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As One Scholar to Another

Students pause to enjoy their connections as an academic community at the First Whitman Undergraduate Conference.

Rarely does Whitman College dismiss classes for a day. On April 6, 1999, however, not one professor presented a lecture, led a discussion, or demonstrated an experiment. Instead, it was the students who "held the floor." At this, the first Whitman Undergraduate Conference, more than 100 students - from all disciplines - presented their research and creative projects to the faculty, their classmates, and other members of the campus community.

Presentations took a variety of forms, including reading of papers, posters, exhibitions, and musical performances. Projects were sophisticated and original work that students produced in their regular courses, as part or all of their senior theses, for independent study, collaborative learning, or summer internships, and even on study abroad.

Organized by a committee of faculty members, students, and administrators, the event will become an annual celebration of Whitman as a community of scholars, said Mary Anne O'Neil, associate dean of faculty and conference coordinator.

Some students travel to conferences each year to present papers and posters, but this conference gave the entire student body an opportunity to present research. "We put such an emphasis on collaborative projects and summer research projects, such as those funded by the Perry Awards, the Rall Awards, and the Abshire Awards, that it seemed we should give the students a forum to discuss the work they did," said O'Neil. "This was a chance for them to consolidate and synthesize their research, and, in addition, to find out what was the most interesting part to present."

Held at multiple locations around the campus, presentations covered many topics including - to name just a handful - the Lancashire witchcraft trial of 1612, attitudes within the criminal justice system, African poetry, research on breast cancer, comparison of pore water collected in Yellowstone Lake, and the portrayal of women in the literature of Ramón del Valle-Inclán.


The Rape of Nanking

Several significant events and forces led to the widespread brutality and killings that accompanied the Japanese entry into Nanking during World War II, explained Asian studies major Rachel Hungerford.

In a presentation based on her thesis research, Hungerford told the story of how in 1937 Japanese soldiers entered what was then the capital city of China and massacred an estimated 260,000 unarmed Chinese soldiers and civilians.

"Despite numerous testimonies and extensive published materials, some scholars and historians in Japan still deny that the Nanking massacre ever happened," said Hungerford, who documented her presentation with historical photographs. "But pictures cannot lie. They tell a thousand words."

Hungerford said she wanted to present her thesis at the conference because most people "don't know anything about this event in history."

Evaluating the conference, Hungerford noted that she and her classmates are interested in other students' research. 'It's a good way to relate to each other in an academic sense, which is what Whitman wants us to do, not just to relate as friends.

"People were talking about the conference all day. Friends who came may not have expected to be anything more than support, but they found themselves interested and thinking about what they had heard."


"I have gone to professional conferences where presenters were not as well prepared as many of our students were. We have been getting better and better students over the past six or seven years, and we have been upping the ante with them, asking them to do more complex work all the time. Certainly the faculty-student research grants the College now gives support this. As I always say, Whitman sets very high standards, but then we help students reach them. The undergraduate research conference was another example of this."

- Mary Hanna, Miles C. Moore Professor of Politics

Bryan Reichert, a chemistry major entering his senior year, explains his project at the Whitman Undergraduate Conference. He used 1,10-Phenanthroline to determine trace levels of Fe (II) and total Fe in nonrefractory minerals.

Reichert is conducting research with professor Chuck Templeton on campus this summer under the College's Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant.


The Boarding School Experience for Northwest Indians

The undergraduate conference was "a good way for the College to let us all act academic for a day," said Jason Lindenburger, who gave a presentation on the Willamette Valley's Chemawa Boarding School for Native American youth. Lindenburger's talk was based on his senior honors thesis in history, which focuses on Native American education in the 19th century in the Northwest. He explored the goals and problems of Chemawa, the largest of these federally-funded schools, which flourished in the Northwest after 1880. While the schools failed in their goal of changing students into solid American citizens, they offered some diligent teaching and strong programs in sports and music. Problems included atrocious health records, runaways, and parental distrust, said Lindenburger.

The conference gave students the opportunity "to show off a little bit and to tune in to what's going on in other departments," he commented.


