Most students think of professors’ academic research as scientific lab work, or as a complicated process beyond their grasp. The Aresty Research Center for Undergraduates is trying to change those assumptions. Launched in the fall of 2005, their Sophomore Research Assistant Program brings students and faculty together to work on advanced projects, humanities research included. Rutgers English Professors Richard Koszarski, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, William Vesterman, and Carolyn Williams mentored students in endeavors ranging from scholarly investigations to curriculum development to library classification and organization. The students, in return, contributed to each professor’s work while expanding their ideas of research.
Jeff Kessler, a double major in English and philosophy, worked with Professor Williams to reshape the curriculum for Principles of Literary Study 219, the introduction to poetry required for all English majors. He helped gather resources and background materials for the course, but also calls the research an avenue for “self-discovery” that gave his previous interest in poetry a chance to solidify. Julia Newman, an English major, admitted that she did not know what to expect when she signed up for the same project, and she was pleasantly surprised when Professor Williams allowed her to shape her own research topic. Ms. Newman’s interest in the experimental poetry of William Burroughs soon emerged as the focus of her work. She now plans to continue the research on her own, possibly with a senior honors thesis.
Maisa Chiang, an art history and marketing double major, took on a project that involved organizing a library rather than researching in one. Under the guidance of Professor Koszarski, Ms. Chiang worked with a collection of films recently donated to the English Department by Daryl Chin, a playwright, critic, and film teacher at The New School for Social Research and the School of Visual Arts. Her job, classifying and cross-referencing more than 2000 films, required more hands-on experimentation with various software programs than reading and writing. “It complemented my usual course work,” Ms. Chiang says, “and let me put my technological skills to use.” She hopes that future film scholars will make use of her system to explore the new library.
Sometimes, the mentoring relationship is as important as the results. Alyse Albaum, a journalism and psychology double major, worked with Professor Sheridan-Rabideau on her research on activism, feminism, and education. “We talk a lot,” Ms. Albaum said, “which is different from working on assignments for classes, where you just hand things in when you’re done.” Niti Bagchi, a classics and English double major who hopes to be a professor herself one day, says that working with Professor Vesterman demystified her image of English scholarship. “Professor Vesterman took my ideas seriously and made me feel like I was contributing to the project,” Ms. Bagchi says. “I had always thought of a career in academia as teaching and research, but in a general sense. The Aresty Assistantship clarified my understanding about what it takes to prepare an article for scholarly publication.”
The Aresty Research Center was established in 2004 by an endowment from Jerome and Lorraine Aresty. The Sophomore RA Program, just one of their initiatives, encourages students to learn advanced research skills early in their college careers, while working with scholars in a variety of disciplines. Rutgers English is proud to participate in this valuable program.
The Aresty Research Center