By Holly Gonzalez ’15
Many St. Mary’s College students mark the culmination of their education with the completion of a St. Mary’s Project (SMP), an independent research or creative expression project sponsored by a faculty mentor. The SMP allows for in depth study that matches students’ educational goals, and can build off internship, study abroad, experimental or other research experiences. The completed projects, which are presented publicly to those of all academic disciplines, provide students with an opportunity to showcase their responsibility and personal integrity towards their education. During this year’s SMP week, we caught up with seniors Lauren Schoene, Fatima Dainkeh, Ana Villela and Alice Mutter to discuss the SMP process and the value of their work.
Renée Dennison, faculty mentor
SMP Title: “Effectiveness of Art Therapy for Depressed Adolescents: Insights from Interviewing Art Therapists”
Summary of Project: My SMP looks at major depressive disorder, how it is manifested in the adolescent, and why art therapy is a useful treatment for adolescent depression. I interviewed Licensed Clinical Professional Art Therapists (LCPATs) who specialize in treating adolescents with major depressive disorder in order to learn more about what they do and whether or not they find art therapy to be effective.
What sparked your interest in this research? I became interested in art therapy after participating in several art therapy groups myself. I found it to be very therapeutic, and I was interested in learning more about it and how it can help treat mental illnesses such as major depression.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of your research? The most exciting and rewarding part of my research was meeting with art therapists and interviewing them about what they do. It was also very inspiring for me; it made me really want to go to graduate school to pursue a degree in art therapy.
What has been the most challenging part of your research? Scheduling interviews was challenging. I wound up giving up my spring break in order to conduct interviews and transcribe. It was very time intensive.
What is the process like collaborating with your mentor to develop and carry out your research? It is very student-driven. You are expected to have a game plan in place and really stick to your deadlines. Your mentor is a huge resource and, of course, is there to guide you along the way and to answer any questions you have, but the SMP is really about taking initiative and making the project your own. It has definitely been a learning experience.
What is the benefit of doing an SMP? Knowing that I have this research experience under my belt is a great feeling. I think it will really benefit me in the future, especially when I am in graduate school working towards my art therapy degree.
Religious studies major, anthropology minor
Betül Başaran, faculty mentor
SMP Title: “Amazing Grace: Exploring the role of Christianity and the Black Church in racial oppression against African Americans”
Summary of Project: My project entails understanding how religion, specifically Christianity, can be used as a coping mechanism and/or driving force to resist oppression in the African American community. In this project, I review the historical concepts and current meanings of race in America and its implications. I show the importance of religion in the black community, especially in terms of social justice and civil rights, and highlight significant findings, current events, and studies that show race inequities today in order to propose suggestions on how to help with racial injustices in America.
What sparked your interests in this research? My identity as a Black American. As a young leader and growing activist, the issues revolving around police brutality and racial disparities inspired me to conduct my SMP around racial oppression and possible ways to make a positive change.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of your research? Knowing that I dedicated my SMP to something bigger than myself.
What has been the most challenging part of your research? Physically typing my thoughts out. I think I had writer’s block almost every day. Even though I was very passionate about my topic, I felt anxious every time I got in front of the computer because, to me, this was a big deal.
What is the process like collaborating with your mentor to develop and carry out your research? To say the least, AMAZING. The topic I chose to do my research paper on was and will always be emotional for me. There were times when I felt motivated and there were times when I didn’t. However, throughout the process my mentor was very supportive. She was able to keep my fire burning mentally so that I could actually get my research done.
What is the benefit of doing an SMP? Everything. From beginning to end. Your research skills become impeccable. You are granted the opportunity to read really cool articles and books. You become a master of your topic, and you can show grad schools and other post graduate institutions that you CAN do almost anything at this point! But most importantly, you gain patience and perseverance. Along with the list of other positive attributes, you realize that you have the ability to keep your sanity during times you would’ve never thought you could.
International languages and culture major, educational studies and mathematics minors
Leslie Bayers, faculty mentor
SMP Title: The Voice of Latino Students: Testimonios, Caminos and Fronteras in Achieving a Higher Education
Summary of Project: This project focuses on the Latino experience at St. Mary’s College (1) to analyze the barriers that Latino students face in achieving a higher education; (2) to identify and compare the different experiences and paths in the application process of current students; (3) to identify and describe the experiences of Latino students as a minority group; (4) to improve the recruitment and retention methods of Latino students; (5) to better the Latino experience. As part of my research, I interviewed eleven current St. Mary’s students to give a voice to the experiences of Latino students as a testimony to bring awareness and knowledge to the St. Mary’s community of an issue that has not been discussed on campus to a great extent.