Rema Hanna, who graduated with honors in psychology, tells a fellow student about her research on death anxiety and empathy as predictors of willingness to care for dying patients.
Physics major Nathan Whitehead presented his senior honors thesis on the use of the finite difference method to simulate fluid flow through a rectangular pipe. Whitehead has a graduate fellowship in mathematics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Heather Wright, who is studying planetary geology at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Washington, D.C., this summer, gave a paper on Paleozoic rocks in the Himalayas of northern Pakistan at the conference.


Novel Numerical Methods and Computational Fluid Dynamics

Susan Forray, a senior mathematics major, examined the properties of semicontinuous functions in her presentation, taken from her thesis. "Students first beginning to study functions and their graphs are often told that a function is continuous if its graph can be drawn without lifting the pencil from the paper," Forray explained. In fact, she said, in calculus' more rigorous definition, two inequalities are required to hold for a function to be continuous, and if only one of these inequalities holds, the function is said to be semicontinuous.

Forray, who was impressed by the large diversity of research at the conference, found her own experience at the podium valuable. "It was really my first chance to talk about mathematics in front of such a large group of people. It was both a lot of fun and great practice for possible future presentations."

Another mathematician, Derek Schulte, discussed modeling turbulent gas flow inside a turbine blade at the Whitman conference. Schulte received a Perry Research Award last summer to study computational fluid dynamics and the Additive Turbulent Decomposition with assistant professor of mathematics Albert Schueller and his colleagues at the University of Kentucky. In his presentation, he summarized jet-engine turbine blade cooling and presented two-dimensional results from an algebraic chaotic map turbulence model developed at the University of Kentucky, he said.

Schulte, who had reported his results at the American Physical Society annual meeting in Philadelphia in November, said he enjoyed the Whitman conference and the opportunity it gave him "to see what all my friends had been laboring over during the past year." A December graduate, Schulte now works as a mechanical designer for a broadband communications start-up company in Seattle.


In a photographic archaeological study, Kepa Lyman, a class of 1999 history major, explored ruins, engineering feats and other aspects of a century-old aqueduct on the Walla Walla River South Fork.


Philosophy, Storytelling, and Social Responsibility

Once, ideas about the meaning of life were handed down through stories and myths. How did written communication displace those oral traditions and change humanity's view of life, asked Melodie Wilson-Velasco in her conference presentation. Wilson-Velasco explored how Plato's dialogue Phaedrus and Jacques Derrida's reading of that text investigate the roles of written and spoken communication as sources of meaning in human life. She pursued such questions as, "How has writing changed our ideas about truth, meaning, and the structure and importance of human connection?"

Ironically, said Wilson-Velasco, the experience of presenting her research orally "was illustrative of the very point of intrigue which produced my paper - the difference between writing a message and speaking a message." She found her presentation opened up a line of dialogue with other students, who approached her afterwards to talk about her paper. "A science major, for example, wanted to talk about the role that science plays in a written culture and how easy it is to get disconnected from others in your field."

"The conference brought academics out of the classroom and books," said Wilson-Velasco, who designed her own philosophy and literature major. 'After the third or fourth person had approached me on campus to talk about my project, I really realized that academia has a vitality that is hard to come by in a classroom setting."


"The conference proved to me that Whitman really is a lively academic place. It is full of individuals who are not only energetic and busy and concerned about the life they and others live, but full of individuals who care about the topics they are studying with a passion that (for some reason) we don't always show to each other. It really put my education into perspective."

- Melodie Wilson-Velasco, '99


A Whitman Jazz ensemble brought a lighter note to the conference at lunchtime while elsewhere on Ankeny Field the tae kwon do club demonstrated high-flying feats.


Ethnic Conflict: The Politics of Us and Them

He has a concern for helping the world's less fortunate populations "get what they want, especially people who don't have any political power," said Laurence Chamberlain, a politics major entering his senior year. Among conference sessions he attended was one that featured four presentations on ethnic conflicts around the world, from Macedonia to Mauritania. "It was interesting to learn about how these countries are trying to solve their problems," he said.

At the session, Koan Mercer, who designed his own major in Hellenic studies, explained why Greece responds defensively to its northern neighbor's use of the name "Republic of Macedonia." A central tenet of Greek identity, he said, is the existence of an ethnic and historical continuity between the ancient Greeks and the modern Greek nation. To Greeks it appears that the new nation-state "is attempting to steal a national resource from Greece, its historical property" as well as making claims on Greek territory.

