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SISTAR grant recipients present results at SMC

Justin Tardiff | Friday, November 18, 2005

Three faculty-student team recipients of the 2005 Student Independent Study and Research (SISTAR) grants presented their research and findings in VanderVennet Theatre at Saint Mary’s Thursday.

According to the Center for Academic Innovation, the grants are awarded to support research and study for two months during the summer. The experience helps foster the student’s personal development as a confident independent scholar, and the faculty member also benefits from collaborating with an advanced student.

Dr. Kitty Green, assistant professor in the Education Department, and senior Lauren Condon are using multicultural service learning to connect teachers, students and communities. During the summer, Green and Condon collaborated to design a unit that will be implemented in three high school English classes.

Condon said many of the students she will be working with have no interest in school. They do not hand in their work and do not attend class on a regular basis.

Students will read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in conjunction with the theme “You Can’t Really Know a Person Until You Have Walked in Their Shoes,” and use the theme to gain a deeper understanding of others.

“Kids need to know where things are going,” Condon said. “I think [this project] will have a huge affect on the way I teach; teaching the heart, not just the head.”

Green began her study in her class Theory and Practice Service-Learning Pedagogy. Using student responses and data, Green noted an increase in the students’ own personal awareness, in the respect between teachers and students, in class unity and in the appreciation for students’ roles in the community.

Though the team has not decided on a conference to present its findings, it is looking toward the spring. Condon said she would like to report her findings in a journal of education.

Dr. Mana Derakhshani, associate professor of French, and senior Megan McGee’s research is themed “A Magic Carpet Ride.” The idea derived from an article of the same title that said through teaching culture in a foreign language class, students cannot magically be transported to a cultural understanding.

McGee said she wanted to study the impact of cultural sensitivity of high school students. She traveled for two weeks through rural England, France and Spain with 16 students from Vail Christian High School in her hometown of Vail, Colo.

McGee said the students would likely develop a higher level of cultural sensitivity throughout the trip and post-trip reflections. Using qualitative and quantitative evidence, she found there was a high discrepancy between the students’ perceived sensitivity toward a culture and their actual developing sensitivity. There was also an increase in defensiveness and a decrease in minimization, the idea that “we are all the same.”

McGee said the high school students made broad generalizations about different cultures and clung to negative experiences, such as the London bombings, but did not cling to stereotypes.

Derakhshani conducts her research in the college setting. Though her research will not be complete until the end of the spring semester, her method is to ask students in her French and Italian classes their initial ideas about the culture and language they are studying. She will then be able to evaluate whether studying a foreign language fosters development in cultural sensitivity.

Kurt Buhring, assistant professor of religious studies, received the Maryjeanne R. Burke and Daughters SISTAR Award, which assists an untenured faculty member in his or her student partnership.

Along with senior Sinnamon Wolfe, the team focused their research on divine and human responses to human suffering in liberation theology and process theology. The team struggled with the question of why suffering, injustices and oppression are present in the world.

Wolfe said she has learned it is everyone’s responsibility to act and respond to suffering and oppression in the world. Liberation theology focuses on the idea that Jesus identifies with the poor and oppressed.

“[People] understand God in the traditional sense,” Buhring said. “There are lots of different ways of understanding God – this is just one of them,” he said.