major with a minor in French, for her project “Craft Commoditization and Cooperatives: How women near Tarangire National Park, Tanzania have empowered themselves selling crafts.”

Ferguson conducted her independent project on the Tanzania: Ecology & Human Origins program in fall 2009. During the program’s field research phase, she interviewed a variety of people near the village of Olasiti to understand how, and to what extent, women’s craft cooperatives could bring women economic and social benefits.

The committee wrote that Ferguson’s “research is multidimensional — it considers multiple factors in the research design, analysis, and discussion. The research is based on an excellent and well-documented review of the literature, and the hypothesis flows clearly from the literature. The method selected is appropriate for the hypothesis and is carefully and fully developed. Finally, the data are reported clearly and fully… [and] are carefully analyzed.”


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