Summer Research Program

Each year, the Honors Program awards fellowships to a select group of Sweet Briar students to support them in conducting independent research projects under the supervision of a faculty member. The Honors Summer Research Program is an eight-week, on-campus program that brings together students and faculty from all disciplines. The program creates a unique academic experience for the participants by providing the opportunity for intensely focused research, a one-on-one working relationship with a faculty mentor, or mentors, and weekly meetings and presentations by both faculty and students highlighting their ongoing research as well as research methodologies across the academic disciplines. Students are paid for the fellowship and faculty sponsors receive a stipend.

Students interested in applying to the program should have a 3.0 cumulative GPA and should have completed at least one 200-level course relevant to the project; however, all interested students are encouraged to submit proposals.

To see a listing of projects from previous years go to the previous research projects page.

Honors Summer Research Program
Summer 2015

Eleven students have been awarded Honors Summer Research fellowships to undertake projects during a six-week term, beginning May 18, through June 26.  Ten faculty sponsor/mentors also will participate in the program.

Anna Bates, Class of 2017              
Faculty sponsor: Eric Casey (classics)

While Plato’s Republic is primarily a philosophical text, it cannot be forgotten that it is also a work with literary elements such as plot, setting, and characters. Recent scholarship in Philosophy and Classics is increasingly interested in these aspects of Plato’s dialogues, and the characters in Plato, Socrates’ interlocutors, have recently attracted much more serious consideration than ever before. However, the interlocutors in the Republic specifically have been largely ignored. My research goal is to address this lack by investigating how the particular interlocutors of the Republic shape the meaning of the work. I will specifically investigate the main interlocutor, Glaucon, whose importance to understanding the Republic has yet to be explained.

Khirsten Cook, Class of 2015                                            
Faculty sponsors: John Gregory Brown (English and creative writing; Cathy Gutierrez (religion)

The fear of being restrained by forces beyond one's control--be they political, religious, or environmental--is central to both the ongoing fascination with dystopian literature and prophetic religious texts concerning the end of times. Before the conception of the dystopian genre, religious texts such as the Biblical Book of Revelations, can be interpreted as an outlet for these concerns. With the constant threat of nuclear fallout and the reality of a dying planet, much of today’s society is obsessed with the idea of personal freedom being challenged or eliminated by these forces. For my Summer Honors Research Project, I will study the dystopian genre in conjunction with prophetic religious texts in order to better understand the structures used to manipulate contemporary concerns and explore them as works of propaganda. I will apply this research to the dystopian novel that I have been writing for my Senior Portfolio.

Kiersten Garcia, Class of 2016      
Faculty sponsor: Abraham Yousef (chemistry)
The purpose of this research will be to synthesize a novel 3(2H)-furanone and explore its susceptibility to ultraviolet (UV) light transformations and degradations.  This study is important because UV light is known to excite this class of compounds enough to cause molecular rearrangements. Showing how this novel compound reacts with UV light can support one of the proposed rearrangement pathways and knowing which one is more likely with this compound can lead to further insight into the potential toxicity of UV degradation or rearrangement products. 3(2H)-furanones are known to have antitumor properties, and if the furanone undergoes rearrangement in UV light, this could make the drug ineffective or harmful. The results would show if the compound can be successfully synthesized and the effects of UV light exposure.

Susannah Higginbotham, Class of 2015   
Faculty sponsor: Eric Casey (classics)       

The Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphic script is becoming more and more accessible to the average reader. The only problem that the curious person faces is that text books in this subject area are either oversimplified and don’t get into enough detail to develop a good foundation for learning the language, or conversely are over-detailed. I propose putting together a basic commentary and companion reader for select objects exhibiting key features of the language and maybe a scene or two from stories such as The Eloquent Peasant or The Shipwrecked Sailor, which are very well known stories, but not very easily approachable for the general reader. My long-term goal would be to write a comprehensive textbook of the fundamentals of the Middle Egyptian language that would be both accessible and deeply informative.

Kiley Jolicoeur, Class of 2017                                          
Faculty sponsor: Eric Casey (classics)
My project will explore the topic of memory as presented in the Orphic Gold Tablets, Plato, and the Pythagorean school of thought. The Orphic Gold Tablets provided the deceased with a sort of guidebook, if you will, of what to say and do in the Underworld. These texts deal directly with the concept of memory by their very existence. The Tablets are laced with Pythagorean ideas of metempsychosis, or reincarnation. This concept appears repeatedly in Plato, most notably in The Myth of Er from Book X of the Republic, where the story of souls choosing their next lives is told, and in the Phaedo, when Socrates muses over this and similar concepts on the day of his execution, accompanied by men known to be Pythagoreans. My primary interest lies in how the similar ideas about memory connect The Orphic Gold Tablets, Plato, and Pythagoras.

