Learning Beyond the Classroom - Spring - Summer 2007
The Undergraduate Research Shakespeare Conference
In November 2006, the Department of English and Fine Arts hosted the third annual Undergraduate Research Shakespeare Conference at VMI, funded largely by the Navas-Read Fund. This fund, which was established to promote the study of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, also enables the Department to offer a Spring Furlough trip to London, an English Society trip to Washington, D.C., visits to Post by the American Shakespeare Center’s traveling troupe of actors, and excursions to the ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse. The Undergraduate Research Shakespeare Conference gives cadets the opportunity to present their research to other students, and it supports VMI’s Undergraduate Research Initiative.
Col. Baragona organized the Shakespeare conference for undergraduates in the Shenandoah Valley and invited six schools to participate: Washington and Lee University, Roanoke College, Hollins College, Mary Baldwin College, Bridgewater College, and James Madison University. In order to show support for the academic achievement of the participants, VMI paid for lodging for all conferees, a reception and banquet, prizes for the best papers, tickets to the Blackfriars, and custom (and now coveted) VMI URSC tee-shirts. Faculty from all of the schools acted as session judges and moderators, making the conference a deeply cooperative effort.
In 2004, our inaugural keynote speaker was Jim Warren, co-founder of the ASC. In 2005, it was the distinguished Shakespearean actor and theater professor, Ed Gero, who, in addition to delivering the keynote, conducted an acting workshop at the ASC with theater students from JMU. In 2006, our keynote speaker was Dr. David Bevington from the University of Chicago, editor of The Complete Works of Shakespeare and of the new English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology. The 2006 conference also marked the first time that papers about Renaissance playwrights other than Shakespeare were presented and that a school from outside the Shenandoah Valley participated, Christopher Newport University. Schools from outside the state are already inquiring about taking part next year, and we hope eventually to make this a national conference.
For more information about the conference, please contact Col. Baragona (email@example.com) or visit the conference website: http://academics.vmi.edu/english/vmiursc.html.
Expansion of the Department's Writing Internships
In an effort to provide cadets with more “real world” writing experiences, the Department of English and Fine Arts and the Institute Writing Program have been actively seeking opportunities to partner cadet writers with community organizations. The most concerted effort thus far has been the Banff internship program, which is funded by a gift from P. Wesley Foster, Jr. ’56 and is coordinated by LTC Roger Thompson. Since the summer of 2003, two to three cadets have interned each summer with agencies in the town of Banff, Alberta, Canada. Cadets have created documents ranging from feasibility studies of alternative power sources to pest management manuals for Audubon re-certification for local resorts. The internships illustrate the Department's commitment to supporting cadets pursuing undergraduate research, significant writing projects, and international study.
Cadets have also contributed their writing talents to the local Lexington community and other communities in the region. During the spring of 2003, Cadet Gussie Lord '03 wrote a history of Project Horizon, a non-profit agency “dedicated to reducing domestic, dating, and sexual violence in the Lexington, Buena Vista, and Rockbridge County.” That summer, Cadet Matt Sharpe ’04 compiled a business proposal for the Youth Life Foundation, a tutoring and mentoring program for at-risk children in South Hill, Virginia. Further south, Cadet Sam LaGrone '04 served as a staff writer and intern at the News-Report in Greensboro, North Carolina.
This spring, Cadet Wadsworth (Worth) Bugg ’07 is working with the Historic Lexington Foundation to update their educational materials by revising them for a range of audiences and age groups, and Cadet Anastasia (Anya) Kovarik ’07 is assisting in the celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the Woods Creek Montessori School by conducting interviews with alumni and parents as part of a larger oral history project.
For each of these projects, the cadet writers work closely with both their supervisors at the community organizations and their faculty mentors in order to establish writing schedules and help the cadets shape their final projects. The internships require cadets to apply to their work the time management, research, and writing skills that they have honed at VMI, and the interns state that they derive great benefits from having the chance to conduct these projects largely on their own and to produce documents that will be used by real people for real purposes. Several cadets who have completed the internships have also commented on how their experiences gave them a distinct advantage when applying for graduate schools and jobs and how the projects have helped them once they got there.
If you or someone you know has a writing project that would benefit from a partnership through the writing internship program, please contact COL Christina McDonald, the Institute Writing Director (firstname.lastname@example.org). For information about the Banff program, please contact LTC Roger Thompson (email@example.com).
The Summer Undergraduate Research Institute: A Personal Perspective
By Vincent Noel (EN/FA '07)
With seven semesters of English writing and research experience at this point in my cadetship, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I had this past summer to conduct an undergraduate research project in English. I am Vincent Noel, a First Classman and English major, commissioning in the Air Force and graduating this May. Of all the scholastic endeavors I have undertaken during my cadetship, I can say unequivocally that the Summer Undergraduate Research Institute was the most influential in my academic development. The program allowed me to immerse myself in material that fascinated me and to work closely with a faculty mentor to complete a challenging project.
My undergraduate research project, entitled “A Gulf Between: Comradeship and Alienation in the Great War,” originally stemmed from my interest in the experience of the First World War. I developed my interest in the Great War while taking Col. Badgett’s class, “Modern Art and the Great War.” The course was primarily concerned with the visual arts; however, Col. Badgett routinely drew upon his expansive knowledge of the subject to further illuminate the Great War for his students, moving beyond the context of the class and offering insights into the cultural phenomena that characterized the Great War experience. I was enraptured with the desperate lives lived by so many fighting men, and I began reading novels and memoirs on the subject during my free time.
Encouraged by both Col. Badgett and the Col. Emily Miller, the Head of the Department of English and Fine Arts, I began an independent study during the second semester of my second class year. Col. Badgett and I developed a reading list of novels and memoirs that included Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That, e.e. cummings’s The Enormous Room, Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, John Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers, Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire, Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune, and Paul Fussell’s masterly critical study of the Great War, The Great War and Modern Memory. The independent study was essentially a reading course designed to provide me with a working knowledge of some of the more important works in the canon of Great War literature. In addition to reading the works, I composed short response papers covering salient themes I identified in the writings. These short papers provided the material that would be developed into a research paper and, ultimately, an honors thesis.
Eventually, I settled on the theme of alienation and comradeship in the literature of the Great War. When the SURI program began in the summer, I refined my reading and focused primarily on secondary sources and literary criticism. Because of the sheer volume of works I had read, I was compelled to limit my discussion and analysis to trench memoirs. By the time SURI came to a close, I had composed a twenty-six page discussion of alienation and comradeship as depicted in the trench memoir, but I was not entirely happy with this. I am currently moving into the realms of fiction and poetry, and I am toying with the idea of including the visual arts. Discussion of these genres will be incorporated into what will soon become my honors thesis in English.
This project has spanned fully half of my cadetship, and the opportunity to conduct meaningful research at SURI was a formative experience in my academic career. It would simply not have been possible without the contributions of all the faculty, staff, alumni, and friends who have made SURI a reality and have presented both me and other English majors with this incredible opportunity to do what we love most – learn.