Author: jwcmuhistory

On To Something New

Kaytie Nielson

Kaytie Nielson

I’ve finally purchased my plane tickets, so it’s official: my mentor, Dr. Mame-Fatou Niang, and I will be filming our documentary in France this coming July. Our documentary will focus on the stories of young black women from the disenfranchised suburbs of Paris.

Dr. Niang is currently in the process of publishing a book on French writers of immigrant descent, and is well-versed in the developing field of Black French studies. Before we begin filming, she will guide me through preliminary research on our topic. After filming, the rest of the summer will be used to edit and produce the first version of this documentary.

During the school year, I will be working to produce a second version of the documentary. I’ll spend the fall semester diving into research on the documentary form, studying artistic methodology and technique. In the spring, I will re-approach the footage I collected in the summer to create a more experimental iteration of our documentary. By March 2016, I aim to have produced two films that express one important story in two very different ways.

Kaytie Nielson

Filming at the beach

But for now, I have other projects to finish so I can focus on the next one. Of my current film projects, the most demanding is the documentary I recently shot in India. This documentary follows the stories of three women living in different parts of India, and relies on imagery to relate their complex and contrasting experiences. My partners and I have been editing the footage all semester, and we plan to release the film this summer. Here’s a link to the trailer.

Well, it’s back to work I go. Thanks for reading!

Learn more about my project.

Getting Started

Kaylyn Kim

Kaylyn Kim

What an honor it is to be a part of the
Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program.

This is a dream come true for me—I have been immersing myself in the different types of research here in the Psychology Department at Carnegie Mellon University, but never anything to this scale. My project is going to be a labor-intensive project, but I believe in it and I believe in the importance of the findings. Not to mention, from the very beginning of the application process, I have received great enthusiasm and support from my advisor, Dr. Brooke Feeney.  I had lots of different ideas coming in, and Dr. Feeney was great at finding the core of my interests and channeling it in a positive direction.

What I’m most excited about is being completely in charge of a research project. In the past, I’ve worked on creating studies with research teams, and I realize that working very closely with a team and working by yourself are two completely different research experiences. With teams, although you get a variety of different skillsets to contribute to the research, you tend to compromise and adjust ideas to match the interests of others. I’m looking forward to working on a project that is completely based on my interests!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘so what?’ aspect of the study. From my time working in the Relationships Lab as an experimenter and coder, I’ve learned that jealousy is an extremely common area of conflict in relationships. I believe the findings will determine approaches to mend the well-being of a relationship in marriage counseling and other therapeutic settings. I plan on pursuing clinical psychology in the future, so it’s really cool to be working on a study with so many real-life implications. Also, it’ll shed light into an area of research that hasn’t been too closely looked at yet.

I’m so excited for the summer to start and get my project rolling! I shall keep you updated on my progress!

 Read more about me and my project.

Picking the Venue

I am beyond excited to get started researching the American music festival. As a person who thoroughly enjoys outdoor concerts (no matter the music), the idea of a festival study immediately enticed me.

Whilst at my most recent festival experience, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, I found myself doing a lot of people-watching. It was truly fascinating the way that patrons followed an unspoken code of conduct, in the form of widespread motto, “Radiate Positivity.”

From there I got to thinking about the reasons people go to festivals, along with the reasons I can deal with the smelly people, mud, and heat, while some other true music fans I know cannot. No matter what people try to say, it’s not just about the music. The only answer I could think of was about how the atmosphere plays a part.

Geneva Jackson 1-1

The view from inside our information tent at sunset on opening night, Bonnaroo 2015, Manchester, TN

The idea kept building as I processed the weeklong experience, compounded by a trip abroad in Spain, giving me the opportunity to listen to entirely different outdoor music. From street performers, to church festival music, to a flamenco show, the live music experiences I found while traveling in Spain differed dramatically from that in the U.S., so I didn’t connect the two until a peer of mine while abroad took an impromptu trip. She decided, completely last minute, to show up to a Spanish music festival in Granada with some local artisans she had met. Hearing her recap her trip, reveling in the experience despite distinctly not being the “festival type”, only served to confirm my thoughts that something about the atmosphere and collective act of watching a show is significant.

