When a computer engineering student and an English major help a rhetoric professor with a book about British women writers and food, you’re seeing the interdisciplinary synergy of undergraduate research in action.
A College of General Studies lecturer, Kate Nash is writing a book on how twentieth-century writers—among them Virginia Woolf, Betty Miller, and Muriel Spark—incorporated wartime food ephemera into their fiction. During the austere years of World War I and World War II, governments aimed to manage food consumption through mass-media campaigns. Nash looks at how women writers incorporate these propaganda materials—from posters to infant feeding manuals to domestic pamphlets—into their writing as they confront how the state regulates femininity and the female body in service of the nation. In the books that Nash studies, young women use chocolate as a form of currency during the hungry years of wartime London, and a restaurant meal becomes a symbol of racial assimilation.
This may not sound like the kind of project a computer engineering student would sign up to work on, but Rene Colato (CGS’18, ENG’20) was up for the challenge. After the topic of political propaganda came up in his rhetoric class with Nash, he became interested in helping with her research. The CGS Undergraduate Research Experience program, funded and administered through the Center of Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, provided Colato a stipend for his work.
Nash says that talking with a non-humanities student gave her a new perspective on one of her key concepts—rationing—and that Colato’s technical experience was useful as she expanded the digital humanities side of her project. Colato built a website Nash can use to showcase her own materials and her students’ work. When she teaches during the January Boston-London semester, Nash assigns her students to find and describe a propaganda poster from the Imperial War Museum. Now the students can create a digital showcase of those posters for their class.
After Colato’s and Nash’s project concluded at the end of the fall 2017 semester, Nash started a new collaboration with Coleen Ilano (CGS’18, CAS’20), an English and psychology major. Ilano was interested in doing research related to literature, psychology, or gender studies, and she loved her classes with Nash—so the project was a perfect fit. Ilano says, “I am able to learn more about the subjects I love while also being able to assist a professor who I greatly admire and respect.”
Ilano is helping Nash collect materials for a book chapter on Muriel Spark’s 1963 novel, The Girls of Slender Means, set in England in 1945. Ilano said one of the most interesting things she’s learned this semester is “the ways that women in fiction can exercise agency and maintain autonomy over their bodies” even when those acts might also conform to “restrictive social standards.” Analyzing a book written decades ago has helped her to place herself in the mindset of another time while integrating her own contemporary understanding of the themes.
“Keeping an open but critical mindset … has allowed me to enjoy the book more fully and enrich my own experience,” she said. She’s found that mindset is something she can apply to other areas of her life, too. She says it’s helped her mature in her studies and in her understanding of others.
Colato says he’s glad he could work in “a one-on-one work environment that encouraged exploration, academic growth, and innovative thinking to create something unique and profound.”
For her part, Nash says these collaborations have helped her refine her project, organize it into manageable steps, and communicate her work to different audiences in a way that anyone can understand– whether they’re studying computer engineering or English.
For more on Nash’s research, read her article, “Fixing the Interwar Meal: Positive Eugenics and Jewish Assimilation in Betty Miller’s Farewell Leicester Square,” in Modernism/modernity (Volume 2, Cycle 4). Her book manuscript is provisionally titled Consuming War: Modernism and the Rhetoric of Austerity.
Manufacturers are always promoting their newest probiotic by promising it will get rid of the bad bacteria in your body by bringing in the good bacteria. But are these probiotics doing what they are supposed to be doing? Professor Sandra Buerger, a lecturer in natural science and mathematics at the College of General Studies, and Alexander Smith (CGS’19) wanted to find out if these probiotics were the real deal.
With a grant from the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Buerger and Smith went to the drugstore and got samples of different probiotics. After going back to the lab, Buerger and Smith ran their experiment by putting the pill’s diluted bacterial powder onto petri dishes. Buerger also decided to test the probiotics against naturally fermented foods like miso soup and apple-cider vinegar. According to Buerger, “The numbers from our methods have been a little lower than what’s claimed on the box, but there are definitely living bacteria” in the probiotic pills.
