View upcoming events at Boston College
Books by alumni, faculty, and staff
Order books noted in Boston College Magazine
Join the online community of alumni
View the current BCM in original format
A passion for research is not born. It is nurtured. Stories from the summer of 2008
Katy Dacey ’10 spent the summer of 2007 lifeguarding in her hometown of Hanover, New Hampshire. This past summer, the political science major (with minors in physics and French) spent two months interning at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Dacey was one of 38 Boston College undergraduates pursuing projects supported by Advanced Study Grants awarded by the University Fellowships Committee. The Advanced Study Grant program (ASG) has grown from an unfunded initiative that attracted a handful of applicants in its first year, 1996, to a seedbed of talent that has nurtured more than 30 winners of Fulbright, Marshall, Beinecke, Rhodes, Goldwater, and Truman fellowships.
In 1995, Boston College formed the University Fellowships Committee to brainstorm ways to build a foundation of independent scholarship from which students might reach for top national awards. The in-house Advanced Study Grant program was the idea of committee member Mark O’Connor, director of the College of Arts & Sciences Honors Program, recalls Don Hafner, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. O’Connor says he aimed to bring “grantmanship” to Boston College: the mix of intellectual ambition and focused preparation that routinely propels students at topflight colleges to national honors. In ASG’s first year, six applications out of 22 were thought worthy of funding. There was one snag. “We didn’t have any money for this program the first time we did it,” says Hafner. He presented the most promising proposals to William B. Neenan, SJ, then academic vice president, and asked for and got his support. By 1998, Neenan was allocating the project its own budget.
From the outset, says Hafner, the intention was to encourage proposals that showed initiative and flair. Among the grant recipients in 1996 was Broderick Bagert ’98, a philosophy major whose idea of a summer well spent was to haul a pile of children’s books to Oaxaca, Mexico, and learn Spanish by teaching reading to children on the street. “I wasn’t sure this was going to work out,” admits Hafner, “but that was the whole point. And it certainly showed imagination and a good deal of personal self-confidence.” Bagert vindicated Hafner’s support by winning a Rotary scholarship to study philosophy in Spain for a year after graduation and a Marshall Scholarship in 1999 to study modern languages at Oxford. “He used his summer to advance himself in a way that made a whole series of other accomplishments possible,” says Hafner.
Maria Stephan ’99 improved her language skills by a more orthodox route. As a sophomore she received a grant to attend the nationally recognized six-week intensive foreign language program at Middlebury College. Total immersion in the French language kick-started her junior year abroad in Strasbourg, says Stephan, who won a Truman Scholarship in 1998 and a Fulbright in 1999 to study post–Cold War German foreign policy in Germany. She earned a Ph.D. in international studies from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and now works for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, while teaching at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. The experience made possible by the Advanced Study Grant gave her “terrific confidence” going into her junior year abroad, she says by phone from Washington, and “everything sort of lined up after that.”
In vetting applications, says Hafner, the program’s multidisciplinary advisory panels look for proposals with well-defined goals and a clear link to the individual student’s ambitions for future work and study. They also look for something more elusive: “that special spark.” The application process itself is designed as a training ground for high-stakes scholarship hunting. The formality of it, the need to put together a defensible budget, and the requirement that applicants clear the hurdles set out by the University’s Institutional Review Board (for research projects involving human subjects) all drill students for scholarly and postgraduate endeavors.
Nominations occur in two ways. Interested students can seek out faculty members who will put their names forward, or faculty members, unprompted, can propose candidates to the Undergraduate Fellowship Committee, which then invites those students to apply. (Around half of such nominees go on to submit a project.) Over the last four or five years, says Hafner, nominations have risen from around 150 to 250. The grants are open to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, with precedence being given to underclassmen, to better position them for applying for national awards as upperclassmen. In 2008, 27 percent of the applicants were freshmen, 57 percent sophomores, and 16 percent juniors. Weighing emerging talent against the often more evident scholarly promise of older students is a challenge, Hafner acknowledges.