Celia Maureen Lee, Class of 2015
Faculty sponsor: Tony Lilly (English)
An individual’s motivation to connect the material and immaterial, both in body and environment, stems from the ultimate desire to define identity. In literature, questions surrounding identity have materialized into plot lines and characters, scenic forms and technicalities, conflicts and resolutions--all employed to create a graspable reality in which an audience finds themselves inveigled by the senses. I am driven to explore the idea of personhood; both by looking at the human body as a vessel for experience, and how its physiological processes, impacted by genetic and environmental characteristics, marginalize the mind, inevitably filtering the perceptive process. Through critical analysis of both Renaissance and Enlightenment literature, paired with an interdisciplinary investigation of the human body and its cognitive processes, I will chart the manifestation of self-expression throughout time.

Brea Marshall, Class of 2017
Faculty sponsor: Dan Gottlieb (psychology)
I propose to develop an experiment to correlate how a person plays music physically and how this increases the chances for better playing abilities. I also will use some of the ideas from my Pannell project, which was based on an examination of autism and how music can instigate movement, and even how music influences movement subconsciously.

Caroline McDonald, Class of 2017
Faculty sponsors: Tracy Hamilton (art history); Pam DeWeese (modern languages)

For my Summer Honors Research, I would like to use digital mapping software to create a virtual map of the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela from Seville in southern Spain. There is much information on the well-traveled Camino Frances in northern Spain, but less research has been done on the southern routes in Spain, such as Via de la Plata, which begins in Seville and meets up with the Camino Frances. I will examine different types of medieval architecture along the route, focusing mostly on churches. However, included in my research will also be bridges and hostels built to accommodate pilgrims. I am especially interested in the variety of styles that coexist along the route, a testimony to the cultural longevity of the camino and the via. After finishing my research and digitally mapping the route I will be able to present a virtual tour of what a pilgrim coming from Seville would have experienced in the medieval ages.

Lindsay Profenno, Class of 2015               
Faculty sponsor: Kimberly Morse-Jones (art history)
For my summer honors research project I propose to look at the relationship between female art dealers and the effect they had on the western art market. I will explore how this relationship affected the taste for modern art by exploring the relationship between dealers such as Clara Davidge, Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Parsons and the art world. I will also look at the societies they lived in, to better understand why owning a gallery was considered “proper” for a woman of their status during their respective life times. My effort to explore the relationship between female dealers and the art world is to familiarize myself with the world of commercial galleries for future career goals, and to explore modern and contemporary art as a possible concentration for a future MA in art history.

Alexis Smith Class of 2016                        
Faculty sponsor: Abraham Yousef (chemistry)    

Inotilone is a natural product found in the mushroom Inonotus species and known to possess tumor-suppressing properties.  The purpose of this research is to synthesize inotilone and explore its reactivity toward ultraviolet (UV) light in different solvents and at varying wavelengths.  Irradiated samples will be analyzed using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), infrared (IR) spectroscopy, and ultraviolet-visible (UV-vis) spectroscopy.  By analyzing the products, the effects of UV light on inotilone will be determined.

Molly Van Buren, Class of 2016                
Faculty sponsor: Michael Davis (biology) 

The switch grass fields on Sweet Briar’s campus have many different kinds of bacteria in them.  This was demonstrated by Megan Shields’s senior research on Sweet Briar’s Soil Bacteria; she found 42 different morphotypes. Bacteria in the soil play a variety of roles, one example is nitrogen fixing. Round-up plays a big role in agriculture, by helping to clear fields of certain types of plants, and was used on Sweet Briars hay fields (now switch grass fields).  Round-up could also potentially harm the bacteria in the soil.  I will use bacterial growth and DNA sequencing methods to identify bacteria that are in the soil in switch grass fields, and determine if bacteria isolated from these fields are resistant to Round-up.  I believe that my research will show different levels of resistance in the bacteria to Round-up depending on how many times that field had been treated with it previously.

Questions about the program may be directed to:
Professor Tony Lilly, [email protected]
Julie Hemstreet, [email protected]