2019-20 CARA Projects | Admissions and Financial Aid | Colby College
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CARA (Colby Academic Research Assistants)

2019-20 CARA Projects

American Studies: Digital Maine

Sponsor: Benjamin Lisle, Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies (benjamin.lisle@colby.edu)

Digital Maine is a digital humanities project developed by the American Studies program. It is a forum for storytelling—stories by and about Mainers, stories told by things and places. It is also an archive. We find, digitize, create, and archive artifacts about Maine and produced by Mainers—things like photos, letters, maps, films, reports, and oral histories. We use these artifacts to build interpretive projects about Maine and its cultures, telling stories through video documentaries and short films, radio documentaries and podcasts, interactive maps, and multimedia interpretive narratives. A research assistant on this project will play an important role in building and shaping the future of this initiative. You will learn how to use different online exhibition tools—including mapping and timeline applications. Applicants should have an interest in social history, culture, and/or design, as well as a curiosity about how digital technologies can transform the scholarship we produce. No technical or coding experience is necessary, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Art History: Graffiti on Frescoes / Word and Image Studies

Sponsor: Véronique Plesch, Professor of Art (veronique.plesch@colby.edu)

Why would someone deface Renaissance paintings with graffiti? My current research deals with a fascinating and ignored practice: that of writing on frescoes. I am writing a book that features a small northern Italian chapel that contains more than 150 graffiti scratched on its 15th-century frescoes that record four centuries of important events in the life of the village. The CARA research assistant will track and organize materials (both visual and scholarly) and help with historical contextual research and with editorial matters.

Biology: The Population Dynamics of Mutualistic Species

Sponsor: Christopher Moore, Assistant Professor of Biology (christopher.moore@colby.edu)

As an ecologist, I study how the patterns of distributions and abundance of organisms change in space and time, which is very important to understand in this rapidly-changing world. In my lab we conduct mathematical, computational, and empirical approaches understand how species’ abundances change. Specifically, we focus on mutualism. Mutualism is where two or more species, in each other’s presence, increases each other’s fitness (reproduction and survival) through direct interaction. Common examples include plants and pollinators, or corals and zooxanthellae. However, a closer examination of ecological communities will reveal that Earth is teeming with a multiplicity of mutualistic interactions that are critical for ecosystem structure and function. Work in my lab is currently using an ant-aphid mutualistic system to understand how mutualistic populations change. I seek students who are interested in quantitative biology and who will initially assist in the collection and maintenance of ant and aphid populations to help us explain how these two mutualists interact with each other. This project is best suited for students interested in ecology and/or computational biology.

Biology: Neurodegenerative Disease: Inducing Dementia in Fruit Flies

Sponsor: Tariq Ahmad, Associate Professor of Biology (syed.ahmad@colby.edu)

Neurodegenerative diseases are one of the biggest challenges facing the biomedical community. Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are associated with progressive decline in the cognitive functions due to age-dependent loss of central nervous system neurons. Early diagnosis and intervention are particularly challenging. The development of early interventions has been inhibited by the lack of genetic markers.  One genetic marker associated with hereditary form of FTD is a mutation in a gene involved in the endosomal-lysosomal pathway that delivers cell surface proteins for degradation. However, it remains unclear how these mutant proteins lead to neurodegeneration.  My lab utilizes fruit fly Drosophila, a well-established model system for studying human neurodegenerative diseases to understand such problems. In Drosophila we have the ability to ask what happens when we ectopically express human mutant protein associated with the disease. Our goal is to determine the effects of expressing human mutant protein associated with FTD in the Drosophila brain on circadian rhythm – the ability of an organism to maintain a daily rhythm of physiological processes.  We use a combination of histological, biochemical, and behavioral techniques in our projects.  Student researchers are involved in all stages of the project, including experiment design, data acquisition and analysis, and manuscript preparation. Students are encouraged to suggest and design their own projects.

Chemistry: Anticancer Drugs and their Effects on Interesting Enzymes

Sponsor: Kevin Rice, Assistant Professor of Chemistry (kevin.rice@colby.edu)

In my laboratory in the Chemistry Department, we are interested in how certain anticancer drugs result in tumor cell death. In particular, we are asking whether these molecules affect particular enzymes that facilitate the biochemistry necessary for cells to persist and grow. The lead compound in our study is a clinical candidate that is indicated for patients with leukemia or brain cancer. Our work is in the realm of the “pre-clinical”, which means that we deal with cultured cancer cells and purified cellular components. Potential projects range from cell biology to synthetic chemistry, with plenty of biochemistry in between. It is our hope that this work will contribute to the clinical profile of these, and similar, chemotherapeutic drugs.