With a modest budget, the University Fellowships Committee not only supports the Advanced Study Grants but also covers some of the expenses incurred by national award applicants. ASG funds have risen thanks in part to new donors such as investment banker Peter Bowley ’04. Bowley received a grant in 2002 to study microfinance initiatives in Brazil, an experience he found so valuable that he has made annual contributions to the ASG program.
“Generally, we have been able to fund all the projects that we thought merited funding,” says Hafner. In recent years, that has been around 40 percent of applications, with grants mainly in the range of $500–$2,000. The University’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Committee gives $3,000 annually to support projects that reflect the spirit of Dr. King, and this year, for the first time, six grants were designated for pursuits in the arts, funded by an allocation in Boston College’s strategic plan to develop the Institute for the Liberal Arts.
The summer of 2008 saw a near-record number of ASG projects, despite the sinking dollar and rising travel costs. Some were carried out close to home, like senior Tara O’Hanlon’s study of the legal impediments to providing affordable housing in Massachusetts and sophomore Amanda Rothschild’s investigation of anti-Semitism on New England college campuses. Other projects took their instigators overseas, including junior Michael Weston-Murphy’s study, through interviews and archival research, of Kuwaiti nationalism after Gulf War I and junior Claire Duggan’s exploration of efforts to raise literacy among young girls in Dakar, Senegal. Whatever the focus, says Hafner, students learn to muster “a good deal of motivation and . . . to think of themselves as resourceful people who can overcome obstacles.”
Table of contents
The headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a nine-story white concrete and glass building set among other federal office buildings southeast of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On a broiling mid-July day, Katy Dacey takes a lunch break at a nearby branch of Potbelly Sandwich Works. Almost everyone there—including Dacey—sports a government ID badge. She is close to the end of a nine-week stint as an intern in NASA’s Export Control and Interagency Liaison Division, which coordinates NASA’s dealings with other U.S. government agencies in such policy areas as national security and international technology transfer.
Over a turkey sandwich, Dacey, who is compact, athletic, and in training for her third triathlon, talks about Blackberry envy (“everyone [here] is addicted to their Blackberries”), the fast pace of Washington life, buying a NASA-worthy summer wardrobe to replace her usual shorts and T-shirts, and how astronaut Sunita Williams ran the 2007 Boston Marathon in space, harnessed to a treadmill with bungee cords.
In her sophomore year, Dacey knew she wanted to explore the intersections where her interests in politics and science meet. With her passion for astronomy (fostered by her father, who wanted to be an astronaut but ended up a cardiothoracic surgeon), NASA seemed the ideal place. She landed her nonpaying internship after browsing the NASA website and e-mailing a NASA executive, who was impressed enough by her CV to create a special volunteer post for her. The internship was designed to introduce Dacey to the range of the department’s work, including its supporting role in the human space flight program and the preparation of briefings for NASA senior management. Boston College’s Advanced Study Grant made the opportunity affordable.
Initially “a little overwhelmed” by her immersion in the acronym-riddled NASA HQ, Dacey soon found herself drafting award recommendations for returning astronauts and helping with last-minute planning for the June 2008 general meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, held in Vienna. She also worked on the itinerary and briefing book for a NASA delegation to China’s national space agency in Beijing.
Dacey originally saw the internship as a chance to interview scientists about the conflicts between scientific goals and political priorities. “I don’t think I really appreciated the scope of what I was trying to take on,” she admits. But if her perch in the heart of NASA headquarters has not given her access to scientists—the 700-plus employees in the building are exclusively administrators—she has gotten a crash course in the workings of a federal bureaucracy, gained invaluable networking opportunities, and found a research topic for her senior honors thesis. Dacey intends to analyze the Joint Dark Energy Mission, a $600 million satellite project proposed by NASA and the Department of Energy to investigate the expansion of the universe.
“From a science perspective,” says Dacey, “this is a very profound and necessary mission,” with the goal of determining if the so-called dark energy force is constant over time. From a political science standpoint, she will explore the dynamics of funding such a project in an environment of economic meltdown and competing claims for federal dollars.