According to BU Research, the next step for Buerger is finding out whether all those bacteria actually make it through the digestive system to the small intestine. To do this, Buerger and Smith plan on building an artificial stomach that will actually be able to digest the probiotics. After a few hours, Buerger says that she will check, “Are they still alive? Are there more of them ready to grow? Is there enough to still make a difference to the digestive system?”
Read the full story on Buerger’s and Smith’s research at BU Research.
Winning Capstone Projects Investigate GMOs, Gene Editing, Making Boston Green
On October 13, Boston University College of General Studies celebrated the outstanding students who received awards for the Capstone projects they completed last May. The Capstone project is a 50-page research term paper that CGS students complete in their sophomore year. Students draw on two years of interdisciplinary studies, working together as a team to synthesize data into a meaningful whole. The Capstone award is given annually to the team of students who present the best overall Capstone paper and defense. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a College of General Studies student for an academic project.
Team R: OMG GMOs
Team R’s winning Capstone group—Bryce Ashton, Katherine Fuller, Ixchel Lemus-Bromley, Surina Mehta, Kiera Stolecki, and Carleen Wenner—addressed a global issue: Genetically Modified Organisms and their use in food products. The team took a unique approach by focusing on the food offered in Boston University’s own dining halls. Team R faculty wrote, “Using creativity and innovation, they conducted student surveys, interviewed GMO scientists from Monsanto Corporation, interviewed Boston University dining hall administrators and conducted their own laboratory analyses of dining hall foods. The final paper was solidly founded on the most current scientific understanding … and connected the ethical, social and political issues involved.”
Team S: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee: Subcommittee on Human Gene Editing
Team S’s winning Capstone group— Samantha Calaguas, Daniel Flesch, Rebecca Hering, Taymi Herrera-Pujols, Yemi Osayame, Justin Santinelli, and Elizabeth Wimberly—explored the CRISPR-Cas technology as a way to edit harmful genes from the human genome, eradicate genetically inherited diseases, and fight diseases like cancer. Although the National Institutes of Health has a strong stance on human editing, the United States currently lacks legislation that regulates how this technology can be used. The team proposed legislation to codify the NIH guidelines into law. Team S faculty wrote, “Faculty were impressed with their thoroughness in covering a wide range of arguments.”
Team T: Re-Seeing Recidivism
Team T’s winning Capstone group— Morgan Ashurian, Eli Elman, Ann Fu, Surya Katamoto-Vazirani, Claire Linden, and Angel Wu— designed a nine-point plan to reduce the number of repeat offenders re-entering prison. The students thoroughly reviewed the current state of the problem and the literature of prison reform. Team S faculty wrote: “Their plan was measured, reasonable, comprehensive, and even optimistic for the future of our prison systems, both nationally and locally. … A crucial piece for the success of their plan was their economic argument for their implementation, which convinced us that their plan was both a great idea and also an example of cost-effective government.”
Team T: A Proposal to Address Sexual Violence on College Campuses: The Boston Intercollegiate Sexual Violence Alliance
Team T’s winning Capstone group— Spencer Bloomer, Isabel Donohoe, Brooke Hayman, William Jacob, James Krolewski, Justin Shapiro, and Danielle Wasserman— advocated for an alliance of five Boston and Cambridge universities to combat the problem of sexual violence on campuses. The students summarized how the federal government has addressed this problem, showed the current state of sexual violence on campus, and provided comprehensive background information that made their case convincing. Team T faculty wrote, “To go with their all-encompassing introduction to the problem, the students proposed a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and extensive solution.”
