While some might expect that rising seniors would spend their last summer before graduation posting poolside selfies on Facebook, Emma Patten ’19 and Lena Ottati ’19, both sociology majors and Gender & Sexuality Studies minors, used that global online platform for a different purpose.  

“Social media was instrumental to our SURE project,” Patten said of activism research the two students conducted this summer as part of the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). “We used it to contact hundreds of groups that could help us attract a large research sample.”  

Supplementing classroom learning with meaningful lab experience is a cornerstone of most undergraduate science programs, but Stonehill College takes a much broader approach. 

Stonehill’s SURE program offers students from all of its 47 majors and 51 minors the chance to spend the summer conducting publishable research in collaboration with a faculty member.

Forty-nine students worked with 23 faculty members on various SURE projects during summer 2018. And while the physical sciences were well-represented, there were also many projects that explored the humanities, from the changing face of activism to the impact of Hamilton: An American Musical.

Whether researchers were making potentially lifesaving medical discoveries or examining history from a new vantage point, this year’s SURE program furthered the College’s efforts to provide enhanced experiential learning opportunities for students.

Understanding a New Era of Activism 

Collaborating with Assistant Professor of Sociology Jungyun Gill, Patten and Ottati designed a study examining the motivations of college students who attended the 2017 Women’s March, the effects participation had on them and their activism since the event.

Patten said she believes it is important to examine these issues now, as activism looks different than it has historically. “Technology is changing everything,” she says. “Social media is making activism part of everyday life.”

The team collected data by designing surveys and conducting interviews with students who marched. They also searched countless databases for literature on the history of feminism and college activism. The team plans to submit their findings for publication in an academic journal.

Gill credits her students for their patience during this project. “Sociological research involves reaching out to people,” she says. “SURE showed them the struggles of finding people to participate in your study. I’m amazed by my co-researchers’ motivation.”

Ottati describes the SURE experience as challenging, but rewarding. “This is different than doing research in class where the professor holds your hand,” she says. “The faculty offer suggestions as we work through problems, but don’t tell us what to do.”

SURE opened Patten’s eyes to the possibilities awaiting her after graduation. “SURE piqued my interest in the research side of sociology,” she says. “It’s made me explore going to graduate school, something I wasn’t considering before this experience.”

Deeper Learning Through Hamilton: An American Musical

Prior to attending a performance of Hamilton: An American Musical, Associate Professor of History Linzy Brekke-Aloise assumed it would be another production loaded with historical inaccuracies. Little did she know the show would inspire her 2018 SURE project.

“The musical makes the Founding Fathers’ struggles feel contemporary,” Brekke-Aloise says. “I jumped at the opportunity to use this inter-generational platform to make history accessible.”

Brekke-Aloise recruited Siobhan McKenna ’19, a history and secondary education double major, and Nicolette Kolgraf ’19, an English and Gender & Sexuality Studies double major, to conduct research for her upcoming book, which provides a narrative history of Hamilton’s themes.

The team also developed a website, “Teaching History with Hamilton,” to accompany the book. The site provides resources for students interested in Hamilton, as well as teachers seeking to integrate the musical into their lessons. Resources include a curated selection of primary source documents, historical podcasts, educational games and more.

McKenna, who plans to teach high school history, was responsible for researching existing lesson plans and adapting them for the website. “Through SURE, I got a taste of what developing a curriculum for my future students will be like,” she says.

Kolgraf authored posts depicting the teenage years of figures such as Alexander Hamilton for the website’s “Founding Teens” page, allowing her to flex her creative muscles.

“Delivering accurate historical information in a writing style accessible to teens was challenging,” Kolgraf says. “I’m used to writing formal academic papers for my English classes. SURE helped me develop a new skill set.”

Students take away not only new skills from SURE, but also a sense of agency. “SURE is a worthwhile investment by Stonehill because it not only supports faculty research, but also allows students to become authors of their own intellectual products,” Brekke-Aloise says.

Hamilton Photo credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images