Jim Higgins, manager of Interagency Relations at NASA, says he would hire Dacey without hesitation. But Dacey is already planning her next move: Pinned to the gray wall of her office cubicle, alongside a New York Times article on dark energy, is a schedule for fall classes at Sciences-Po, the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, where she will spend her junior year abroad.
Daniel Gostin ’09 pilots his elderly green Ford Taurus through afternoon rush hour traffic the eight miles from Chestnut Hill to Roslindale, en route to his weekly conducting lesson. In his college years, the former high school marching band drum major, now a music major with a minor in chemistry, has discovered Renaissance, Baroque, and early classical music. In September 2007, with his friend Christopher Hopkins ’08, he founded the Boston Collegium, a group of student and faculty instrumentalists and vocalists from Boston College and other area schools dedicated to performing early music. With no formal training as an orchestral conductor, he led Collegium’s first Christmas concert in December 2007, in front of a standing-room-only crowd in St. Mary’s Chapel. “My style could definitely have improved—I’m kind of surprised it all came together,” he says, laughing. With his solid build and calm, humorous manner, he projects a certain authority.
Gostin’s conducting teacher is David Carrier, well known in the Boston area as an organist and as music director of the Newton Choral Society. “He’s a fantastic organist,” says Gostin, who interviewed Carrier last year for a project on Jewish liturgical music while taking Professor Duncan Vinson’s world music class.
In a marching band, says Gostin, the drum major’s job is to keep the beat. On this solid rhythmical foundation, Carrier has helped Gostin develop a more expressive, nuanced style that uses cues such as the height at which he holds his hands, the size of the conducting pattern, and the amount of tension in his hand and arm—fingertips to shoulder—to indicate dynamics and emotional color. And, says Gostin, “I’ve learned a lot about the psychology of being a director, knowing how to keep a group focused, how to teach them not only the notes but to get them in the right frame of mind about the piece that we’re doing.”
On this sunny mid-August evening, Carrier and Gostin sit side by side at Carrier’s dining table, while a pair of creamy brown long-haired Maine coon cats prowl underneath. Carrier, gray haired, trim, and bronzed, is relaxed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. “What have you got this week?” he asks. Gostin’s first choice is a Venetian madrigal from 1550, a dancelike piece that he hums softly while conducting with both hands.
“I’ll be the metronome, you be the conductor,” says Carrier, after discussion of the music’s tricky shifts between two and three beats to a measure. “Start with something that comes in on the beat.” Carrier snaps his fingers to set an even tempo, while Gostin sings a string of “da da’s,” ignoring for a moment the Italian words. (“This is hard rhythmic stuff—we don’t need to make it harder by throwing Italian into the mix,” says Carrier.) At a break in the intensive two-hour session, Carrier admits that he had reservations about teaching conducting one on one rather than in a class with actual musicians to practice on.
“What we’ve really been working on is choreographing,” he says. “We talk about how we want the piece to sound, then, how do we make that happen with the gesture.”
Making it happen can be exhausting. “It’s quite a workout,” Gostin says of his new, more physically expressive style of conducting. It is also emotionally taxing. “I didn’t realize how much emotion really goes into conducting,” he says. Or how much detail. He slips a white baton from its case. “How you hold the baton signifies what kind of piece it is, or what kind of emotion the moment needs,” he says. For example, holding the baton level, parallel to the body, indicates a calm, measured entrance, while angling it outwards, toward the musicians, invites a more vigorous response.
For his final concert with Collegium, scheduled for spring 2009, Gostin has chosen to conduct part of George Frederic Handel’s Messiah. In this monumental piece, he says, the conductor’s challenge is to “convey the whole palette of human emotion through an orchestra and chorus.” His preparation begins now.
At a vegetarian restaurant in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Yejin Lee ’09 drinks Jamaican kola champagne and talks about how she would like to study Creole, Vietnamese, and Italian, harmonica and the steel drums. The Jamaican restaurant owner gives her extra slices of sweet avocado to go along with her black-eyed peas and rice.