Team U: The Boston Green Concourse
Team U’s winning Capstone group— Sabrina Charania, Mercedes Cisneros, Cole Kerrigan, Christopher Ramey, Isabella Siskin, Skylar Ungerman, and Nicholas Yaitanes— proposed the establishment of the Boston Green Concourse, which they describe as “a centralized semi-self-sustainable green space.” It would have three main features: an outdoor park partly resembling London’s Hyde Park, a botanical bubble “filled with plants and gardens” and intended to be “awe-inspiring,” and a very productive and visually appealing vertical farm. Team U faculty wrote: “Two aspects of this Capstone paper in particular stand out: its unusual degree of literary elegance and its comprehensiveness. … Their beautiful creation could indeed serve as ‘a catalyst’ for the development of similar projects elsewhere.”
Team V: Human Genetic Engineering and the Recommendations for its Regulation
Team V’s winning Capstone group— Hannah Giffune, Carolina Gomez, Paulina Goossens, Sydney Maes, Justin Montes, Paula Uribe, and Joseph Yeb— submitted a policy recommendation about the complex issue of human gene editing. The group carefully distinguished between editing of specific sequences of DNA in somatic cells and editing of a germline. The group also delved into the science, technology and ethics of using CRISPR/Cas9 as a tool for the genetic engineering. Team V faculty wrote, “Their recommendation skillfully combined the continuation of effective current policies with some well-considered changes…. Their professors commend them for this fine piece of work.”
Team W: Overflow Yield from Storm-Water: Tactics for Reduction (OYS:TR)
Team W’s winning Capstone group— Yanira DePina, Salam Hasaba, Gloria Ihenetu, Alexis Kenney, Colleen Kim, Lesa Nan, and Paulina Stanczak— examined the issue of sewage overflow and contaminated runoff that threatens the Charles River and Boston Harbor. The team conducted their own lab experiments– even traveling out to the Charles River to collect water samples during a rainstorm. Their solution was to establish oyster populations that would act as a natural filter. Their solution looked not only at the practical and environmental impacts of establishing oyster populations, but also focused on getting the local community involved. Team W faculty wrote that by looking at many different angles, the team came up with a unique, thoroughly thought out solution to a clearly defined problem.”
Team Y: College Students Accepting Mental Illness
Team Y’s winning Capstone group— Edgar Gonzalez, Sean Kargman, Chandler Lane, Jillian Lattimore, David Lu, Amy Rivera, and Belecia Villafan— created a project that “expanded the boundaries of classroom education,” according to their faculty members. The group created, choreographed, and performed an dance performance based on the story of one young woman’s struggles with mental illness. Team Y faculty wrote, “Their Capstone project was artistically sophisticated and intellectually rigorous. Everything from the choice of performance venue to choreography to narrative structure was carefully chosen and brilliantly executed.”
Novelist Stephen King has a 70th birthday coming up on September 21. College of General Studies Master Lecturer of Rhetoric Regina Hansen has co-edited a special issue of the journal Science Fiction Film and Television to celebrate King’s work as a science fiction writer and as “a significant force in mainstream popular culture in the twenty-first century.”
King is known as a writer of horror—the author of timeless classics like The Shining, Carrie, It and The Dark Tower in theaters now —but Hansen and her co-editor Simon Brown point to an anecdote King tells about when he first understood that the world was a scary place. As a child, he first understood the world’s darkness at a screening of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers when he learned that Russians had launched Sputnik.
“The journey of the man whose name would become synonymous with horror began not with Lovecraft or Poe, but with Sputnik,” Hansen and Brown write in the introduction to the issue. “For all King is usually discussed primarily as a gothic or horror author, we must not overlook the importance of science fiction in his work.” The issue offers “a series of new perspectives” on King, the science fiction writer.
Hansen’s article focuses on King’s “nostalgia for underdog boyhood” and the way the male underdog heroes in King’s It and Dreamcatcher challenge, in some ways, “traditional concepts of hegemonic masculinity.” On the other hand, they assume “hegemonic masculinity” themselves by standing up to bullies. But King’s white, straight, male “loser hero” characters achieve their hero status “in part through the marginalisation of female characters, black characters, gay characters and characters with disabilities.” King’s male characters may modify the cultural ideal of hegemonic masculinity, Hansen writes, but they don’t transcend it.
