A newsletter from Dean Katherine S. Newman
The Research Bug: It’s Spreading
Research is the essence of what we do in the academy, most especially at Johns Hopkins, the first university in the country to pursue the 19th-century German ideal of higher education for the purpose of advancing new knowledge. Faculty members think of research as the core of their calling, but they are not the only ones who are devoted to the development of original scholarship. Many Hopkins undergraduates are similarly “hooked” and spend their summers, intersession weeks, and term time doing field work, combing archives, participating in digs, and conducting laboratory experiments, all with the same goal: contributing to our fundamental stock of knowledge.
As dean, I hope to help usher in the day when all Krieger School undergraduates can stake a claim to original ideas brought to fruition. As a down payment on that goal, I have been working with Vice Dean for Undergraduate Education Steven David on a new grant program for which all KSAS undergrads will be eligible. Starting in the fall of 2011, students will be able to compete for grants in the range of $500–3,000 to support either their senior thesis research mentored by a faculty member or to work as research assistants for faculty, thus giving them an opportunity to see what a mature project looks like from the inside. Generous gifts from two alumni will make this special opportunity possible for an average of 25 students a year for at least the next two to three years.
In a sense, this opportunity takes a page from the very successful and highly competitive Woodrow Willson Fellowship Program, which is led by Dean David. Wilson fellows are named at admission or as rising sophomores and given funds to execute one or more projects over their four years at Hopkins, under the supervision of faculty members. Woodrow Wilson fellows often travel far and wide to conduct their research and the program has nurtured truly remarkable students, including Rhodes, Marshall and Truman Scholarship winners.
Wilson fellows follow their intellectual passions. For example, Benzi Samueli ’11, a Near Eastern studies major, traveled to Malta to document the small but fascinating Jewish community (only about 100 people strong) on this predominantly Catholic island. There he encountered a tiny population on a relatively isolated island struggling to maintain Jewish traditions like keeping Kosher or finding a Jewish spouse. “I have learned a lot about myself and the world through this project,” Benzi explains. “This was an opportunity to completely plan my own path, forge my own connections, and explore a foreign country all on my own.”
Or there’s Heeyoung Sohn ’11, a student of international studies , who focused her research on the incredible challenge North Koreans face while finding refuge in South Korea and the U.S. “I studied the way North Koreans escape, the resettlement process in both countries, and I interviewed refugees about their new lives,” says Heeyoung. “This experience taught me to take initiative. The whole process was so independent, and if I didn’t make it work, then my research would not work either.”
Some students see their independent research as the first step on the long road to a career as a professional scholar. Others simply see it as a natural extension of the curiosity that brings them to a demanding university like Hopkins. Virtually everyone will find the capacity to identify and assemble data, analyze it and derive general propositions that explain the patterns it holds to be of value, no matter what walk of life they pursue. The experience of presenting original ideas to an audience in forms ranging from essays, to films, to academic articles or poster sessions builds skills that matter for virtually all professional endeavors.
For all of these reasons, not to mention the sheer joy of intellectual creation, we look forward to the time when becoming an independent researcher and learning to collaborate with a faculty member will be a defining feature of the Hopkins undergraduate experience, one that is in keeping with traditions that have been part of our fabric from the very beginning.
Katherine S. Newman
James B. Knapp Dean