Lee is a history major with a double minor in American studies and African and African diaspora studies. She is using her Martin Luther King, Jr., Advanced Study Grant to explore how recent West Indian immigrants to this country use various media—including radio, television, and the Internet—to sustain their ethnic identities and resist Americans’ tendency to categorize them broadly in racial terms. The idea grew out of a sophomore-year study she undertook of Boston’s Haitian community, in which she looked at Carnival as an expression of Caribbean—as opposed to “black”—identity.
“I was really curious about the kind of differences I would see between Boston and New York,” says Lee, who by late August has interviewed close to 20 West Indian community organizers, disk jockeys, visual artists, writers, and musicians in the New York City area. She plans to talk with many more through the fall and has scheduled her senior-year courses to allow four-day weekends for research.
As Lee navigates Nostrand Avenue, with its Dominican hair salons, Trinidadian cafés, and groceries selling sugar cane, water coconuts, and plantains, it becomes clear that this is a multilayered community that will not quickly reveal itself to an outside investigator. Several of her interviewees have been frankly puzzled as to why someone of her heritage (Korean-American) would be doing this research. “I tell them that I started out being interested in race relations, and usually it’s cool,” she says.
A child of immigrants herself, Lee has some experience of “the struggle about Americanization,” she says, and of the tension between “holding on to whatever heritage it is you’re holding on to” and the seduction of the dominant culture. But she also acknowledges her limits: “I live in middle-class society in the suburbs, so the class differences I don’t presume to know.” She navigates the city’s neighborhoods carrying a little black notebook stuffed with maps. Her interviews, which are conducted with an MP3 recorder, range over issues from the international market for Caribbean art to gender discrimination in music to the ways her subjects identify themselves in terms of race, ethnicity, and region.
One theme brought home from Lee’s explorations so far is the idea of “transnationalism”—the way that Caribbean immigrants absorb American culture and at the same time reinforce their social, political, and cultural bonds to their countries of origin by means of stateside ethnic media and the Internet. Another strand, developed from her research in Boston, is the stereotypes that shape Caribbean and African-American communities’ perceptions of one another. “A lot of Caribbean people say they didn’t realize how black they were until they came to the States,” says Lee, and they are often shocked that their ethnic identities are overlooked.
As an interviewer, Lee has trained herself to ask fewer questions and listen more. In the beginning, she says, she had preconceived ideas about what she wanted to hear, and admits she “wasn’t getting much out of that.” “The key thing I’ve learned,” she says, “is that I really need to learn to get lost, because you find a lot more that way.”
Later in the afternoon, Lee sits on a stoop in her temporary home neighborhood of Williamsburg juggling a cup of strong coffee and a skinny cigarette and talking about her future. Her goal, she says, is to run a high school with a curriculum that emphasizes oral traditions and oral culture. Before that, she thinks she might travel to Martinique or Senegal, in the steps of key postcolonial theorists and activists Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and Léopold Senghor, then work in some capacity on infrastructure development in Haiti or Ghana. And how will she fit in the steel drums and harmonica? “I always have a to-do list,” she says, “and I don’t need much sleep.”
Cara Campanelli ’09 darts through torrential rain across a tree-lined street in Brookline, Massachusetts, to the shelter of her music teacher’s house, on a thundery August afternoon. She removes her shoes in the hallway before entering the living room where Kalpana Sadhana sits on the floor surrounded by family photographs and other reminders of her native Bengal, cradling a large five-stringed instrument, the tanpura. The lingering scent of Indian spices and a recorded raga playing in the background seem to have an immediately calming effect on Campanelli, who is slight, dark haired, and inclined to be a little adrenalized. She slides to the floor and folds herself into a position mirroring that of her teacher. She gets out her iPod to record the lesson. “I had some ice cream,” confesses Sadhana. “It’s horrible for your voice,” scolds Campanelli.
