By: Micol Hutchison, PhD, Director of Pathways to Arts & Humanities
Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 18 students from John Tyler and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Colleges have begun a year-long research journey delving into an inquiry in the arts or humanities. Working closely with a faculty mentor at the college, these students—the Mellon Research Fellows—have started explorations of student-generated topics of interest, ranging from the rhetoric of propaganda to Danish filmmaking, from convict leasing to the feminine form in Indian art.
The Mellon Research Fellows represent a wide range of interests and backgrounds, but share a passion for the humanities and arts, and a willingness to undertake an academically and intellectually challenging year-long project.
Some of the students in the program, like aspiring music educator Dre Eppard, immediately jumped at the opportunity to apply to a program that would allow him to more deeply explore his interests. Eppard enthusiastically describes the upcoming year: “I am most excited about being creative and interpreting the research and discoveries of others as art. I most look forward to offering a different perspective to universal concepts.” Eppard has been interested in college-level research for a long time and was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a research opportunity at the undergraduate level, and specifically at the community college.
Violeta Rodriguez had not given much thought to the possibility of undertaking research until she learned about the program. “I wanted to become a part of the Mellon Research Fellows program because I never got a chance to do something like this before and I wanted to challenge myself…I am curious to see where this research leads me,” explains Rodriguez. She is in the process of honing her research question, and is interested in learning about how Latinx communities handle grief, and possibly incorporating an examination of the resources currently available to the local Spanish-speaking community in Richmond.
Like Eppard, who is researching physics in music, Micah White is creating an interdisciplinary inquiry. Exploring the intersection of communication, media, and psychology, White explains, “My interest lies in finding out what forms of communication are better or worse at accurately conveying concepts and emotions to the intended recipient. How do different forms of media affect the understanding of these ideas or feelings?” Most recently, he has begun to consider incorporating the impact of virtual learning into his research question.
All of the Mellon Research Fellows are second-year students in the Pathways Program, a program open to students at JTCC or Reynolds who are planning to complete their associate degree then transfer to VCU to pursue a degree in humanities or arts. The Pathways Program provides dual admissions, holistic advising, and opportunities for academic, intellectual and career exploration through e-Portfolios, events, and workshops. A committee selected the Mellon Research Fellows based on their engagement during their first year in the Pathways Program and their interest in research.
For many students, the final project will be a lengthy research paper, though some students are considering other formats for their final projects, such as documentaries or podcasts. Mellon Research Fellow Shanera Horton, who is undertaking action research that is tied to the Richmond area, is creating a proposal and website for the establishment of a new nonprofit organization as her final project. She was drawn to the Pathways Program because of her love of the humanities, and her research project will consider how humanities and arts can be incorporated into non-profit organizations that work with youth in low-income communities. Horton says, “I wanted to be a part of the Mellow Research Fellow program so that I can come up with research of my own that can possibly better a community.”
Emily Zampetti’s topic also relates to children. She seeks to understand “the abilities of various forms of storytelling to cultivate and promote creativity and critical thinking in school-age children.” A returning student, Zampetti describes her reasons for applying to the program: “I wanted to do better this time by taking advantage of any and all opportunities to advance my education and academic pursuits…I’ve already committed most of my life to the arts and humanities, and I love challenging myself in those areas!”
The students meet weekly with their mentors, attend biweekly research symposia, create a final project, and present their research findings at the end of the year. While the research and research process are central, the program also helps students build a sense of community, build a mentoring relationship with faculty at the community college, and develop comfort and experience with academically rigorous work. While the goals of the program include helping students prepare for rigorous upper-level work, it is also a crucial way to improve retention and persistence rates through engagement, mentoring, and cohort-building, all considered high-impact practices by the American Association of Colleges & Universities.
Featured image: Mellon Research Fellows attended their first symposium on September 25. Pictured are four of the mentors (David Stern, Reynolds faculty member; Kathryn Geranios, Tyler adjunct faculty member; Patrick Zampetti, Tyler adjunct faculty member; and Carrie Humphrey, Reynolds faculty member) and 12 of the 18 Mellon Research Fellows