Read the issue and Hansen’s essay.
When people think about the effects of climate change, they’re probably not immediately wondering how the world’s warming will affect the sea crustacean we know as the lobster. But that was a central concern for the keynote speakers and the researchers who presented at the 11th International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology and Management, held June 4-9 in Portland, Maine. CGS Senior Lecturer Kari Lavalli co-chaired the conference with Rick Wahle, research professor at the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences.
U.S. Senator Angus King (I– Maine) opened the conference with a keynote speech, warning against proposed cuts in federal science funding and telling the audience that data is key to safeguarding Maine’s $533.1 million a year fishery. “This is not an abstract problem or something about environmentalists versus non-environmentalists,” King said. “This is very practical.”
The conference’s 200-plus researchers attended talks on topics such as: how temperature affects diseases in lobsters, how changing environmental conditions affect chemosensory abilities, how thermal stress affects season movements, climate-related shifts in the distribution of American lobsters, and more.
Researchers probed a question troubling both biologists and lobstermen: the number of baby lobsters in the Gulf of Maine is falling even though fishermen are still seeing high value and volume in their catches. The Portland Press Herald covered the “great disconnect” between these two facts: “Researcher after researcher at last week’s International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology & Management in Portland talked about work underway to explore the disconnect, ranging from an examination of how rising ocean temperatures might have forced the larvae to ‘settle’ in new spots where surveyors aren’t counting, to whether new predators are eating them or gobbling up all their food supply.”
Lavalli spoke to the radio station WCAI about another trouble facing New England lobsters. Warming waters can increase the incidence of shell disease and bring new predators to the lobster’s waters. In one of her panels, Lavalli spoke on the slipper lobster, a species that is commercially fished but understudied, and why it is less susceptible to shell disease even though it lives in waters that are much warmer than our New England lobsters. Understanding why some species are susceptible to disease and some are not could be key to protecting the lobster population from the effects of climate change.
In fact, one workshop focused on three diseases seen in lobsters and how rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification affects the lobster’s shell and immune system response. “The take-home message from this workshop was that we still have much to learn about diseases in the marine realm and there is a real need to train a new generation of pathologists who will recognize, report, and study these diseases,” said Lavalli. “Attendees warned that the U.S. lobster fishery is at particular danger of having a major disease outbreak in the near future.”
A threat to the lobster fishery would be a major blow to Maine’s economy. University of Maine Professor Robert Steneck noted that lobster represents almost the entirety of Maine’s fishing industry, and he urged the state to diversify and plan for an uncertain future.
The conference received press coverage from Portland Press Herald, Maine Public, Maine Biz, Fox 23, WCSH6, and the Boston Globe. The Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning at BU College of General Studies was among the conference’s sponsors.
On July 14-16, Boston University College of General Studies hosted the 22nd Annual Dickens Symposium: Interdisciplinary Dickens, a gathering for scholars from across the world to present their research on the nineteenth century writer Charles Dickens. Over 70 scholars attended from nine countries.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was not just a spinner of dramas and writer of comedies. He was someone with a concern for social justice, an interest in people from all walks of life, and an interdisciplinary thinker who dealt with the themes of science, disease, linguistics, religion, music, and more. A sampling of conference panels reflects the depth and breadth of Dickens’ interests: Dickens and the Arts; Urban Dickens; Dickens, Disease and Death; Storytelling, Chance, and Melodrama; Dickens, Gender, and Economics.
“Dickens is someone, like Shakespeare, who has encyclopedic knowledge and chronicles people from all walks of life and all parts of society,” Natalie McKnight, dean of CGS and Dickens scholar, told BU Today. “There isn’t much you could be interested in, in terms of a discipline, that you couldn’t find some angle on in Dickens.”
“As is always the case with this conference, the program is testimony to the extraordinary multitudes that Dickens contains,” Iain Crawford, a University of Delaware associate professor of English and Dickens Society president, told BU Today.
