Summer Scholars Program successful on all counts

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The trial-run of Tufts’ new Summer Scholars Program finished as an overwhelming success according to those involved. The program received national attention from the Chronicle of Higher Education, and both faculty and students were pleased with the program.

“Students are beginning to understand how important an in-depth study of a particular topic in their field is,” said senior Mitch Lunn, the program’s coordinator. “This program allows students to generate a strong relationship with their mentor, stay in the Boston area for the summer, and have it be financially feasible. It ends up being a ‘win-win-win’ experience in all those areas.”

The program, described by many faculty as “long overdue,” is believed to be the most comprehensive of its kind for undergraduates. It encompasses all four of Tufts’ campuses and is open to all majors. Thirty students of diverse interests teamed up with faculty mentors from across the University to conduct a broad array of research projects. Everything from the implications of the tobacco industry targeting women to philosophy was covered.

Senior Rachel Jervis had a similarly positive relationship with her mentor, Community Health professor Edith Balbach. The two researched how the tobacco industry has targeted women by exploiting their concerns about weight. Jervis, who worked with Balbach prior to the program, noted that the scholarship encourages students to capitalize on previously existing student-faculty partnerships. The two hope that their collaborative research and scholarship will culminate in a submission to a peer-reviewed journal by the beginning of second semester.

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Although the majority of scholars this year were in science-related fields, the program encourages research in the arts and humanities.

“Philosophy, precisely because it is not a science, was a different type of research and consisted mostly of reading and writing,” philosophy major and Summer Scholar researcher Joel Wertheimer said. “It was a valuable experience learning how to process these [ideas] into a coherent essay, and it is something I might take further after school,” Wertheimer said.

His mentor, Professor Erin Kelly, agreed. “The Summer Scholars Program proved to be extremely valuable in helping Joel lay the groundwork for a senior thesis. He will be a junior this year, so he really has a jump on the senior project.”

The program was all-inclusive, giving scholars the chance to continue their studies while earning some money for the summer. Students received $3,500 stipends, $1,000 for materials, and were offered the chance to live in university housing. Faculty mentors also received $1,000 in research funding.

Over 90 students applied for the 30 positions, and more than 100 faculty posted opportunities. The scholars will display their accomplishments in an early November poster session, and later into the year, at the annual Tufts Research Symposium.

This summer was considered a test-run for the program because its inception by the Provost’s Office was extremely rushed. Announced at the end of last March, scholars were selected by mid-April. The hastiness of its organization was the most common complaint by students and mentors. Lunn, however, said that the Summer Scholars Coordination team has already started planning for next year’s program, and believes the process will run more smoothly this year.

The goal is to make the Summer Scholars Program a long-term Tufts tradition, but it remains undetermined whether there are funds available to expand the program before summer 2004.

“The Undergraduate Task Force recommended that Tufts create a summer scholars program, but it was so late in the school year that I honestly didn’t think they could pull it off by summer 2003,” Balbach said. “I really admire the Provost and the Dean of Colleges for going ahead with it — the program went incredibly smoothly for its first year,” she said.

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