Geneva Jackson 1-2

Street performers in El Parque de Retiro also at sunset, Madrid, Spain 2015

What to do with this information, or how to pursue it further, didn’t dawn on me for a while after returning home. In a very odd realization one night late last August, I realized that maybe the thesis topic I was already trying to come up with which synthesized my unconventional course of study at CMU, and the pet theory about group identity and music festivals I had been harboring could be one in the same project! And so the ‘venue’ appeared: I could explore festival culture, at once expounding upon my interest in the general culture of the 1960s and 70s, as applying that study to the modern day. I could combine my interests in music, group dynamics, and outdoor lifestyles with my experiences putting on shows, and cultural studies. I got to learn about the music industry as I prepare to hopefully enter it, while still using my talents as a writer and historian. This research endeavor is truly the culmination of my high school and college interests, coming together in a way I never would have predicted. I feel so lucky to have you along for the ride!

Learn more about me and my project.

The First Spark: Starting My Senior Thesis

Eleanor Haglund - My First Spark

Eleanor Haglund – My First Spark

Well, here we are. The start of something that I cannot yet imagine: My Senior Thesis. I have worked so hard to get here by studying hard in my classes and honing my work ethic. I am so excited to begin and so thankful for all of the people who are helping me. A special thanks to my advisors, Jane McCafferty and Kevin Gonzalez, and Dietrich College for supporting me in this opportunity.

A little bit about my project: I plan on completing a novel as my senior thesis. I will write it during the summer and the fall semester and editing and rewriting it during the spring semester. My novel will be about the wife of a wealthy industrialist in 1950s Pittsburgh who gets involved in social issues that oppose her husband’s business interests. I want to examine class issues that stem from industrial pursuits, political polarization and whether or not collaboration can be sustained in flourishing and competitive cities.

I look forward to going through the novel writing process for the first time and learning all that I can from my advisors. I know that the process will be long and difficult but I am ready for the challenge.

Read more about me and my project.

Wrapping up the Summer: Conflict in Romantic Relationships

hidden camera

Hidden camera used in the experiments

As the summer portion of my research project comes to a close, I am thrilled with how far my research has come. This summer I was able to nearly finish the data collection phase of my research. I recruited and tested forty couples this summer, which contributed to the 105 couples run since this project began, which I feel is a huge accomplishment. Despite the difficult task of recruiting participants, I was able to recruit, schedule, and manage forty couples to participate in the study. I had an average of three couples participating per week, which kept the rate of participation steady. In addition to the recruitment phase being completed, I am also wrapping up the observational coding element of the project. Each member of couples 1 thru 95 have now been coded by two independent coders and checked for inter-rater reliability. With only a few couples left to code, the data collection is nearly complete. I am incredibly excited and relieved that, along with my team of research assistants in the lab, I was able to complete the most arduous, labor-intensive steps of the research project.

Having the data collection phase of the study completed will be an invaluable asset as I work throughout the school year. Now that this difficult, time-consuming aspect of the research is finished, I can devote my time and energy to entering the data collected from the power questionnaires and analyzing the data. This fall, I can statistically analyze the associations between the behaviors coded in the conflict discussion videos and the perceived power expressed in the questionnaires. I am thrilled to be so close to finding results! Having completed a great deal of the project this summer, I will have more time this fall to delved into the background literature, which help me to write a solid, well-informed research paper. Assuming I find results, I am hoping to submit my paper to a number of psychology journals this winter to get published. This would not have been possible had I not had the summer to work on the project.

The experience of working full time on my own was both overwhelming and exciting. There were times when I felt so stressed I thought my head might explode. This summer felt like a race against the clock in some ways, which made the experience fast-paced and quite stressful. Despite the stress, this was the most valuable experience of my undergraduate career. Having the opportunity to build my own research project from the ground up taught me to think like a scientist. I now have a refined skill set and knowledge that I did not have when I began this endeavor. With the support and guidance of Dr. Feeney, I was able to learn and accomplish so much this summer. I am so grateful to Dietrich College and Dr. Feeney for giving me this opportunity to learn and grow as a researcher. I feel like more than a psychology student now- I feel like a real scientist, which is an exciting feeling.


