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Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Project Spotlight

| Brianna Kosmer

As UWEC highlights student research through the annual Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity this week, the English Department also has noteworthy student-faculty research projects to share.

English - Critical Studies major Mary Shaw has published a collection of works from her time spent visiting her mother’s family in Ukraine. Speaking with older family members, recording conversation, and revisiting spaces that she had grown up knowing, Mary worked to encapsulate memories, moments, feelings, and words during her stay.

A driving force behind Mary’s project was her mother. “I was inspired by my mother and what had made her into the woman she is today, her roots,” Mary explains. In fact, the influence Mary’s mother had on her work wasn’t lost on Dr. Theresa Kemp, who collaborated with Mary on the project. Dr. Kemp recalls when Mary was a first-year student in her Intro to Women’s Lit class, and when asked to conduct an oral history of a woman of an older generation, Mary chose her mom. “Over the years,” Dr. Kemp says, “I would occasionally hear Mary read pieces about her mom at poetry readings, and last year I just said she should make a book. Then we talked about how she might do the book using the faculty-student collaborative grants from ORSP.”

Mary reflects on how the project affected various aspects of her life as she composed her work in Ukraine. “I think what shocked me was how much I ended up feeling for these spaces,” she reflects. “Though I only visit every few years and never lived in Ukraine myself, I felt so emotional and present when I was working on this project and I think it was telling for myself in that being able to write down stories from family and share of such personal small moments, could feel so empowering.”

Composing her works wasn’t an easy process, however; she recalls how she faced challenges in staying motivated and concentrated. “Sometimes I would get so excited that I would lose my goal and become so general to the point in which I wasn’t sure what I was doing,” she explains. “I had to keep reminding myself what my goal was for this project.”

The challenges she faced didn’t come without rewards, however, as she describes the project as having compelled her to be more passionate and driven towards her goals in life. She states, “I have been reminded to take in small moments and to relish them, but I've also been more aware of how quickly time passes and how instantaneous moments become memory.” Now, Mary is committed to being present and open to all she can take in.

Dr. Kemp highlights how the project has inspired her as well, describing Mary’s work as an impetus for thinking about parts of the world that people in the US are not always encouraged to consider. “I am guessing at some point, Ukrainian literature is likely to find its way into my teaching,” she shares.

Mary will present her project at the Honors Symposium in May.

English Education major and Creative Writing minor Jarrett Dement’s military experience inspired his project, in which he will explore the convergence of mental health institutions and prisons in society. His time spent in the military made him very interested in the function of discipline in society.

Specifically, Jarrett will be exploring the world of Batman. “I’ve always loved Superheroes,” he explains, “so I guess it only made sense that when I started thinking about power structures I’d start applying that knowledge to their universes.”

He continues, “Batman’s [universe] is particularly interesting because his whole world revolves around locking people up in Arkham Asylum, and them eventually escaping. I’ve watched [the] Batman cartoon since I was a kid, and it never occurred to me before that there was anything wrong with Batman putting criminals in an asylum. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that there was something very weird happening there, especially when you consider that everyone eventually escapes from Arkham, and no one ever seems to be rehabilitated.”

To contextualize his project with his current studies, Jarrett explains how English is all about how we interact with texts. Jarrett will thus look at how popular modern texts reinforce some of our societal anxieties, specifically those in regards to mental health and incarceration.

After he graduates in Spring 2020, Jarrett hopes to find a job in the area that will help support him in graduate school as he pursues a career in academia. He also plans to continue to write, and to be an active participant in the local arts community, wherever he lands.

Dr. Stephanie Turner
Dr. Stephanie Turner

Dr. Stephanie Turner shares an ongoing project, “Midwest Queeritivities,” being conducted in collaboration with Professor Cedar Marie in the Department of Art and Design. The project aims to showcase creative work by queer Midwesterners and about the queer Midwestern experience, and will culminate in an exhibit at the Foster Gallery in Spring 2020.

“When Cedar and I put together the faculty-student collaborative grant, we envisioned a project that develops a constructive dialogue about Midwestern identity with particular emphasis on the questions that young people—whether gay, straight, bi, or trans—are asking, questions about gender roles and sexuality; racial, ethnic, and religious differences in the ‘heartland’; the relationship between rural and urban lifestyles and areas; geographies as both markers of identity and migratory pathways; and the changing meanings of ‘home’ during a time of transition into adulthood,” Dr. Turner explains.

Dr. Turner and Professor Cedar Marie are working with four student collaborators, Adam Yarish and Julia Jones from the Department of English and Sarah Ferraro and Kristina Tlusty from the Department of Art and Design. The students will help issue a call for submissions to the exhibit, and will then review the works and recommend those that they feel will best resonate with UWEC students. “Because the Foster Gallery is foremost a teaching space for UWEC students, we hope to assemble works that would be most meaningful for students,” Dr. Turner explains.

Furthermore, Dr. Turner shares how the student collaborators will be involved in every stage of the process. Once they select works to feature in the exhibit, the collaborators will begin working on an exhibit catalog and website displaying images and texts from the creatives whose work they’ll be sharing. Then, the students will develop promotional materials for the exhibit, and will correspond with artists who will come to campus to talk about their work.

Professor Cedar Marie
Professor Cedar Marie

Additionally, the project team is working with some of the students in Dr. Jonathan Rylander’s ENGL 314 Queer Rhetorics course to develop some written work to feature at a reading during the exhibit’s opening in February 2020. Dr. Turner notes how the timing of the exhibit is auspicious, as it coincides with the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center’s annual Fire Ball, which may generate additional interest.

Dr. Turner shares how one goal of the project is to document the exhibit with a website that links to the Foster Gallery webpage for students, faculty, and others to see the works after the exhibit. “We also want to promote the exhibit and readings to students in English; Art and Design; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Geography and Anthropology; Sociology; and History. The exhibit will touch on many issues across these disciplines,” Dr. Turner says.

Dr. Turner and the project team give special thanks to the Foster Gallery Committee Chair Jill Olm and Interim Director Amanda Bulger for giving them the go-ahead for their project, and to English Department Chair Erica Benson and Art and Design Chair Karen O’Day for their support.