Chemistry: Reaction Mechanisms in Organic Chemistry

Sponsor: Das Thamattoor, Professor of Chemistry (dasan.thamattoor@colby.edu)

Research projects in my laboratory are developed with the undergraduate student in mind. They are carefully designed to address important questions in contemporary organic chemistry, have a high “education content,” and be compatible with the experience-level of the students. Current work is focusing on carbene chemistry, nonplanar hydrocarbons, and strained cyclic allenes. Student researchers are involved in all aspects of the research. Specifically, they will design and set up experiments; synthesize, purify, and analyze compounds; use research grade instruments and other experimental equipment to obtain data; become proficient in modern computational methods; retrieve information from the chemical literature; interpret results; work collaboratively with other scientists; write reports; give oral presentations; and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. An especially important aspect of the lab’s educational goals is to help students realize their maximum potential in a friendly, supportive, and nurturing environment. For more information, please see http://web.colby.edu/dmthamat/.

Computer Science: Modeling Perception and Action

Sponsor: Oliver Layton, Assistant Professor in Computer Science (oliver.layton@colby.edu)

How can the brain inspire us to design smarter machines? My lab focuses on the neural circuits that allow people to navigate through crowded areas, drive on dynamic roadways, and fly drones through cluttered environments. We build neural models with the goal of having computers simulate human-like perception, action, and decision-making while navigating through complex environments. In addition to the computational modeling, we design experiments with realistic, immersive virtual environments to better understand human navigation strategies and improve the neural models. We are beginning a new project where we are studying the flight patterns of human drone pilots and implementing our models so that they control drones during autonomous flight. We are looking for students interested in Computer Science and/or Psychology/Neuroscience to get involved in all areas of the research — with the neural modeling, machine learning, designing the virtual environments used in experiments, and collecting and analyzing data from human subjects.  Students with prior programming experience are encouraged to apply, but this is not required.

Economics: Global Health and Economic Development

Sponsor: Dan LaFave, Assistant Professor of Economics (daniel.lafave@colby.edu)

Research in the economics of global health brings students to the intersection of economics, public health, and medicine. My work focuses on issues related to young children and early-life human capital development in China, Indonesia, and Ethiopia, and works with both publicly available surveys and personally collected datasets. Some current projects examine the role of infrastructure – roads, electricity, etc. – in impacting health as well as how health traits and habits are passed down between generations. I’m looking for a student interested not only in global health but also in computer programming to assist in data acquisition, formatting, and cleaning. Qualified candidates should have strong quantitative and analytical skills. Prior programming experience is also welcome, although not necessary. The selected student can expect to gain an understanding of how health is central to the process of economic development and how international researchers approach frontline issues.

Economics: The Rise of City Planning Commissions and Their Economic Impact, 1900-1930

Sponsor: James Siodla, Assistant Professor of Economics (james.siodla@colby.edu)

The urban reform movement of the early twentieth century gave rise to the establishment of city planning commissions across the United States. These commissions were established with the goal of gaining efficiency in the provision of local public goods and services and improving the lives of urban citizens. Among other things, they were charged with governing land use, urban design, and infrastructure development. This project aims to build a database describing the adoption of city planning commissions from historical government reports, identify primary factors explaining the establishment of such commissions, and study their economic impact on urban communities.

Economics: Statistical Abstract of the Greater Waterville Area

Sponsor: Michael Donihue, Professor of Economics (michael.donihue@colby.edu)

The Statistical Abstract for the Greater Waterville Area first appeared in 2004 as a civic engagement project in conjunction with my Jan Plan course. The Abstract was originally created as a resource for community service providers seeking socio-economic data relevant to their client populations as an aid in the preparation of grant applications necessary for their work in the communities surrounding Waterville, Maine. Over the years, however, the Abstract has proven to be a popular resource for municipal officials, economic developers, local area business owners, and public school administrators. This project involves the production of the 2019 edition of the Abstract incorporating demographic information from the 2010 US Census and analysis using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) methods. This project requires a basic interest in socio-economic data and economic behavior, an attention to detail, and a keen sense of intellectual curiosity. As part of this project you will learn methods of data collection and validation, presentation of complicated economic relationships using GIS techniques in the production and analysis of maps, and some basic web authoring skills. The Abstract regularly features analytical research projects relevant to Maine. This year I’m working on a number of economic impact studies, including a study of migrant workers, an economic analysis of Maine’s lobster industry, and the value of Colby’s art museum. These and similar projects will be a regular feature of the Abstract in the future.

