On the Right Path

Undergraduate research fellowships give students the competitive edge.

By Roxanne Alvarez

Each year, GW’s Gamow fellows are recognized at a symposium in which they present their research findings. Participants from the 2004 symposium are pictured here.

Nirali Bhatt, BS ’05

Don Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs, with Thomas Fogarty

Jessica Lundin with professor Randall Packer

One student is studying the sermons of American rabbis in the early 20th century; another, links between flu during pregnancy and risk of schizophrenia in children; another, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s image and impacts; still another, ways to optimize a computer-based thesaurus.

The research questions tackled by GW’s undergraduate researchers are as diverse as the researchers themselves. Delving into a major research project gives the students not only knowledge but also a grasp of how knowledge is acquired—and an edge in the competition for slots in graduate and professional schools and for fellowships.

GW offers several opportunities for undergraduates to work closely with faculty on research projects. Two of the leading University-funded programs that support undergraduate student research are the George Gamow Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Luther Rice Collaborative Fellowship awards.

The Gamow Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, started in 2002, is a University-wide program designed to engage talented undergraduates early in their careers in faculty research projects. The Gamow program nurtures the careers of promising freshmen, sophomores, and juniors by enabling them to participate in meaningful, mentored research in which they learn how knowledge is generated, develop research skills, and prepare for advanced study, all while advancing the research programs of their faculty mentors. The fellowship provides stipends for students to help with living expenses, funds for expenses essential to the project, as well as an honorarium for the faculty mentor. It was started and has been co-sponsored by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, with help from several schools of the University (in 2004-05, the School of Business, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences), and is currently based in the Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research.

The Columbian College’s Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellowships, now in its second year, supports projects generated by more advanced students and guided by a faculty mentor. The Luther Rice Fellowships are part of the Columbian College’s comprehensive undergraduate initiative to promote discovery- and inquiry-based education throughout the undergraduate experience at GW.

Student Experiences

To hear students talk about their experiences during and after working on Gamow and Luther Rice projects is to appreciate what these awards really mean for students.

“The Gamow Fellowship was one of the academic highlights of my college career,” says former Gamow winner Kate Hill, who is now in Vietnam on a Fulbright scholarship award. She is continuing to study issues she began exploring in her Gamow project in 2003 on the subject of private organizations and economic policy making in socialist Vietnam. In addition to her Fulbright award, Hill also received a Shapiro Traveling Award based on the work she did as a Gamow fellow. “I would recommend the Gamow because it allows you the flexibility to study something that truly intrigues you, something that is not an assignment for class,” she says. “I think this kind of opportunity is important because it forces you to really identify your own interests and to think about how you can incorporate those interests into your future career.”

Taylor Asen, a GW senior and a recipient of one of the first Luther Rice awards, echoes this sentiment. His project, which took place primarily during the summer of 2004, involved documenting and examining the works of Charles Dickens. His work culminated in a paper he is submitting for a best student prize through the Research Society of Victorian Periodicals.
Asen says the research project was daunting but exciting. “It forces you to bring something completely new to the research method,” he says. “For an undergraduate, this opportunity is, I think, a rare experience.” In addition to appreciating the chance to study a subject of personal interest, Asen views his experience with his mentor as an important part of his overall experience. “I think a good mentor should urge you to take risks and to think independently.” Taylor recently found out that he has also just won a Gamow Fellowship for the 2005-06 academic year with Maria Frawley in the English department.

The mentoring aspect of these two undergraduate research programs is often cited as a vital component of their success. Mentors, simply by conducting their day-to-day activities at GW, serve as role models to students as to how to conduct solid research in one’s field. Mentors also foster a professional maturity and academic development that goes beyond classroom lessons.

Catarina Kim, BA ’05, a Gamow Fellow in 2002, was able to continue working with her mentor, Young Key Kim-Renaud. Their collaboration produced a paper on the translation of Korean poetry that was presented at the University of Iowa’s Third Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Writing in March 2003. Kim says she and her mentor plan to continue their research together. She also won a 2005 National Security Education Program fellowship to study Korean further. She will be pursuing a year of study at the University of Hawaii and then will spend the following year abroad at Korea University. After that, she will serve in a federal intelligence role through a government contract.

A Gamow Fellow with a dual major in Chemistry and the Biological Sciences, Jackie Ryan had the opportunity to present the work she did with her mentor, Zhengtao Xu, at the Chemistry Department’s Annual Retreat earlier this year. When asked what she has been doing since winning her Gamow award, Jackie replied, “My post-Gamow activities are more research-oriented than ever!” She said that the Gamow Fellowship opened many doors for her—including a new research position at GW. In addition to continuing to work with her Gamow mentor, she has joined another research lab in the Chemistry department.

Each year, the Gamow fellows participate in a symposium in the spring, in which each presents his or her research findings. Attended by University administrators, faculty mentors, former Gamow fellows, students who publish the undergraduate research journal Inquiry, and others, the symposium is a time to celebrate the students’ work and to recognize the upcoming recipients as they begin their fellowships.

The 2005-06 Gamow Fellowships

This year 10 students, representing the Columbian College of Arts and Science and the Elliott School of International Affairs, received the coveted Gamow Fellowship, bringing the total number of students engaging in the University’s premier research fellowship program to 44. The fellowship is named for George Gamow, a distinguished theoretical nuclear physicist who served on GW’s faculty from 1934 to 1956.

The 2005-06 Gamow Fellows:

Taylor Asen (CCAS, English), Mentor: Maria Frawley, associate professor of English, “Robert Louis Stevenson and the Children’s Literary Market in Victorian England”

Liza Blake (CCAS, English), Mentor: Maria Frawley, associate professor of English, “The Pauses of Sleep: Sleep as a Narrative Strategy in Victorian Literature”

Jill Michelle Furst (CCAS, geology), Mentor: George Stephens, deputy director of the University Honors Program and professor of geography and geosciences, “Medical Geology in the Navajo Nation: A Project to Assess the Health Effects of Burning Coal (in an underserved population)”

Malak Hamwi (ESIA, international affairs) Mentor: Janet Steele, associate professor of media and public affairs, “No Laughing Matter: The Syrian Tabloid Ad-Domari (“The Lamplighter”) as a Form of Everyday Resistance”

Joseph Krepp (CCAS, biology), Mentor: John Hawdon, associate professor of microbiology and tropical medicine, “Hookworm Infection: Role of Heat Shock Factor in the Transition of Parasitism”

Jonathan Mendelson (CCAS, biology), Mentor: L. Courtney Smith, associate professor of biological sciences, “Do Immune Cells in the Purple Sea Urchin Proliferate in Response to Immune Challenge?”

John Patrick Miller (ESIA, international affairs), Mentor: Dane Kennedy, Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs, “British Combat Tactics within the Mesopotamian Front: Engagement to Surrender at Kut-Al Amara(1914–16)”

Elizabeth Perlmutter (CCAS, music), Mentor: Leslie Jacobson, chair, Department of Theatre and Dance, “The South Africa Project”

Emily Robertson (CCAS, music), Mentor: Laura Youens, professor of music, “Johannes Starton’s Missa Jouyassance Vous Donneray from the National Library of Medicine’s ‘Bathtub Collection:’ A Modern Edition and Study”

Allison Seitchik (CCAS, psychology), Mentor: Tonya Dodge, assistant professor of psychology, “Developing a Questionnaire to Predict the Use of Performance Enhancing Substances”

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© 2005 The George Washington University
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