With his 40-minute documentary New Strings in the can, first-time director Gregory Shih is breezy when he admits, "I went into filmmaking blindly--I didn't know anything about all the technical stuff." He didn't know much about the Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship that would be paying for the film, either, because he was one of the inaugural applicants for the independent study opportunity that was introduced his freshman year. Learning about it in an e-mail, he applied on a whim.
Three years later, the economics major can't say enough good things about the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences program, which is graduating its first fellows in May. The 10 seniors will present the results of their work over three evenings, the first of which is this week.
"I have to think that this is a really unique opportunity among colleges and universities in this country," says Shih, who is from Wilmington, Del. "Where else do they give an undergraduate a large sum of money to pick any topic and explore it?"
Shih's celluloid exploration follows three Peabody Institute grads as they embark on their careers as classical guitarists. He will show 15 minutes of New Strings during the first presentation, on Tuesday, April 23. Other students will present their work on Thursday, May 2, and Monday, May 6. Each event will run from 6 to 8 p.m. in 26 Mudd Hall and will conclude with a question-and-answer session. Everyone in the Hopkins community is invited.
The Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program began three years ago when university trustee J. Barclay Knapp Jr., class of 1979, made a contribution to honor his father, James B. Knapp. The donation funded the Krieger School's deanship in Knapp's name and earmarked funds to start a research fellowship for undergraduates.
"The idea was to make Hopkins as attractive as possible to the best students applying as freshmen," says Suzy Bacon, coordinator of student academic programs for the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Each year, 30 students are admitted into the program named after Woodrow Wilson, a Johns Hopkins Ph.D. and the only U.S. president to have earned a doctorate. The first 20 slots are filled by incoming freshmen, and the other 10 are awarded to current freshmen who begin their research during their sophomore year. This year's inaugural class has 10 seniors who began research as sophomores, and there will be 30 students matriculating through the program next year, Bacon says.
Students entering the program as incoming freshmen receive $10,000; incoming sophomores, $7,500. Typically, $2,500 is given out each year, but students can access any amount as it is needed, under the guidance of their mentor, Bacon says. The money can be used to cover materials, study and travel, as well as living expenses if a student conducts research during the summer.
"The program funds the students, and we want them to study areas that move them," Bacon says.
Alison Calhoun of Cockeysville, Md., found the music of operatic composer Jean-Baptiste Lully so moving that she selected him as the basis of her research. A French major, Calhoun had transferred to Johns Hopkins from the Manhattan School of Music, and her research as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, she says, combined her passions. Calhoun's fellowship paid for instruction from musical scholars who taught her the importance of mastering the relationship between a musical score and its accompanying text to bring out the most expressive performances.
During the group presentation on May 6, Peabody student Kathryn Aaron will perform an aria by Lully based on Calhoun's musical interpretations. A full concert of Lully's compositions is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21, in Levering's Great Hall as a culmination of Calhoun's project.
Like Calhoun, who traveled to France and Italy, and Shih, who followed his subjects to Paraguay, Corentin Seznec's project led him to study abroad as well. The history major went to London in January to study documents linking the Puritan settlers of his hometown, Annapolis, Md., to their Dutch trade connections. He learned that international trade created new economic and social classes in Providence, as the town was known at the time, leading to conflict among the settlers.
"It was a pretty rigorous study," says Seznec, who will present his work on May 2. "The only problem [was] finding a way to fit all this information into my thesis. It's been a part of me for so long that it feels funny now to be finished with it."
Though Hopkins may be better known around the world for its scientific research, humanities-based projects like those chosen by Shih, Calhoun and Seznec are not unusual for the Woodrow Wilson Fellows. Of the 88 current fellows, 47 are doing research in social or behavioral sciences, 23 in the humanities and 18 in the natural sciences.
"We even have students who use their fellowship to explore the humanities or social sciences because they are concentrating in science in the classroom," Bacon says. "They may be equally passionate about literature; the fellow could be a biologist who likes to write poetry."
Steven David, the associate dean for academic affairs who runs the program, says, "The program is successful because it is consistent with the Hopkins mission. We believe that research should not be restricted simply to faculty and graduate students but should be available to undergraduates as well."