Education: School Choice and Democracy

Sponsor: David Casalaspi, Visiting Assistant Professor of Education (david.casalaspi@colby.edu)

School choice is one of the most popular education reform ideas today. In the United States, every state allows for some type of school choice in the form of charter schools, vouchers, magnet schools, or inter-district open enrollment programs, and each year approximately 20% of schoolchildren attend an alternative to their neighborhood public school. While an extensive body of research has examined the impact of school choice policies on student achievement, very little is known about how school choice policies (and market-based reforms more generally) reshape patterns of democratic engagement with education politics. This qualitative research utilizes parent surveys, interviews, and focus groups to examine the way that various school choice policy environments influence parents’ orientations toward political engagement with and support for their local school district.  The CARA will assist in all aspects of this project, including conducting literature reviews, creating surveys and interview protocols, collecting and analyzing data, and writing and presenting the results. Travel to various school communities as well as relevant academic conferences is a possibility. This project is ideal for a student with research interests in a variety of social science fields, including education, political science, sociology, and public policy.

Education: Transforming Rural Educational Experience (TREE)

Sponsor: Mark Tappan, Professor of Education (mark.tappan@colby.edu)

The goal of TREE is to work with schools and communities in Washington County, Maine to develop a strengths –based, poverty-, trauma-, and equity-informed model that will fortify rural school environments and redress inequity and injustice vis-à-vis access to resources and opportunities for some of the country’s poorest schools and most vulnerable students. Washington County is located along the Canadian border in Downeast Maine, home to two of Maine’s five Native American communities, and recently identified as one of the poorest counties east of the Mississippi. TREE is a project of the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott, Maine. It is inspired and informed by best practices in theory, research, and practice from around the country, and also deeply place-based, rooted in the history, culture, landscape, and natural and social ecologies of Washington County. A five-year pilot phase is currently underway, and we are seeking two research assistants to work with us on various aspects of the project, including designing evaluation protocols, conducting focus groups with students, parents, and teachers, analyzing interview data, conducting literature reviews, and presenting the results of our research. Some travel to Washington County over the course of the academic year is possible.

English: The History of Science Denial

Sponsor: Aaron Hanlon, Assistant Professor of English (aaron.hanlon@colby.edu)

Science denial–the tendency to reject well-established scientific findings–plays a prominent role in our lives today, from the belief that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax to the belief that vaccines cause autism. I’m writing a book on the history of science denial, in an effort to place some of the most influential and in many cases destructive forms of science denial into a longer history, from the time of Galileo through the industrial revolution to the present day. This book is not just about presenting scientific facts and telling people they’re wrong, but about asking and answering difficult questions about where healthy skepticism–an important part scientific inquiry itself–ends and where denialism begins; about what has counted as “science” historically and what has not; and about whether scientists themselves sometimes share culpability for science denial when they overstate the capabilities and functions of the scientific enterprise, or when they become boosters or cheerleaders of science at the expense of other branches of knowledge that offer better explanations for historical and cultural phenomena. As a literary historian, I’ll also be attentive in this book to the roles that various forms of writing we call “literature”–both fiction and nonfiction–have played in both distorting and correcting scientific knowledge. I’m looking for a CARA student who’s interested in the relationships between science and literature (including science fiction), and in particular who’s interested in doing literary and historical research. The successful student collaborator on this project will take ownership of a historical example of science denial, conduct research on this topic, and help me assimilate your findings into the wider history I present in the book. Particularly outstanding student collaborators may have the opportunity to co-write a popular press essay with me on an aspect of science denial. If you would like more information about me and my work, you can find it on my website: http://www.aaronrhanlon.com/

English: A Digital Exhibition of Rare Books: Orientalism and the Romance of The Rubaiyat:

Sponsor: Mary Ellis Gibson, Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of Literature (mary.ellis.gibson@colby.edu)

Would you like to be published in your first year at Colby? Join me to create a special digital exhibit for the Colby Library–you’ll research, write, edit and share in the design of the exhibition.You’ll learn much about the world of publishing, from mass markets to artists’ books. Together we will build a digital exhibition to be linked to the website of the Colby College Special Collections (rare book room). The  digital exhibition will highlight our library’s collection of more than 200 different editions of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Persian astronomer and poet, Omar Khayyam. This poem became a public sensation in the late nineteenth-century, a sensation that has lasted even to our own time. Phrases from the poem still surface in greeting cards, on the walls of wine shops, and in advertisements. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is still a popular gift book, and it’s a fine poem in its own right. If you’re interested in or want to learn about web design, writing and editing for the public, print history, or poetry, this project is for you.

