Science & Research

U. seeks to increase UTRA participation in humanities

Participants reflect, dean discusses plans to promote and improve representation

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2015

Though humanities concentrators account for just over 15 percent of the student body, they have traditionally seen low representation in the applicant pool for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards. Of the applicants for 2014 summer UTRAs, 8 percent were humanities concentrators, while 11 percent concentrated in the social sciences, 30 percent studied the physical sciences and 51 percent focused on the life sciences.

Wednesday marked the extended deadline for students and faculty members to apply for summer 2015 UTRAs.

“The percentage of applications received in the humanities is not as high as those received in other areas,” said Oludurotimi Adetunji, associate dean of the College, director of science center outreach and director of the UTRA program.

Adetunji has led efforts to increase the number of humanities-sponsored projects in the UTRA program. “The first way to increase the number of humanities UTRAs is to make sure there are more applications in the pool,” he said.

He said he has reached out to humanities faculty members to encourage collaboration with students. The introduction this year of the Interdisciplinary Team UTRA — a program in which a faculty member proposes a project and students apply to participate — was an effort to involve more humanities concentrators in UTRA-sponsored work, Adetunji said, adding that he hopes professors and students will proactively seek each other out for these projects.

The UTRA program has continuously aimed to accept a larger percentage of humanities applicants to offset the small applicant pool, Adetunji said.

The popularity of UTRAs varies from department to department within the humanities.

“Most of the English department and nonfiction writing faculty that I know have used UTRAs,” said Elizabeth Taylor, senior lecturer in English. “It’s a valued project to find and work with students that are showing interest.”

Alexander Meehan ’15 participated in a teaching UTRA in the philosophy department this past summer. He spent the summer collaborating with Nina Emery, assistant professor of philosophy, to prepare the syllabus and reading materials for PHIL 1670: “Time” and then worked as the course’s teaching assistant in the fall.

UTRAs present a powerful opportunity for people who do not have access to alternate funding as they do in science fields, Meehan said.

“In general, there tend to be fewer outside opportunities for paid humanities research,” he said.

Taylor said UTRAs have been useful to her in developing courses. In the past, she has collaborated with students to design a radio nonfiction course, create an archive for ENGL 1180Q: “Narrating History” and produce a digital archive for Brown Vietnam War veterans.

Meehan also said teaching UTRAs provide benefits for the humanities.

“There’s a ton of humanities courses that would clearly benefit from student input,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can debate the value of a teaching collaboration.”

Elbert Wang ’17 collaborated with Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature Joseph Pucci on research as part of an UTRA last summer. They analyzed transcriptions of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches to find out what he sounded like and to what extent he subscribed to Christianity.

“Some newspapers in the 1860s would have stenographers at Lincoln’s speeches and they would record everything Lincoln was saying,” Wang said. “What (Pucci) wanted to find were discrepancies between different newspapers, which would indicate that Lincoln had an accent. Because people were unfamiliar with his accent, the discrepancies would demonstrate what the accent sounded like phonetically.”

Wang said UTRAs serve as a way to explore course material in greater depth, adding that they are helpful as a “first foray into research.”

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  1. This is actually a good thing for science concentrators. You can find much-better research opportunities (in funding, mentorship, structure) outside of Brown.

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