The twice-weekly lessons are part of Campanelli’s summer project to explore similarities between two musical traditions: American jazz and North Indian khyal singing. Campanelli grew up with jazz, she explains over coffee at French Press, near the Boston College campus. At home on Long Island, her mother would sing jazz standards around the house and in the car, and over the last seven years Campanelli has developed her own jazz vocal style. In 2005, she submitted a CD with five songs to a national school competition sponsored by Downbeat Magazine and was named an Outstanding Performer in the jazz vocal category.
Campanelli is a double major in history and music, with a minor in Asian studies. Professor Ann Spinney’s world music course introduced her to traditional north Indian singing, and she was struck by the similarities between the improvisational techniques used in the ragas of the khyal tradition, and those familiar to her from jazz.
The lessons with Sadhana have been both revealing and challenging. Indian music uses a different system of tones from Western music, Campanelli explains, and she has found it “very hard to switch gears and realize that what would be in tune in Western music is out of tune in Indian music.” Although Campanelli says, laughing, “it would take seven lifetimes to learn all the ragas,” her immersion in this ancient musical tradition has already produced concrete benefits: “I do think it’s helping my ear training a lot,” she says, and “you start learning the capabilities of your own voice better.”
The lesson begins, and in a mellow alto Campanelli sings in Hindi to the lulling accompaniment of a recorded tanpura. “It’s very good,” says Sadhana. “Let’s do that with the tabla.” The teacher adds a second recorded track, with the mesmerizing drumbeat of the traditional northern Indian percussion instrument. Each raga, Sadhana explains, has a mood the singer must express and reinforce through improvisation. Several times, Campanelli clutches her head in frustration as she forgets the words that she has learned by ear, or gets a note wrong. She explains later that to help her memory she uses a system of partial musical notation, based on sa, re, ga, the Indian equivalent of do, re, mi, and that she writes the Hindi words phonetically, as so far she understands little of the language. “She has a serious mind,” Sadhana says of her pupil in a subsequent telephone interview. Campanelli is among seven of Sadhana’s students featured in her recently recorded DVD introducing the art of khyal.
Campanelli does not know yet what direction she will take professionally. She’s putting together a CD of jazz solos with the help of JoJo David, vocal coach for the University’s student jazz ensemble BC bOp. She’s also considering graduate work in ethnomusicology.
Pantasma is a valley settlement of timber shacks and small stores in the mountain highlands of northern Nicaragua, where cowboys and coffee farmers leave their horses tied to wooden posts while they buy supplies. “It’s like walking into the Old West,” says Jon Sege ’09, recalling his arrival there, one humid morning in mid-July. This is not the lanky redhead’s first foray into the developing world: He spent a summer in the Dominican Republic in 2006, and a semester in Nepal in 2007 volunteering with Solutions Benefiting Life, a nonprofit that provides water purification systems in the developing world. There, he learned firsthand the importance of that mission, when he became sick after drinking household tap water.
As part of a six-week research trip to Nicaragua, Sege, who is majoring in English and environmental geoscience, uses sterile 250-milliliter bottles to collect water samples along the streams on the outskirts of Pantasma that feed into the town’s two water captures. He also samples the site of a future capture. On his first day in the area, he works until dark, noting at each sampling location the stream’s characteristics (its flow, its immediate surroundings) and the agriculture in the area. In a separate study, to compare water quality in a different environment, he will also periodically dip his sampling bottles into a 19-mile stretch of the Sinecapa River, which runs through dry volcanic plains some 50 miles to the southwest. Using field chemical test kits, he and a student partner from the University of California– Santa Barbara will analyze the samples for contaminants.
Back in the United States, Sege will enter the data into a mapping software program that will incorporate other hydrologically important variables such as temperature, rainfall, and soil properties. Funded by the Mellon Foundation in addition to an Advanced Study Grant, he proposes to pinpoint any water degradation around Pantasma and suggest solutions.