Environmental Studies: Conservation in Maine

Sponsor: Philip Nyhus, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies (philip.nyhus@colby.edu)

My students have been involved in a variety of research projects related to land and water conservation in Maine. In recent years we have worked with the Maine Lakes Society on their innovative LakeSmart program and I am collaborating with a variety of state and regional organizations related to large landscape conservation. This year I am looking for additional students interested in helping with this research. Current students are developing a database to support regional lake conservation. I am exploring new research projects in Maine and New England focused on land conservation that would benefit from student research assistants.

Environmental Studies: Historical Marine Ecology and Conservation

Sponsor: Loren McClenachan, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies (loren.mcclenachan@colby.edu)

Long term change in marine ecosystems has been substantial, in particular due to overfishing and overhunting over centuries. This CARA project contributes to ongoing research in the field of historical marine ecology and conservation, with a focus on informing fisheries management and ecosystem restoration. Research will involve working with historical documents and large datasets as part of a larger ongoing project.

Environmental Studies: Human-Wildlife Conflict and Wildlife Conservation

Sponsor: Philip Nyhus, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies (philip.nyhus@colby.edu)

My students have been involved in a variety of research projects related to wildlife conservation. In recent years we have mapped habitat and developed conservation plans for potential reintroduction of the critically endangered South China tiger (published with student co-authors in the journal of Biological Conservation) and documented the extent of human deaths and injuries by large cats in captivity, among other projects. This year I am looking for additional students interested in continuing research related to human-wildlife conflict and conservation. My research students have been collaborating on research examining patterns of human-wildlife conflict, a global review of compensation as a tool for human-wildlife conflict, and issues related to conflict with captive animals. I am also beginning new research projects related to large mammal conservation in Asia and developing a new book series on biodiversity conservation that would benefit from student research assistance.

German: Create Dangerously: Edwidge Danticat’s Perspective on Trauma, Loss, and Memory

Sponsor: Alicia Ellis, Assistant Professor of German (alicia.ellis@colby.edu)

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer of fiction and nonfiction. In her work Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (2010), she reflects on the role of the artist, particularly those who come from regions of conflict. While the center of the project is Danticat’s essays in Create Dangerously, I look to her fiction to work through the author’s self-proclaimed obligation to the excavation of stories of trauma and loss and the experience, the memory and the recall of terror. The final goal is a book-length manuscript. Student research assistants will help me in the research process for the introduction and book proposal including collecting the research and compiling the bibliography. Students will conduct academic research, use bibliographic management tools such as Zotero, write brief summaries of texts with citations and learn how to revise and edit writing. This project is best suited for students interested in the Humanities and/or with a concentration in diasporic literature, trauma studies and African-American/Caribbean literature.

German: Cat Maps – A Digital Humanities Project

Sponsor: Arne Koch, Dean of Global Engagement, Associate Professor of German (arne.koch@colby.edu)

How is it possible that even though humans seem to have figured out the entirety of the animal world that cats continue to elude us? Why do humans find felines so intriguing and provocative? As a digital companion to a book-length study, tentatively titled “Furry Friends and Feline Demons”, this CARA project helps address these and related questions through the creation of an interactive digital map documenting the representation of cats in German-speaking countries. As part of a larger project on animal-human relations (emphasis cats) in German-speaking cultures in the 19th and 20th centuries, this project will be the foundation of what I envision to become the interactive index of primary and theoretical sources for my ongoing book project. The research assistants will contribute to the project on several levels which will prepare them for their own future research: reading and discussion of existing scholarship on the topic; database and library research, locating and recording of sources; evaluation of existing interactive humanities mapping projects; creation of an interactive map of German-speaking countries beyond the standard Google-map fare; collection, creation and adding of map content; presentation of preliminary research findings. Some reading knowledge of German would be a preferred student qualification. Ideally, research assistants would also learn how to read old German blackletter typeface (Fraktur).

