Handing over summer to the humanities

Nov. 19, 2010, 3:30 a.m.

Spending a summer in Paris writing a novel sounds like the premise of a romance novel. Being paid to do it sounds downright mythical. Yet, one Stanford student has been given the opportunity to do just this. Others have gotten the chance to study Hugo Chavez’s social programs in Venezuela and the relationship between the belief in reincarnation and organ donations in Taiwan.

How? The Chappell-Lougee scholarship, a grant sponsored by Undergraduate Advising and Research for sophomores wishing to pursue individually designed research projects in the humanities, qualitative social sciences or creative arts, gives accepted scholars up to $5,600 to pursue their research.

History professor Carolyn Chappell-Lougee, former dean of undergraduate studies (the title preceding Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education) oversaw the creation of the scholarship in the mid-1980s.

“We had at that point a tiny program for undergraduate research opportunities,” she said. “We were coming upon the 100th birthday of the University.”

The drive for undergraduate research funding became a big item in the Centennial Campaign, Chappell-Lougee said. “The first thing we decided was to put money under this program in hopes it would contribute to a change in undergraduate academic culture.”

The Chappell-Lougee scholarship was named after the professor and her father, Harold Chappell, to honor her work as dean from 1982  to 1987 and to commemorate his life goal of helping economically disadvantaged students pursue higher education.

A unique perk of the Chappell-Lougee scholarship is its focus on self-directed research, a motivating factor for many sophomores who apply. Devney Hamilton ’13 described the scholarship as “a really unique chance to dive in that lets you learn by doing it yourself.” Hamilton will be submitting an application to study blind students and how their education can be aided by technology in Turkey. Her interest comes from a year that she lived in Ankara, during which she worked at a school for the blind.

Students in the past have likewise drawn on cultural experiences of their own to create the ideas behind their projects. Miles Osgood ’11, a Chappell-Lougee scholar who spent the summer of his sophomore year in Paris drafting a novel about a college art professor turned artist, had previously spent two years in Paris. Similarly, scholar Baljinnyam Dashdorj ’12 used his Mongolian background to translate works by Plato into Mongolian.

Travelling abroad, however, is not a necessity for the scholarship. Past projects have included a creative art project inspired by a Native American reservation in Montana and a study researching law and education right here at Stanford.

Professor Chappell-Lougee compared the scholarship to “a candy store for students who are highly motivated and can write their own script.” The type of student the Chappell-Lougee seeks, she described, is “a very high-achieving, very confident student looking for special opportunities to go beyond regulation curriculum.”

For many applicants, the Chappell-Lougee is a way to delve into topics of personal interest. Applicant Irteza Bint-Farid ’13 hopes to conduct an analysis on the gender disparities in the Bangladeshi health system to determine whether the problem is more cultural or infrastructural.

“I remember my grandmother,” Bint-Farid said, explaining her interest in her proposed topic. “She’s a very religious and educated older woman, and even she had a problem going to a male doctor for operations…I remember she cried about it because there was nothing else she could do.”

“I’m interested in international health and this would be a great opening experience,” she added.

The purpose of directing the program toward sophomores, according to Chappell-Lougee, is to “get the students early in their careers” to foster an interest in field research at an earlier stage than is typical. Bint-Farid and Hamilton both cited Anthropology 92, a workshop on undergraduate research-proposal writing, as a helpful resource for navigating the unfamiliar territory of applying for a grant.

On its value in undergraduate education, both scholars and applicants have rallied around one point articulated by Bint-Farid: “The level of maturity and independence the research requires of a student helps them grows as a person, as an academic and as a scholar.”

Marwa Farag is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she was the managing editor of news, managing editor of the former features section, a features desk editor and a news writer.

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