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SISTAR program offers student research grants

Bridget Meade | Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Founded in 1991, the Student Independent Study and Research (SISTAR) grant provides Saint Mary’s students and faculty members with the opportunity to create eight-week summer research partnerships.

Professor Laura Haigwood, director of the Center for Academic Innovation (CFAI), said the grant was established to encourage the collaboration of Saint Mary’s students and professors.

“The program was inspired, in part, by the close, collegial, teaching and research relationships that faculty and students develop at SMC,” she said. “We wanted to be able to reward and encourage that work.”

The grant, which provides the student researchers with housing and a stipend, is funded by donations. Haigwood said Maryjeanne Ryan Burke, a 1956 graduate of Saint Mary’s College, is a large contributor to the program. Haigwood said the Burke endowment is offered to specifically qualified professors.

“The Burke SISTAR is reserved for full-time, tenure-track faculty who are not yet tenured, and it has proved an outstanding research, teaching and learning opportunity for them and for their students,” she said.

Outside of the Burke SISTAR grant, the prerequisites for student and faculty applicants are much more imprecise, Haigwood said. The program is open to all full-time students and faculty of all studies.

Haigwood said although the number of applicants varies greatly from year to year, the grant is usually awarded to four student-faculty research partnerships. The grant is typically presented to a rising senior.

The application process includes an interview and a written proposal. According to Haigwood, the CFAI grant committee makes the award decisions. The committee is chaired by Haigwood and includes five other faculty members that are elected by the Faculty Assembly.

Last year’s four award recipients were selected from a variety of departments.

Senior Ashley Feely worked with Sociology Professor Mary Ann Kanieski on a project entitled “Emerging Patterns in Relationships Between Mothers and Their Adult Children: Examining Mothers’ Self-Constructed Identity.”

Fellow senior Megan Griffin partnered with Political Science Professor Patrick Pierce on a study called “Race to the Top: The Political Economy of State Tax Incentives for Business.”

Brynn Thomas, also a Saint Mary’s senior, collaborated with Professor Susan Latham on a communicative disorders project.

Senior Alyssa Klubeck teamed up with history professor David Stefanic on a project called “Women in Revolution: Comparing Women in the French and Irish Revolutions.”

Klubeck said the experience was beneficial on an educational and professional level, as well as being enjoyable.

“It was an incredible amount of fun to work so closely with one of my favorite professors and gain the experience of working with a professional academic,” Klubeck said.

The grant also supports travel and related expenses for the student to attend a professional conference in the next academic year. Stefanic and Klubeck were able to present their study at a conference in Nebraska this fall.

Haigwood said the idea behind the grant is to give students the opportunity to work side-by-side in a study with a professor, rather than as an assistant.

“We want [the faculty and the student] to work together as genuine peers,” Haigwood said. “SISTAR students are generally more like graduate students than undergraduates in their collaborative work with faculty. We want her to be a co-researcher, or an independent peer researcher.”

With aspirations to attend graduate school, Klubeck said she recognized the opportunity the SISTAR grant offered her. However, Klubeck said the program gave her more than just a resume boost.

“While research and writing were invaluable, I found what I learned from Dr. Stefancic as a mentor in my work was a great opportunity,” she said. “I think that is what the SISTAR program really has going for it. The connections it builds between students and professors to work together and learn from each other are unparalleled.”