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Students win NCSA honors with projects

Laura Baumgartner | Friday, April 7, 2006

Five Saint Mary’s seniors presented their senior comprehensive projects at a sociological conference last week after receiving honors in a nationwide sociology paper competition.

Sociology majors Katie Dingeman, Stephanie Lutz, Sam Medina, Stephanie Roth and Jackie Savinon submitted their projects in the annual North Central Sociological Association (NCSA) student paper competition March 23 to March 25. All five papers were selected for presentation in research sessions at the conference, sociology department chair Susan Alexander said.

Presenting their papers and accompanying PowerPoint presentations alongside graduate students and sociology professionals, Alexander said, was a “great honor and experience.”

Two of the students received additional honors when Dingeman’s paper was awarded first place in the competition and Medina’s placed third.

Alexander said that while this is the third consecutive year Saint Mary’s students have placed in the competition, this year was particularly significant.

“There was a national call to the United States and Canada, so the number of papers that came in was much larger this year,” she said. “Normally, the call has just gone out in this region.”

For her project, Dingeman performed an ethnomethodology, a sociological study that deals with the codes and conventions that underlie everyday social interactions. She analyzed a group of recently resettled Liberian refugees in South Bend.

“I specifically analyzed the strength of their community and potential integration patterns,” she said.

Dingeman was inspired to investigate the topic by her volunteer and intern work at the Refugee and Immigration Services of South Bend. She said she felt compelled to study the topic in depth because of the recent sociological attention to issues of immigration and the incorporation of cultural groups into American society.

“I wanted to show the humanity behind the debates while paying particular attention to the Liberians, a community that is largely overlooked despite their historical ties to the United States,” she said.

Spending time with refugees for her project enriched her understanding of humanity, Dingeman said.

“I learned that I can become involved in aiding [Liberians’] transition into American society,” she said. “However, in many ways they also taught me how to live my life as selflessly as possible, with lots of love and compassion.”

Medina approached her project by creating and distributing a survey investigating issues of minorities – specifically racial, ethnic, class and sexual minorities – to randomly selected Saint Mary’s students.

“It was so interesting to see how student’s responded, and to piece together different opinions and try to picture how Saint Mary’s as a whole felt about these issues,” she said.

Medina said that researching GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning) issues became important to her after she attended a conference in October 2005 with Student Diversity Board. After she learned about the environment of other colleges and universities and how they were approaching these issues, Medina said she thought it would be interesting to compare those climates to that at Saint Mary’s.

“I think that it is a very important topic because Saint Mary’s is working on making the campus and community more diverse,” Medina said. “Without doing studies similar to this project, there is no way the College will know how it can improve itself.”

Dingeman and Medina said they learned from their experiences and felt flattered by the success of their projects.

“I think this project was a good starting point for me,” Medina said. “I am so happy that I had the opportunity and the support from my professors and other students to follow through with it.”