While Pacific University’s Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Inquiry (URSCI) Summer Institute is already quite a mouthful, the name doesn’t even mention what the paid, collaborative and creative opportunity presents students.
Established in 2017, the URSCI Summer Institute brings together 12 Pacific students and three faculty members in the development of “interdisciplinary, scholarly, multimodal projects.” With only a dozen spots up for grabs and applications to be sent out via email on Monday, Nov. 25, interested students will soon face their ‘now or never’ decision for the summer of 2020.
“The institute mimics a residency or a grant,” explains film professor Enie Viasburd, one of three faculty mentors from 2019’s summer institute. “Students are funded to work collaboratively in research, scholarship and creative projects in the arts and humanities. At the end of the institute, they have a project that can be presented in conferences, can be published or be used in graduate school applications.”
Last year’s institute theme was “Crossing Borders: Real and Imagined,” lead by Viasburd as well as professors Brent Johnson and Dijana Ihas. Intrigued by the 2019 prompt, current Pacific junior and creative writing major Jodelle Marx pushed aside her nerves, applied and with the help of other accepted students created a children’s book and lesson plans focusing on the experience of a young Rohingya refugees — “Hayma’s Journey: Rohingya Refugee Discourse in the United States Elementary Classroom.”
The children’s book and supplemental online materials being just one group project, the institute actually allows for three diverse main projects — all of which are heavily based in students’ individual research interests. Other 2019 projects included an installation covering the economic and environmental impact of the tourism industry and an exhibit with interviews, poems and photographs about familial constraints and LGBTQ+ youth.
The small-scale institute, to some, serves as an academic reset of sorts. “The thought of spending three intensive weeks with students on creative projects actually appealed to me a lot,” said Johnson of his involvement. “It’s a learning experience faculty dream of — that small group work with dedicated students — and that’s what really drew me in.
“The first few days felt like an opportunity to heal from the discouragement that humanities students endure,” echoed Marx. “We face a lot of critique for not choosing STEM majors that supposedly ensure good salary.”
During those preliminary research days, Marx and other students took the time to visit the beach, go to museums and present their own interpretations of the institute theme; adventures that opened their minds creatively and ultimately driving them to complete a project they’d be proud of.
Both Riley Stewart and Mari Leslie, 2019 summer institute students, appreciated these aspects of the paid experience, especially since they know how rare opportunities like this is for undergraduate students outside of the hard science realm.
“There are very few universities that offer undergraduate opportunities for research in the humanities,” said Stewart, who jumped at the chance last year after hearing encouraging words from his advisor. Leslie echoed this, acknowledging that research often favors natural sciences, making research in arts and humanities “very uncommon in the U.S.”
However, URSCI ensures that isn’t the case. The College of Arts and Sciences is able to offer this innovative program in the School of Arts & Humanities through a multi-year $200,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation awarded in 2017.
And URSCI’s impact doesn’t end there. As Marx and Stewarts’ student group exemplifies, the summer institute can extend far beyond the balmy season straight into research presentations and graduate school applications.
“We presented the book at the Willamette Writers Conference and are now waiting to hear from publishers,” Marx said of the group’s children’s publication, already preparing for additional events. “We’ve also connected with a teacher in Portland who we plan to meet with and receive mentorship on further developing our curriculum that we created during URSCI.”
Though seemingly far on the horizon, students interested in opportunities such as these should complete their URSCI summer institute applications as soon as possible. Finalized applications will include the student’s basic information, a statement of interest and faculty note of support all to be evaluated by the 2020 faculty. Selected applicants will then be notified by early spring.
Even for those who face unfortunate rejections due to a limited amount of available spots should remain optimistic rather than discouraged, according to past institute students.
“You are there to grow, learn, explore, and create — lean into it and allow yourself to feel like you belong there, and if you don’t get in don’t let that stop you from learning,” Marx advises. “Ask a professor if you can conduct research with them in your spare time; research in the humanities can be literally anything as long as you are learning.”