Until recently, the 4,000 or so residents of Pantasma (a town that was burned to the ground several times during the civil war of the 1980s) had to walk more than half a mile into the countryside to obtain drinking water. The water was piped from a site downstream of the runoff from a neighboring village. In 2002, the community, the mayor, and the Ministry of Health negotiated with the owners of other water sources to build water captures, a ditch, and two tanks. Water began running from the new sources in 2003, but before Sege’s arrival, town authorities had not tested it because they lacked the equipment to do so. Sege’s samples proved to contain low concentrations of nitrates and nitrites, suggesting contamination with insecticides and with human and livestock waste.
Sege’s objective is to come up with a computer model that can be applied to water quality and “aid in proposing a more integral response” to contamination, he says. He is scheduled to present his fieldwork and analysis at a conference at Lewis and Clark College in the spring of 2010.
As last summer recedes into the past, what are some of the likely long-term benefits for the enterprising ASG applicants and winners of 2008? “Above all else,” says Mark O’Connor, “they will have learned to focus the mind”—a payoff that lasts through college and beyond. Peter Bowley, whose contributions to the ASG fund supported Jon Sege’s work, views the entire grant process as having powerful positive effects in the lives of individuals and for the University as a whole. The act of convincing a faculty sponsor to support an ASG project, the brainstorming and shaping of the proposal that takes place, catalyze strong mentoring relationships. “Faculty have much more to share than just the curriculum, and the ASG provides a forum for sharing those things outside the classroom,” says Bowley. That spirit of generosity and openness to whatever it is that students want to pursue enlarges the program’s role far beyond mere résumé building, he says: “It has the power to allow an interest to bloom into a passion.”
Jane Whitehead is a writer in the Boston area.
The Advanced Study Grants aren’t the only source of funding for Boston College students who want to spend their summers learning something new.
The Nonprofit Summer Internship Grant program, run by the Career Center, provides stipends to rising seniors who take unpaid internships with service organizations. Since the program’s inception eight years ago, 33 students have received the stipends, which are funded by fees charged to employers who attend the annual Boston College Career Fair. Last summer, the program provided five students with $3,200 apiece to support internships scattered across the globe.
Chris Rall ’09, a fi-nance major from St. Louis, spent 11 weeks in Papua New Guinea volunteering with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which is helping a cluster of villages build an airstrip in the remote Sepik River Valley. “It’s a two-to-three-day trip for these people to buy any kind of manufactured goods,” says Rall, who helped villagers clear the densely forested land. “An airstrip would give them a connection to the rest of the world and improve their lives.”
Closer to home, Lauren Galinsky ’09 worked in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office of MicroLoan Foundation USA, which is developing a high school curriculum called “Small Change, Big Changes.” The course is designed to teach students about economic issues in Africa, including the concept of microlending—providing impoverished people with very small loans to start and sustain their own businesses. “Microfinance can help people keep food on the table,” says Galinsky, who spent most of her internship recruiting schools to the “Small Change” program. She’s continuing her recruitment efforts through the school year as well. “This curriculum could be an amazing way to teach students about global finance and poverty.”
Janet Bates, associate director of career counseling and education, formed the Nonprofit Summer Internship Grant program to give BC students access to internships geared less toward career development and more toward community service. “You listen to what students do with these internships, and it brings tears to your eyes,” she says. “The experience certainly adds to their educations, but it also changes them as people. They have a new, powerful sense of what they’re capable of.”
Nearly 60 students applied for last summer’s stipends, according to Russ Ventura, assistant director of career services, who oversees the grant selection process. “I would’ve liked to fund 30 of those projects,” he says, adding that his office is approaching other departments in an effort to increase the money available.
Galinsky applied her stipend toward a two-week trip to the African nation of Malawi, where she was able to observe microfinance in action. She met groups of women who had formed microloan collectives, and who pooled their resources to help support the small businesses they had launched, including local market stalls. “I saw how accountable they are to each other,” she says. “At one of the repayment meetings I went to, one of the women was sick and couldn’t repay her loan on time, so the others chipped in from their savings to help her—that group dynamic is so powerful. I would never have understood that if I hadn’t seen it for myself.”
Scott Sutherland is a writer in Boston.
Read more by Jane Whitehead