A conference report from the Dickens Society said the Interdisciplinary Dickens theme “led to an impressive, diverse collection of methodologies and approaches to Dicken’s work and life.” The report summarizes each panels’ discussions and concludes, “The conference was interdisciplinary in every sense of the word” as participants approached Dickens and his work from a number of different angles—religious, scientific, philosophical, pedagogical and even digital. “The end result is a multi-faceted picture of an author who seemed to have written a bit about everything, whose opinions are inexhaustible as much as his work is inimitable.”
This post is part of a series that profiles the faculty-undergraduate research partnerships offered through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning. To learn more, please contact the Center at email@example.com.
CGS Social Sciences Lecturer R. Sam Deese is writing a book that tackles philosophical and political questions around climate change. CGS student Morgan Ashurian (CGS’17, CAS’19) is providing some valuable research help along the way.
Deese’s book, Climate Change and the Frontiers of Democracy (Springer, coming in 2017), looks at an economic theory called the “tragedy of the commons.” It’s a quandary most of us can understand: if you have a common resource, like land, and everyone surrounding that resource is unregulated in their ability to use it, people will pursue their short-term self-interest and take as much of the resource as they can. In the end, the resource will be destroyed.
Deese’s book traces this idea from its originators, William Forster Lloyd and Garrett Hardin, then examines how it applies to the problem of climate change today. It’s in every country’s self-interest to have a strong economy, industry, and the cheapest energy possible—says Deese—but pursuing that self-interest is disastrous for the planet as a whole. As a solution, Deese argues for the creation of more democratic institutions on a global scale, with the ultimate aim of creating a world parliament that would be directly accountable to voters.
As a research assistant, Ashurian is the first reader for the chapters that Deese writes. She helps to convert his citations to APA format and gives her thoughts on how to clarify the concepts. “Morgan is absolutely excellent as an assistant on this,” Deese says, adding that she’s “very perceptive when she reads the chapters and has great ideas and suggestions. … It’s helpful for me to know what’s clear and what could be clearer.”
Ashurian says the project intrigued her because of her interests in philosophy and political science. Now she’s learned how the Cold War and space exploration prompted people to see the environment in a different way. She’s thought about steps the international community can take to collaborate on issues of global climate change. The research has even prompted Ashurian to consider a study abroad program focused on countries working together to solve international issues—issues like global climate change.
Ashurian appreciates that the project allows her to think about an issue from both the philosophical and political science perspectives: “So many of the issues of global climate change have to do with the people that are in charge of different countries, the decisions that they make and the moral outlooks of people. Philosophy is just the understanding of the ethical viewpoint, and political science is about looking at this modern issue from an international and political standpoint.”
Thanks to the CGS Undergraduate Research Experience program through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Ashurian is able to get a stipend for her research work. Deese said her help is a “wonderful resource” and he’s grateful to CITL for making it possible: “It’s one of the wonderful things about CGS that ambitious and enterprising undergrads can do this kind of work with faculty.”
CGS Instructor of Rhetoric Joelle Renstrom recently published a chapter in Critical Insights; Isaac Asimov (Salem Press, 2017). As a researcher of science fiction and technology, Renstrom took a look at robot fiction in her Asimov chapter, “Morality in Asimov: Laws of Robotics vs. Laws of Humanics.”
Renstrom’s chapter examines Asimov and the Frankenstein complex, or humans’ fear that they will be unable to control their creations. By looking at Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, Renstrom shows what prevents robots from harming humans.
However, Renstrom notices the three laws deftly evade the notion of morality, rendering ethics and values on the part of robots unnecessary, as robots are programmed to obey the laws without considering them. While doing this, Renstrom examines nonfiction works such as “The Laws of Humanics,” where Asimov demonstrates that the fear at the heart of the “Frankenstein Complex” isn’t really about robots at all. It’s about humans, who violate the “do no harm” rule far more frequently than robots do.
