The research featured here represents an ongoing effort by Colby to further interact and engage with the world beyond Mayflower Hill.
Whether studying archaeology in Peru or building a classroom in Kenya, members of the Colby community are finding new ways to contribute to the global society.
GOVERNMENT RESEARCH IN CENTRAL AFRICA
Assistant Professor of Government Laura Seay conducts research on the way people organize for survival in the area of central Africa. She seeks to learn how people in these countries cope with governments that fail to properly serve their citizens. During the summer of 2014, Seay conducted on-site research in four provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The ensuing fall, a team of Colby students assisted in the analysis of data collected by Seay and her co-researchers.
INTEGRATING NEW AND PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IN SEMANTIC MEMORY
Jennifer Coane, Ph.D.
Consider the words castanet and Casablanca. Most speakers of English experience little difficulty when processing these items: Castanets are quickly recognized as musical instruments associated with the Spanish dance, flamenco; and Casablanca might call to mind the classic movie, complete with snippets of dialogue or images of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The ease and speed with which prior knowledge is accessed is impressive, considering the vast amount of knowledge acquired over the course of a lifetime. Merely considering words, one estimate is that the average adult has about 50,000 lexical entries stored in semantic memory. For each item, in addition to the knowledge about the word itself – spelling, pronunciation, grammatical class – an individual can access rich conceptual knowledge, such as prior experiences with the word’s referent, information related to or associated with the word, and so on. In addition, semantic memory includes a large database of people both famous and intimately known, and the extensive list of factual or fictional knowledge acquired through formal education, media outlets, and personal experience. The semantic system supports, stores, and organizes this information in a powerful knowledge base, which is critical for supporting how individuals navigate their world on a daily basis: Without it, we would have difficulty processing language, understanding pop culture referents, and, more generally, understanding the world we live in.
A key characteristic of the knowledge stored in semantic systems is that these memories are de-contextualized. In other words, the specifics of when and how this knowledge was acquired are not associated with the content of the memory itself. The context-independent nature of semantic memory distinguishes this type of knowledge from episodic memories, which are situated in time and space and often context-dependent. Because, ultimately, one goal of educational systems is to create persistent and accessible knowledge that will support reasoning and problem-solving across contexts and disciplines, my research program examines which types of learning and encoding techniques promote durable knowledge that can be retrieved in a variety of situations with multiple cues. I hope to determine whether learning techniques that have been empirically validated to promote long-term contextually dependent episodic retention (e.g., distributed practice, retrieval practice, meaningful processing) support the integration of recently acquired information into semantic systems.
My research focuses on three inter-related aspects of semantic memory: How knowledge is acquired and integrated into semantic networks, how it is organized in a way that facilitates efficient retrieval and use, and how it can be called upon to support performance in a variety of tasks and situations. An important assumption about semantic knowledge is that this information can be accessed and retrieved automatically. Thus, I propose a program of research aimed at identifying the contributions of controlled and automatic processes and measures of performance that can dissociate the two, such as response times or error rates. To examine these questions, I rely on a variety of behavioral paradigms and incorporate measures of individual differences, such as age and differences in cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory, attention).
Jennifer Coane is a recipient of a 2015 Scholar Award in Understanding Human Cognition from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The $600,000 award will support her lab’s research on how new information is integrated into existing memory stores and knowledge systems.
MOSCOW STATE UNIVERSITY – INTERNSHIP IN JOURNALISM
Russian majors Emily Tolman ’16 and Caitlin Lyons ’15 traveled to Moscow to complete internships at the Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Faculty of Journalism as part of the Colby-Moscow State University Exchange Program. In addition to attending several classes, Tolman and Lyons worked alongside faculty to edit the 2014 edition of World of Media, a publication of scholarly essays published in English.
Their experiences will culminate with the production of a paper — Lyons’s on nationalism and sports culture in Russia, and Tolman’s on how Russian identity is linked to traditional Russian culinary dishes.
PERUVIAN ARCHAEOLOGY: INSTITUTO DE ESTUDIOS PERUANOS
Maya Terry-Shindelman ’17 spent time at IEP to explore and develop her interest in archaeology. Maya excavated at designated sites using ceramic analysis and preserved organic material. The group focused their efforts on Panquilma, a first site occupied by the Ischm, then later by the Incas from about 1100-1500 A.D.
This research experience was funded by a grant from the Elfrieda Frank Foundation.
PREVENTING DEFORESTATION IN NEPAL
Sahan T. M. Dissanayake (Economics) led the project, which Involves one Colby student research assistant (Bishu Khanal). Using choice experiment surveys, a specific survey method used to elicit preferences for environmental policies, this project studies preferences for contracts to prevent deforestation (REDD+ contracts) in Nepal. Data and results are integrated into Colby courses (EC341, EC476). The program is funded by World Bank and Portland State University, along with RA funding from the Economics Department. It partners with Forest Action (an NGO in Nepal), Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, and World Bank.
SOMALI BANTU BUILD A COMMUNITY
Catherine Besteman, Ph.D.
Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology
Reunited with Somali Bantu families after decades, anthropologist Catherine Besteman chronicles their lives.
Besteman began working in southern Somalia in the late eighties before the outbreak of civil war in 1991. Many refugees from the communities where she had worked in Somalia have resettled in Lewiston, Maine. Under her direction, members of the local Bantu community and Colby College students have produced a wiki-type website about the Somali Bantus of Lewiston.