German: The Goethe Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts

Sponsor: Rory Bradley (rory.bradley@colby.edu)

Though best known for his contributions to world literature, such as Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther, the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a polymath whose work was not limited to theater, poetry and prose fiction. Throughout his long lifetime, Goethe was also active as a statesman, painter, philosopher, travel writer and natural scientist. Since his intellectual pursuits were so broad and varied, it is not surprising that his approach to philosophical problems was often idiosyncratic, if not wholly unique. To facilitate the understanding of his works, a new collaborative research initiative has been started by an international group of scholars: the “Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts.” As a contributor to this lexicon project, I am seeking CARA scholars who will work with me on researching key philosophical concepts in Goethe’s work, and thereby learn skills that will prepare them for their own research: reading and assessing existing scholarship; conducting database and library research; locating sources and identifying connections between thinkers along lines of influence; presenting research findings in an article or conference presentation. The results of our collaboration will eventually become one or more entries in the published Goethe lexicon. The ability to read German is beneficial, but it is not required, as Goethe’s works are readily available in translation and much of the recent reception has been written in English.

Government: The Politics of Child Welfare in Latin America

Sponsor: Lyndsay Mayka, Assistant Professor of Government (lindsay.mayka@colby.edu)

I am looking for one or more CARA scholars to work with me in developing my second book, which examines how Latin American governments have protected (or failed to protect) the rights of children and adolescents. All Latin American countries have embraced the language of children’s rights since the ratification of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet in practice, state institutions for child welfare vary dramatically. Paradoxically, countries that established early child welfare systems by the mid-20th Century, such as Argentina, have made less progress in adopting rights-based systems than latecomers, such as Bolivia. This book will examine the long-term policy legacies of prior child welfare systems on contemporary struggles to advance children’s rights. I also explore how policy entrepreneurs can mobilize coalitions of business actors, NGOs, grassroots movements, and bureaucrats to promote rights-based reforms for child protection, even in hostile political environments. The CARA scholars will build newspaper archives and will collect policy documents from five Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. Proficiency in Spanish or Portuguese is required.

Government: Are Americans Sorting into Ideological Tribes?

Sponsor: Daniel Shea, Professor of Government (daniel.shea@colby.edu)

Bill Bishop, in The Big Short (2008), seemed to discover that since the 1970s Americans have been forming tight-knit political communities. In 1976, for example, 20 percent of counties in the United States produced presidential landslides (where the difference between candidates was more than 20 percent). By 2008 that figure had jumped to nearly 60 percent. In other words, Bishop argues that Americans are starting to pick and choose where to live and who to socialize with based on political ideology. Republicans are moving to conservative communities and Democrats are seeking-out liberal cities and towns. While not rejecting the possibility that many factors may be operating to make Americans more culturally and politically inbred, others scholars have challenged the “sorting hypothesis.” For example, hasn’t the very definition of “neighborhoods” changed? While citizens continue to connect in deep, meaningful ways, is it usually through social media – and not necessarily at the corner coffee shop or bowling league? Professor Shea has written several publications on this controversial topic, and he is looking for a student-scholar to help add new data and analysis to this important debate. This research will likely culminate in articles and book chapters.

Government: State Capacity and Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (POSITION FILLED)

Sponsor: Laura Seay, Assistant Professor of Government (laura.seay@colby.edu)

As the Congolese state recovers from two decades of conflict, donors have poured billions of dollars into rebuilding state capacity, especially in the security sector. This project aims to determine whether donor-funded efforts to strengthen policing, intelligence, and military services have affected human rights in a positive or negative way in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The research assistant involved in this project will continue to build an in-progress dataset of attacks on Congolese journalists, civil society actors, and human rights activists that will be used to test whether stronger state capacity in the security arena leads to more or less repression of civilians. This project will be of particular interest to students interested in international affairs, human rights, and/or African studies. French language skills are helpful, but not a requirement for this position.

History: Dangerous Liaisons: The Forbidden Love Affairs between Prisoners of War (POWs) and German Women in World War II

Sponsor: Raffael Scheck, Audrey Wade Hitting Katz and Sheldon Toby Katz Professor of History (raffael.scheck@colby.edu)

Nazi Germany forbade love relations between foreign prisoners and German women, but the shortage of guards and the economic utility of using the POWs in small farms and businesses led to many amorous encounters that, once discovered, triggered humiliating trials and long prison sentences for both parties involved. Why did the POWs and the German women (and sometimes German men, too) still run the risk and engage in these dangerous liaisons? What do these international love affairs say about wartime Nazi society, gender roles, and perceptions of enemies in the most destructive war of history? I have collected an enormous amount of material and would appreciate help in organizing and evaluating it. Knowledge of French and German is a great plus.