For more on Renstrom’s fascinating work, visit her website: www.joellerenstrom.com. To hear more about Renstrom’s research, be sure to check out her April 2 lecture at TedX in Waltham: “Science Fiction as a Looking Glass: Teaching Students How to Save the World.”
This post is part of a series that profiles the faculty-undergraduate research partnerships offered through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning. To learn more, please contact the Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A married woman abandons her husband and child to elope with a suitor who jilts her. A woman suffers hallucinations after she is suspected of burning her stepson to death. A mistress curses the young bride whose marriage will disinherit her son. Reading sensational nineteenth–century stories like these are all part of Kerry Sadlier’s work with Joellen Masters, senior lecturer of humanities at Boston University College of General Studies. With Sadlier’s invaluable help, Masters is studying marriage and the first wife as a narrative trope and genre strategy in the British and early modernist novel.
Sadlier (CGS’17, COM’19) became interested in participating in the CGS Undergraduate Research Experience when Associate Dean Megan Sullivan mentioned the program in a meeting: “I decided to pursue it when I realized how much I enjoyed the research aspect of my RH102 research paper.” Funded by the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, the CGS Undergraduate Research Experience gives CGS students a stipend for their research work with a CGS faculty member. When she learned about Masters’ research focus, Sadlier said it “seemed like a perfect fit for me” given her own interest in Victorian literature and women’s rights.
As a research assistant, Sadler hunts for scholarly articles, essays, and contemporary reviews of the novels Masters is studying. Sadlier and Masters meet each week to review the materials and, as Masters puts it, “set up her next foray into the stacks and the databases.” Sadlier also gives comprehensive annotations for many of the critical works important for Master’s research.
Before the fall semester began, Sadlier was jumping into the Victorian era by reading Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (a wildly popular novel published in 1861) and St. Martin’s Eve (1866), and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876). Sadlier found some excellent information to help Masters expand on a draft about East Lynne. “She found articles and books that were fabulous, particularly those on Daniel Deronda and Lydia Glasher’s key place in Eliot’s plotting as well as story,” Masters said. Sadlier also tracked down unpublished dissertations and articles that have helped Masters learn more about Netta Syrett, a little-discussed playwright, novelist, and children’s story writer who was part of a high profile fin-de-siecle literary and artistic circle.
“This experience has been incredibly exciting and challenging,” says Sadlier. “The most exciting part of this job is the opportunity to discover new information about an author or character and contribute to telling their story.” Masters says Sadlier has tackled the research with an “enthusiasm, diligence, and commitment that stimulated my own energies with the project.”
Learn more about student research opportunities—including directed study, stipends for research work through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Contact CITL at email@example.com for more details.
Recently featured in the BU Today series “One Class One Day,” Dr. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein’s Cultural Constructions of Motherhood course helps students to realize motherhood’s ever increasing economic costs. Hallstein, associate professor of rhetoric at the College of General Studies, begins her discussion section with a reference to feminist Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote, “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to bring up her children…because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”
In today’s society many women would disagree with Beauvoir’s sentiments regarding motherhood. There does not need to be a choice between selfhood and motherhood, but Hallstein says women today are still paying “the motherhood penalty”– a scramble to find affordable child care if women return to work, and a possible loss of income and career advancement potential if they don’t.
Hallstein guides her students with discussion points that encourage them to share their views on today’s social climate, where the role of mother is often fetishized, particularly among celebrities, and the victories of feminist foot soldiers are often forgotten or dismissed. She encourages students to ponder: What are the economic costs? There are economic costs to society, the costs to women’s professional careers, the costs to women’s economic security, the unequal costs of divorce, and the economic costs to the workplace. Those costs ultimately add up to the motherhood penalty.
By examining the motherhood penalty, Hallstein tells BU Today she wants her students to realize the penalty “has not shown any signs of declining over time,” but we have to work to find solutions to these very real problems that women continue to face in today’s society.