In other presentations at the session, Isaac Kamola spoke about how Zimbabwe's revolutionary war evolved into post-independence Zimbabwean politics; Haroon Ullah examined social conflict and ethnic tensions that characterize Mauritanian politics; and Sashka Koleva, who is from Bulgaria, explored the lack of true democratic opportunity for ethnic minorities in her home country.

The conference is "a great idea," Chamberlain commented after the session. Hearing about the research other students are doing "makes you aware that you could do this, too, and that presenting it is not out of the realm of possibility," he said.

Mark Lanning, a first-year student who wants to teach history some day, thought it was "helpful to see what the presenters did their research on," and sophomore Derek Ball was intrigued by questions put to presenters by professors from other disciplines. For example, he said, at a psychology session he attended, a physics professor spoke up with several questions.


"It was a great opportunity to celebrate the fact that we require of our students a major senior project. And it was good for other students to see what can be done and how excited people can be about their research and their experiences abroad. I found it impressive that so many students were interested in seeing other students present their work. It shows there's lots of scholarly solidarity here at the College."

- Philip Brick, Associate Professor of Politics


Deep Sea Studies Presented at Biology Meeting

Biology graduate Amber Fyfe-Johnson presented her thesis project at the conference. She received a Stanley Rall Award for research last summer to examine the effects of deep-sea pressure and the counteraction by the organic osmolyte trimethylamine oxide. "It is difficult to work in a highly pressurized, cold, and dark environment," she said. "As a result the deep sea is relatively unstudied in comparison to other environments on the planet. This mysteriousness struck my curiosity."

Last January, Fyfe-Johnson presented a poster on her study at a meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Denver. In the spring, she received an Abshire Award to follow her research along a new path, studying a protein connected with Alzheimer's disease and "the stabilizing properties of the osmolytes involved," she said.


Jennifer Kahre was just one of a number of students for whom the Whitman Undergraduate Conference served as a warm-up for a larger forum. Three weeks after the conference, she flew to Columbus, Ohio, for the annual American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting. There she presented a poster on her thesis research, a study of intestinal parasites in mantled howling monkeys. Kahr, who graduated with honors in biology-environmental studies, conducted her research last summer on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua.


Professionals Look at Prison Research

A junior economics major, Ben Leitch conducted a study on whether privatization of a correctional facility reduces or increases overall costs and benefits. In February, he presented his research at the Western Regional Science Association meeting in Ojai, California. The meeting included people from social science backgrounds, and some corrections professionals who came to hear his presentation specifically, he said.

The problem with similar studies so far is that they have measured only "overhead" costs, not those that have an economic or social impact, said Leitch, who won both Perry and Abshire awards for his project. His research, on the other hand, also examines "implicit or non-pecuniary benefits."


"In the sciences, frequently as a graduate student you will have to present your work in front of an audience. The undergraduate conference was good practice, especially for students who have a very technical thesis. Having to do a presentation forced them to think about the big picture, to think about their research in a different way and explain it to a general audience. And sometimes this led them to fold that viewpoint back into their thesis, perhaps in the introduction."

- Mark Beck, Assistant Professor of Physics


Snail Fossil Research Detailed for Geologists

By June, when Angie Knapp stood up to talk about her study of fossil snails of the Palouse Hills at the Geological Society of America meeting in Berkeley, she was already a practiced presenter. She had discussed that project at the Whitman conference. She also had presented research on the aqueous geochemistry of a Massachusetts watershed at the Northwest Scientific Association conference in Tacoma and at the Keck Geology Consortium meeting in Carleton, Minnesota.

With the help of an Abshire Award, Knapp fused her two interests in biology and geology with her study of the fossil snails (pleistocene molluscs). A 1999 graduate, she has a summer internship in chemical oceanography at the University of Washington.


At the Whitman Undergraduate Conference, Jamie Davis, a class of 1999 psychology major, reported on her study titled 'Effects of Wheel Running as a Reinforcer in Anorexic and Non-Anorexic Rats.” Her research has implications for understanding anorexia in human beings.