Italian: Twentieth Century Poetry (Avant-garde, Visual, Oral)

Sponsor: Gianluca Rizzo, Paul D. and Marilyn Paganucci Assistant Professor of Italian Language and Literature (gianluca.rizzo@colby.edu)

I am seeking a student interested in the history of Twentieth Century poetry, and motivated to learn more about the lives and works of its fascinating protagonists. Have you ever wondered how an anthology is made? Who decides which authors are included and which ones are left out? What’s the relationship between the various forms of avant-garde poetry: “linear,” “visual,” and “oral”?  These are some of the questions we will be addressing in preparing the groundwork for an anthology of Italian poetry of the first half of the 20th century, to be published by the University of Toronto Press. I need the help of a research assistant to locate, read, and summarize materials (books, articles, journals), relating to the writers and critics who made the first fifty years of the last century such an intriguing period in Italian history. Knowledge of Italian is not required.

Latin American Studies: Indigenous Representations in Contemporary Popular Culture in the Americas

Sponsor: Sandra Bernal Heredia, Assistant Professor of Spanish (sandra.bernal.heredia@colby.edu)

My research examines indigenous and Cholo (urbanized indigenous people), forms of expressions in contemporary popular culture in Peru. Through an analysis of rap music, media representations, comic book characters, and cosmetic and aesthetics constructions, I analyze socio-cultural and identity patterns that emerge out of cultural variegations. A CARA fellow will help answer questions such as, how are indigenous and Cholo representations struggle to be “listened to” and “seen” within the dynamics of neoliberal and multicultural Peru? The CARA research assistant will read and discuss existing scholarship on the topic, retrieve and organize visual and scholarly material, and use bibliographic management tools such as Zotero. Proficiency in Spanish is required.

Psychology: Children’s Thinking (POSITION FILLED)

Sponsor: Martha Arterberry, Professor of Psychology (martha.arterberry@colby.edu)

One line of my research is 3- to 5-year-old children’s event memory. My students and I are exploring how children remember events and what factors predict how well they will do this. Much of this work has implications for children’s eyewitness testimony, and a guiding question is when children can be reliable eyewitnesses. First year CARAs join a student research team comprised of psychology majors, and they help with study design, recruiting families, testing child participants, observing behavior from video, and preparing the findings for presentations or publications. Former CARA scholars have appeared as authors on conference presentations, and they have majored in Biology, Education, and/or Psychology. For more information about my lab see: http://www.colby.edu/psych/cognitive-development-lab/

Psychology: Improving Rodent Models of Human Psychological Disorders

Sponsor: Melissa Glenn, Associate Professor of Psychology (melissa.glenn@colby.edu)

The behavioral neuroscience lab in the Psychology department at Colby is working on a large-scale project in collaboration with scientists at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada to develop new, ethologically-rich methods of studying behavior in rats. We aim to derive improved and accurate analogs for complex human behaviors, including cognition, emotion, and sociality. This project was initiated in response to problem of translating pre-clinical animal findings to human clinical applications. A major objective of our research is to understand animal behavior in naturaistic contexts in order to make extensions to human behavior and treatment. We are excited to leverage state of the art technological tools to house and study rats in large, complex social environments here at Colby and at Concordia in Montreal.

Psychology: Existential Functions of Power

Sponsor: Ross Rogers, Visiting Assistant Professor in Psychology (ross.rogers@colby.edu)

My research focuses on what happens when we are reminded of our mortality. Generally, reminders of mortality bolster efforts to secure or enhance perceptions of meaning and individual self-worth. Positions of power, with the authority, control of scarce resources, and prestige, that accompany them, seemingly provide those who hold such positions with evidence that they have secured culturally-valued meaning and elevated individual self-worth. I am examining a variety of questions regarding the relationship between awareness of personal mortality and power. Such questions include, are people more likely to seek power following a reminder of mortality; do reminders of mortality impact how those with power treat those without power? Student researchers are involved in all aspects of the research process including experiment design, experiment execution, and data analysis/interpretation.

Religious Studies: Contemporary Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism

Sponsor: David Freidenreich, Pulver Family Associate Professor of Jewish Studies (david.freidenreich@colby.edu)

I am writing a book on the ways in which premodern Christians used ideas about Jews to think about Muslims. Doing so enabled Christians to define Islam as the timeless enemy of Christendom and to reinforce fundamental Christian beliefs through contrast with a fearsome foil. Familiarity with past representations of purportedly Jewish Muslims, I’ll argue, also contributes to a deeper understanding of the ways in which ideas about Muslims—and Jews—function today. I’d love to work with students interested in researching contemporary rhetoric about Muslims and Jews so that we can figure out together how best to support that claim.

Science, Technology, and Society: “Big History:” From the Big Bang to Today

Sponsor: James Fleming, Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society (james.fleming@colby.edu)

I am researching the field of “Big History” — a popular narrative that starts with the Big Bang and ends in the current world — and building a version of this not based on cosmology and Earth system science, but on world history, the history of world religions, and the world history of science and technology. Students will read widely in published and primary sources on world history, cultures, and cosmologies, prepare research abstracts and outlines, and help develop a narrative account of cosmic history not based solely on modern Western science.

Sociology: Church and State in Local Politics

Sponsor: Damon Mayrl, Assistant Professor of Sociology (damon.mayrl@colby.edu)

Recent Supreme Court decisions have altered the terrain of permissible church-state relations in the United States. Various financial and symbolic entanglements between religion and government, previously forbidden under a regime of “strict separation,” are today increasingly permitted. To what extent have these changes in church-state jurisprudence resulted in changes in practice? This project engages this question by asking how local government officials think and make decisions about religion and public life. The CARA fellow may aid in this research by conducting literature searches, observing local government meetings, transcribing interviews, and engaging in archival research. Students interested in religion, politics, law, and public policy would be well suited for the project.

Sociology: Immigration, Ethnic Diversity, and Civic Life across Contemporary Advanced Democracies

Sponsor: Christel Kesler, Assistant Professor of Sociology (christel.kesler@colby.edu)

More than at any other time in recent memory, immigration is front page news across advanced democracies. Some countries struggle to respond to massive waves of new migrants fleeing ongoing war and poverty and drawn by the promise of political stability and economic security. Other countries continue to wrestle with longer-term issues of integration and multiculturalism policies. Existing literature in the social sciences suggests that immigration-generated diversity may result not only in anti-immigrant sentiment, but also in a more general turn away from civic and public life, and an erosion of the social solidarity necessary to sustain generous welfare states. But we also have reasons to believe that this is not a universal response, that these processes may be strongly conditioned by a country’s existing social institutions and social policies. This ongoing project focuses on documenting and explaining variation in public responses to contemporary immigration-generated diversity across Western European and North American countries, particularly the effects of growing diversity on civic engagement and support for the welfare state. The CARA fellow will assist with reviewing the scholarly literature, analyzing existing survey data, compiling a database of relevant social policies, and further data collection. A student with a broad interest in the social sciences and particular interests in immigration, ethnic diversity, or cross-nationally comparative policy research would be ideal for the position.

Sociology: Religion and Deindustrialization

Sponsor: Damon Mayrl, Assistant Professor of Sociology (damon.mayrl@colby.edu)

Churches played an important role in facilitating industrial development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, many parts of the United States, including Maine, are experiencing deindustrialization—a decline of the manufacturing and extractive bases that previously sustained vibrant local economies. How have Maine’s churches responded to this transformation? How have they helped local communities and politicians negotiate, challenge, or respond to the decline of manufacturing jobs?  How have they acted as resources for the communities left behind by factory closures? The CARA fellow may aid in this research by conducting literature searches, undertaking historical research, and composing a database of mill and factory closures. Students interested in religion, economics, and American studies would be well suited for the project, which will also allow the fellow to become better acquainted with the history and politics of Maine.

Sports Medicine: The Diagnosis and Epidemiology of Sports-Related Concussions

Sponsor: Paul Berkner, College Medical Director (paul.berkner@colby.edu)

I am looking for a student interested in the diagnosis and epidemiology of sports-related concussions. We have two ongoing projects related to concussions that students can get involved in: The first involves reviewing and editing baseline and post-concussion demographics on high school students in Maine. This project will involve working with the Computer Science Department at Colby as well as interfacing with local high schools regarding data management and collection. The second project involves novel approaches to balance testing, both for healthy individuals and for concussed athletes. Both of these projects offer direct involvement in clinical research and possibly the opportunity to submit work for publication.