What led you and interests you in this research? The Latino population is one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States. Despite this rapid growth, the percentage of Latino students pursuing higher education has remained alarmingly low. As a Latino student myself, I was interested to learn the different experiences and pathways that other Latino students at St. Mary’s College have encountered in the journey of receiving a college education.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of your research? Through research, I learned about many of the obstacles that Latino students have in terms of their education. The most exciting and rewarding part of my research is the compilation of testimonies. The testimonies are not only one of the most important components of my research but also encapsulate the purpose behind the experiences, the voices of Latino students. Their stories emphasize the diversity, culture and unique individual experiences that strengthen the St. Mary’s community in one way or another. The information I have received from my interviews will provide the college with essential means of improving campus life in general, especially for Latino students.
What has been the most challenging part of your research? Finding literature about my topic was quite difficult as my topic is very focused on a specific subtype of students and race. The most tiresome task, by far, was transcribing the interviews because of their length and rich content. An emotionally challenging part of my SMP has been learning about the outcomes and Latino students’ experiences, specifically on campus.
What is the process like collaborating with your mentor to develop and carry out your research? My mentor was also my professor in prior semesters. Thus, we had already established a professor–student relationship, making the collaboration process easier. Additionally, working under a mentor that you are already comfortable with, eases you into the process of potentially working for a boss in a professional setting. Instead of making the leap from a student to an employee, this type of collaboration acts as a stepping stone. When a mentor challenges you and provides you with high quality, one-on-one feedback, it enhances your experiences, broadens your mind, and hones your skills into not only becoming a better student, but also a professional.
What is the benefit of doing an SMP? When you think about doing a St. Mary’s Project, the first thoughts that may come to your mind are stress, pressure, and lack of sleep. However, completing an SMP gives you practice for professional settings, as well as do a lot of independent, unstructured work that a classroom may not offer. Every SMP has a unique focus that allows students to explore avenues of interest that may not have been viable to explore within the context and confines of a classroom.
Political science major
Diana Boros, faculty mentor
SMP Title: One World, Many Experiences: The Use of Feminist Political Theory in Revealing an Essentialized Women’s World
Summary of Project: Women around the world possess a plethora of qualities and characteristics and have had a vast array of experiences. Despite this, traditional Western political theory has focused on a singular image of women, depicting them as depoliticized wives and mothers restricted to the domestic sphere. Such depictions of women in theory have created an essentialized or overgeneralized view of women that has misinformed policy. With policy that is using a singular view of women, those who do not fit into this traditional view fail to benefit from such measures, and are even harmed from such policy in many cases. This is shown in my work through three policy examples: global economic development, sex tourism, and the United States occupation of Afghanistan. In response to these issues, my work discusses a proposal for a feminist epistemological revolution in order to completely change the way knowledge is gained by incorporating a gendered lens into such epistemology. Through a feminist epistemological revolution, women’s experiences can be re-conceptualized as diverse and in flux.
What led you and interests you in this research? I was interested in using an applied method to study political theory, particularly feminist political theory. Looking at the harmful implications of much of policy on women in particular, I used this approach to investigate why this was happening through a gendered analysis of traditional Western political theory, while applying an activist lens in order to address this issue in a productive manner. I love the concept of using political theory to solve real-world issues.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of your research? It has been so exciting to see the reaction from people when they learn about my project. Arguing for an approach that you truly believe in is a very empowering process, and it really taught me to not only study the world from an analytic perspective, but from a problem solving mode as well.
What has been the most challenging part of your research? The most challenging part of this process was formulating my interests and ideas into a comprehensive piece that was achievable in the time available to me. Nine months of research feels like nothing when you are dealing with these immense topics.
What is the process like collaborating with your mentor to develop and carry out your research? SMPs are a unique experience with your mentor. Professor Boros really pushed me to put out the best work that I could, but never told me what to argue or how to analyze things. Whether it was having questions answered about Social Contract Theorists or getting feedback on my final presentation, my mentor engaged with my project on multiple levels to ensure that my work was solid, while simultaneously giving me the independence to pursue what interested me most.
What are the benefits of doing an SMP? A St Mary’s Project lets you not only explore a topic you are interested in, but to learn how to work on long term projects. The process of writing an 80 page paper is very experiential, and you learn a great deal about yourself as an academic and a researcher.
To learn more about St. Mary’s Projects, visit www.smcm.edu/academics/st-marys-projects.