From May 26 through June 26, twelve undergraduate WCU students participated in the second Summer Undergraduate Research Institute (SURI). As one of those students, my project involved analyzing a set of nineteenth-century textbooks for the English classroom and comparing and contrasting them to modern textbooks.
This was actually my second year applying to be a part of SURI. Like many participants, I was encouraged to apply by a faculty member. In my case, it was Dr. Eleanor Shevlin of the English department. She had been my professor for ENG 194: Conventions of Reading and Writing, the first English class I took in college. I had also participated in her Big Read program in Fall 2013. SURI requires participants to come up with a project with the help of a faculty mentor, who works as a guide on the project with them. Students apply with a project proposal.
When Dr. Shevlin first approached me about SURI in 2014, we bounced around a few project ideas. My advice to anyone considering participating: make sure you truly are interested in the project you are pursuing. (It will be a long summer if you’re not!) Dr. Shevlin and I worked together to create a project proposal for something I was truly interested in.
In the FHG Library, we have a collection of school textbooks from the nineteenth-century (and some even earlier, I believe). I was able to look at a set of textbooks from the 1880s, the Swinton’s Readers. They are English textbooks for first through fifth grade. In my paper that I worked on throughout the program, I analyzed the books and compared them to modern textbooks.
Arriving on campus for the Summer Undergraduate Research Institute, I moved back into my apartment in the Village. If I had not already had an apartment, SURI was paying for North campus housing for participants who had requested it. Participants also got a free meal plan if requested.
On May 26, the program kicked off with a welcome breakfast, where we were able to meet our fellow participants, chat with our faculty mentors, and eat good food.
The unique part of SURI is how independently students work. While in its 2014 year there were research workshops, in its second year, the researchers were largely independent of each other, excluding weekly lunches and two field trips.
The weekly “networking” lunches took place on Thursdays in Philips. There were sandwiches, cookies, and pasta salad. Researchers and faculty mentors got to chat about how their projects were going and their plans for continuing research.
There were two field trips, both of which I attended. One was a behind-the-scenes studio tour of QVC. This was a uniquely West Chester experience, as the QVC studio is located nearby. It is where they film all of their infomercials. Students, faculty members, and a grad assistant attended, being treated to a look at the studio.
The other field trip was to Washington D.C. This trip was quite the adventure! 14 people attended, and two professors drove WCU-rented vans.
We first went to the Smithsonian Museum of Conversation in Maryland, where we were given a tour and taught about how they conserve artifacts displayed in the museums. This particularly appealed to those students who were science majors.
We then went to the Library of Congress, where we were given a special presentation in the Special Collections room. A Library of Congress employee pulled books to show us that he thought would be interesting.
We all were able to physically hold Woodrow Wilson’s Nobel Peace Prize and learn its interesting history. He also showed us a fifteenth-century manuscript, a Shakespearean folio, and books that Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau exchanged (as evidenced by notes written in the covers).
After eating lunch, the group went to the Newseum. This is a fairly modern museum, with sections about 9/11, the FBI’s biggest cases, Abraham Lincoln, and more.
In a particularly unique experience, a West Chester alumni then gave us a presentation in the map collections room in the Library of Congress. The Maps room has over 5 million maps. One map he showed us was a copy of the first map to display the word “America.” The original was purchased for 10 million dollars. He also showed us a map hand-drawn by George Washington, along with many others.
Overall, the trip was a huge success and absolutely free to all attendees.
For SURI, one is expected to work 25 hours a week in order to earn a $1500 stipend (a big plus to participating!).
Personally, this was a difficult routine to get into. While the project certainly took that much time (I’m still not done!), it is hard to train yourself to research five hours a day, five days a week. Once you get “in the zone,” it’s a lot easier, however.
Overall, I had an excellent experience with SURI. I was able to earn money, work closely with a professor, investigate a research project that interests me greatly, attend really interesting trips, and get an amazing resume builder. I recommend applying to the program next summer if those things sound appealing to you.
Don’t know what you want to research? Try talking to a professor you respect about what they research and develop a project with them. Many will be excited to work with you.
Go to wcusuri.com to find out more about SURI and to look for applications when they are posted.
Theresa Kelly is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. She can be reached at TK780615@wcupa.edu.