About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 7, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 29
16 Woodrow Wilson Fellows Complete Their Journey

International studies major Sophie Lu made two trips to China to examine the country's Olympic Education Program.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

China has spent the better part of the past seven years readying itself for the world stage. As the host country for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games, China, and the city of Beijing, needed to build new facilities, modernize some old ones, update infrastructure and otherwise lay down the welcome mat.

The nation didn't stop at bricks and mortar, however. It also wanted to bring its citizenry up- to-date. How do you modernize a population? Sophie Lu wanted to find out, and she did, thanks to a four-year Woodrow Wilson fellowship award she received her freshman year.

Lu, a senior international studies major whose parents were born in China, set out two years ago to examine China's Olympic Education Program, a massive project aimed at transforming the Chinese populace. Her original Woodrow Wilson research topic involved U.S.-China economic relations, and she had spent the better part of her freshman and sophomore years exploring the subject. The fellowship does not discourage students from switching their research focus, however. In fact, its designers anticipated that many, like Lu, would do just that.

Since 1999, the Woodrow Wilson fellowship awards have allowed undergraduates in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences the opportunity to pursue an independent research project over the course of his or her college career. Lu is one of 16 seniors who on Friday, April 11, will display and discuss the results of their research at a poster session, sponsored by the school's Second Decade Society, to be held from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in Homewood's Glass Pavilion.

Lu said that China's elite and political leaders, driven by a desire to validate the nation's newfound status as an economic and political superpower, wanted to use the Olympic Games to project a model image of Chinese citizenship. The campaign preaches a sort of 21st-century ideal, with an emphasis on modern living, cosmopolitan lifestyle, environmental friendliness, animal rights and an overall better quality of life. The campaign's messages and branding appear everywhere: in schools, television programs, commercials and even street signs.

"This is an overt effort on the part of the Chinese government to modernize its citizenry and make them more worldly," said Lu, whose project adviser was Joel Andreas, an assistant professor of sociology. "They are very mindful of what the world will see when [the country] opens up its doors."

Lu used her analysis of the Olympic Education Program as a case study for the relationship between social inequality and citizenship identity among contemporary Chinese youth. In the winter and summer of 2007, she traveled to China to conduct the study through interviews and observations of students, teachers and administrators from three public high schools with varied economic profiles.

Her analysis compared and contrasted the responses of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds in their engagement and reaction to the campaign. In general, students from the elite school felt they have always been "Olympic citizens," she said, and therefore needed no help or direction to "civilize themselves." Those from mid-level economic backgrounds felt they had the resources to make themselves better and aspired to the ideal.

"And those at the very bottom see Olympic citizenry as something to aspire to, but they are not as engaged in the campaign as they feel they can't do anything about changing their situation," she said. "They view the campaign as something external to their world, something to admire and watch from afar."

Lu said that while the goals and effects of this campaign seem benign, a deeper analysis reveals that it puts forth an intrinsically hierarchical form of sociocultural citizenship that devalues the identity of the nonelite.

Somewhat surprisingly, she said, there has been little backlash from the population.

"I would say that they have completely absorbed this message and it has become the norm," she said. "They all want to be good citizens and fulfill the message, even though some feel it's beyond them."

Lu said that her research experience has been the highlight of her Johns Hopkins career.

"When I came in as a freshman, I had no real concept of what real research meant. This has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life, actually," she said. "I'm so grateful for having this opportunity. If I had the chance to do it over again, I certainly would."

The annual Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program allows students to delve into unconstrained research during their undergraduate experience, mentored by a faculty member. Each Wilson fellow receives a grant of up to $10,000 to be distributed over four years to support research expenses, including costs associated with travel, equipment and use of archives.

The fellowships are given to incoming freshmen of outstanding merit and promise and also to rising sophomores, who receive up to $7,500 for three years. For high school seniors, a Woodrow Wilson brochure is included in the application packets mailed out by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Current freshmen, however, must submit a two-to-three-page proposal, a resume, a second-semester transcript and a letter of recommendation from a JHU faculty member who would become the student's mentor.

The award is named after the former U.S. president, who received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins. The program was developed for the School of Arts and Sciences by Herbert Kessler, then dean of the school and now a professor of art history; Steven David, vice dean for centers and programs; and university trustee J. Barclay Knapp, who funded the fellowships through the school's James B. Knapp Deanship, named for his late father. Recipients have gone on to win Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright and Truman scholarships.

The individual research projects are designed by the fellows, and each student has the choice of focusing on a single long-term project, exploring several aspects of a particular discipline or working on various short-term undertakings in an array of fields. Students can opt to pursue research in their own major or, if they wish, branch off into a totally unrelated discipline.

Neuroscience major Virginia Pearson's subjects typed strings of numbers on a computer to test how wakefulness and sleep impacted their procedural memory.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Neuroscience major Virginia Pearson used her Wilson fellowship to conduct a study of how wakefulness and sleep impact "procedural memory," which deals with an acquired or unconscious knowledge of actions, such as playing the piano, riding a bike or typing.

Pearson wanted to build on work done at Harvard Medical School that shows sleep helps to consolidate and stabilize procedural memories. Specifically, she wanted to determine how much sleep is necessary to optimize such memory. Her adviser was Richard P. Allen, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center of Medicine and Physiology.

With a lure of $50 each, financed by her fellowship, she convinced 60 Johns Hopkins students to be test subjects. The students were required to wear an activity monitor for one week before the three-day testing period began to ensure that they were on a normal sleep schedule. During the testing days, they had to go to sleep by 12:30 a.m. and avoid caffeine, alcohol and naps--a tall task for college-age students, Pearson quipped.

Pearson divided the students into one of six test groups. For the first two testing sessions, all the students were taught a procedural memory process--how to type a specific string of numbers on a keyboard. They were given an interference task--learning a different sequence of numbers-- immediately afterward to provide disruption of the memory.

During the third session, students were assigned to different times for retesting. Some were retested immediately. Others were retested 24 hours later, after a full night's sleep. Still others were awakened at 4 a.m. and retested after three hours of sleep, disrupting REM sleep patterns.

Pearson hypothesized that the amount of REM sleep would play a significant role in the speed and accuracy at which these procedural actions were performed. Her results surprised her.

"[REM] sleep did not have as much impact as I thought it would," she said. "Those with 12 hours of wakefulness had the best score, but no other group did significantly worse. Not surprisingly, those who were awakened at 4 a.m. did the poorest."

Pearson said the relatively small sampling of subjects and unpredictable variables, such as whether or not students were getting the expected hours of sleep, likely played a role in her findings. She said the experience was still rewarding and valuable.

"This was the first research project I've ever undertaken on my own. It was very interesting dealing with and running a subject group," she said. "I got to meet a lot of great people, and I definitely learned a lot from the experience."

Subjects of other Woodrow Wilson projects on display at the Friday poster session include the effects of classical Indian dance on Down syndrome children, the economics of independent film, urban homelessness and secondary education in Pakistan.

For current freshmen, the deadline for fellowship applications is May 16. For more information, go to


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |