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Another Side
AIRE grant gives undergraduate research a voice

Undergraduates researchers Strut thier Stuff

By Gerry Boyle '78

Carmichael in Nepal

Elicia Carmichael '01, at right, in a refugee camp for displaced bonded laborers in Nepal's remote western lowlands.
Among the speakers at Colby this spring was perhaps the only Western witness to many of the events of the Kamaiya bonded-labor liberation movement in Nepal.

Elicia Carmichael '01 stayed in the squalid refugee camps where these displaced farm workers live in huts made of hay and sticks. Traveling alone to isolated villages in Nepal's western lowlands, she informed some workers that a movement was underway to free them from what was essentially slavery. And she examined the ways some non-governmental organizations helped the liberation movement and others hindered it.

Presenting her findings at Colby would be a different sort of challenge: "Everything I've been studying for a year in twenty minutes," she joked as she began her Powerpoint presentation.

There was a reason for brevity. Carmichael, a senior international studies major from Newmarket, N.H., was just one of more than 200 students from 21 Colby programs and departments who took part in the second annual Colby Undergraduate Research Symposium, May 3-4. Sponsored by the dean of faculty and the National Science Foundation Award for Integration of Research and Education (NSF AIRE), the event was a two-day showcasing of students' research. The topics were as varied as the Colby curriculum, a nonstop Learning Channel in Roberts Building that explored everything from creationism in Kansas to the impact of global change on mammals in the African savanna.

Ever consider The Pogues folk/punk music in terms of mock-heroic narrative? Greg Robinson '02 has. Or potential microbial pathogens from hatchery-grown salmon? That fell to Jennifer Rutkiewicz '01 and Michael Kleinman '01.

The topic list went on for seven pages, ranging from debt-for-nature swaps in Central America (Stephanie Graber '01) to a study of self-concept and competitiveness in male high school athletes (Drew Johnson '01). The academic mixer gave students and faculty a chance to cross departmental lines and sample the research being done across campus--and the world. And people did turn out.

"Over the course of two days, every single room was standing-room only," said Philip Nyhus, NSF AIRE Fellow in Environmental Studies and one of the event organizers.

Nyhus said the symposium was modeled on scientific or scholarly research conferences where scholars meet to share their research. In the case of the Colby event, students from all academic disciplines were invited to share research done in independent study, Jan Plan, as honors projects or in class.

In the case of Carmichael, research began during a semester abroad in Nepal and continued the next semester at Colby and during a return trip to Nepal for her Jan Plan this year through a grant from the David Hunt Foundation. Her advisor, Mary Beth Mills (anthropology), noted that Carmichael not only was able to experience the liberation movement firsthand but that she also came away with a good understanding of the complex politics at play at moments of political and economic change. "She certainly has a lot of experience and perspective on these issues that is unusual and perhaps unique," Mills said.

Carmichael said her undergraduate research at Colby taught her never to underestimate what one person can do. And being able to answer questions from those who attended her talk reminded her that she is, indeed, an expert on the Kamaiya "and that my work in this area is worth pursuing," Carmichael said.

She is now organizing a school-building project for Kamaiya children, enlisting support from Colby friends and her hometown. For this self-described "small-town girl from New Hampshire," the research project--and her education of herself and others--continues.




Diversity Call Renewed: Students, President Bro Adams, faculty and others join in effort to appreciate and accentuate differences.
Making Waves: An inside look at the news you love to hear--from Colbians.
A Simple Feast: Wylie Dufresne '92 is one of the hottest chefs in New York City.
President's Page: President Bro Adams on the court and affirmative action.
Commencement 2001
Alumni Reunion 2001

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