I-Seminar Series Helps Students Fine-Tune Their Research

Feedback from community of learners enables undergraduates to test hypotheses

March 1, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Interdisciplinary research is becoming increasingly common in higher education, and The College of Wooster’s Center for Diversity and Global Engagement is providing students with a valuable sounding board to vet their works while in progress.

I-Seminars bring young researchers face-to-face with faculty, staff, and fellow students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives for a frank discussion and a healthy exchange of ideas. The objective is to provide direct responses and helpful suggestions for the students as they continue their research.

Now in its second year, I-Seminars are held at regular intervals in Babcock Hall, where a recent gathering featured seniors Yaniquie Rae and Arielle Neu, who were working on their Independent Study projects (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed senior capstone experience), and sophomore Samantha McNelly, who was reporting on her sophomore research project.

Rae, a political science major with a concentration in international relations, discussed her comparative approach to her I.S., When Your Past Hurts Your Present: The Need for Sustainable Peace. Using Northern Ireland and the Republic of Cyprus as examples of post-conflict societies, Rae examined how each has utilized tools of justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness in their efforts to create sustainable peace in both politics and society. She discussed how her research took her to Cyprus, where she was able to talk to politicians and authorities about the peace-building process.

“The overall experience was priceless,” said Rae in describing the I-Seminar. “It helped me to articulate and reflect on my Independent Study topic. I'm not someone who is particularly fond of public speaking, so the feedback I received was both helpful and valuable to me. It also prepared me for my orals.”

Neu, an international relations major, also talked about her I.S., Perceptions and Images: The Role of Culture in Russian Foreign Policy. She asked the group how foreign policy choices might be affected by the cultural perceptions a nation has of others in comparison to its own self-image. Using the relationship between Russia and Ukraine in the past decade as her case study, she suggested that policies of interference and hostility are, in part, a result of Russia’s view of Ukraine as a dependent and easily exploited nation, and Ukraine’s image of Russia as a barbaric, immoral power that threatens its own sovereignty.

“I found (the seminar) to be a very valuable and positive experience, and I found everyone involved to be very helpful, constructive, and supportive,” said Neu. “Working on I.S., it is easy to get caught up in the small picture — on the details and specifics of each individual section — so the I-Seminar was a good way for me to step back and view my project as a whole and place it in a larger context.”

McNelly engaged in a critical analysis of the “Wooster In…” off-campus study programs, and developed a business plan for the future that aims to encourage sustainability, effectiveness, and self-reliance. Combining CDGE resources, a financial analysis, departmental perspectives, faculty focus groups, and comparative research with other institutions, McNelly discovered what was valuable about the programs and how they might be expanded and enriched in the future.

“As a second-year student working on a still-incomplete project, presenting to this audience was particularly helpful, not only as a ‘rehearsal’ for my final series of presentations, but also as a way to field questions and receive feedback from faculty and students,” said McNelly. “I believe (this series) enriches and strengthens both the research process and the final product.”

Amyaz Moledina, associate professor of economics and co-director of the Center for Diversity and Global Engagement, hopes the I-seminar series can grow to include more interdisciplinary inquiry from the different divisions of college. “We have made great strides in just one year,” he said. “For example, we have gone from reaching interdisciplinary majors in five different departments and programs to 15. We have also included sophomores doing research at the Center, and we are trying to show that it can be space where collaborative research can take place. We hope this ‘seed’ of an initiative can continue to grow and be supported widely.”

— Story by Julie Kendall ‘13