Image of the lab where experiments are conducted

I highly encourage any future students interested in working on a thesis project in the summer months to pursue that goal! It is an amazing experience that will set you apart as a scholar in your field. Undergraduate studies are focused on learning and observing. The Dietrich Summer Honors Fellowship program gives students the opportunity to learn in a much more hands-on way than they are able to in the classroom. Here, students can channel their own creativity and innovation to accomplish things of which they did not know they were capable. Furthermore, having the experience of developing and seeing through a research project from start to finish gives students a unique skill set. This newly acquired knowledge provide the opportunity to thrive in future research endeavors, and perhaps graduate school, should students be interested. This program has been a unique, wonderful growing experience for me, and I’m sure it will be for the future scholars as well.


Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects.

Project Update: Examining the Effects of Volunteering on Cognitive Functions

My primary initial goal for the early summer weeks was to finish the first round of interviews by mid-June. However, attracting the last few participants proved to be a more difficult task than I had expected. After a CMU alumnus connected me with a representative from another Pittsburgh organization, I was able to schedule the remaining participants for interviews during the week of the 16th. If all goes well, I will complete the first round of interviews by June 20th (only one week behind schedule).

Read the Project Description Here

Accordingly, the most valuable resources for my work have been the organizations from which most of my participants have come from (i.e., the Osher programs at CMU and Pitt, and AgeWell Pittsburgh). These organizations have advertised my study to their members, and as a result, close to (if not more than) 40 of my 50 participants were members of one of these organizations.

As I continued to work independently on my project, I was most surprised by the range of existing research about volunteering. I have read an article about volunteerism’s effect on fMRI-measured brain activity as well as articles about volunteerism’s effects on generic aspects of well-being. As I begin to write the introduction of my Senior Thesis, I will draw upon this literature as a foundation of my own research.

Recently, my workdays have been structured around any scheduled interviews. If interviews were scheduled for the morning, I would spend the morning interviewing participants and entering the interview data into SPSS, then the afternoon reading and outlining articles (and the opposite would be true if interviews were scheduled for the afternoon).

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What I’m doing over the summer – Minnar Xie

Minnar Xie

Minnar Xie

As the semester winds down I am more and more excited about summer starting. My thesis began last semester (though I didn’t know it then) as a final paper for a class I took with Judith Schachter entitled “Trafficking Persons.” I wrote this really long 30-page paper and by the end of it I still somehow felt like I had only just begun to scratch the surface of what I wanted to know. I have since been itching to delve back into the literature as well as continue spending time talking and asking questions to Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh.

My first plan of order after finals are over is to read Michael Hutt’s wonderful book Unbecoming Citizens: Culture, Nationhood, and the Flight of Refugees from Bhutan. I have it currently checked out on interlibrary loan and I hope to be getting a copy soon with the help of the fellowship’s research funds. I have been waiting to read this book since I started to really look into the history of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees last semester. Honestly, when I’ve been too exhausted to think about or work on my classwork this semester, I’ll sit in bed a read a couple page of Michael Hutt’s book and it makes me invigorated again. He is, from my understanding right now, the only researcher to have published a book about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee situation and probably the most extensive researcher about Bhutanese/Nepali refugees. From my preliminary research, the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees are really not written about or researched as much as other refugee populations (ie: the Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, etc). Part of that owes to Bhutan’s opaqueness when it comes to research and public records (Michael Hutt wasn’t ever able to visit Bhutan himself, and had his visa denied twice!), and part of it is probably international attention drawn to more war-torn and devastating refugee crises.

I have also been really looking forward to reconnecting to Bhim and Yadhu, two Bhutanese/Nepali refugees who are students at the University of Pittsburgh. They have been so instrumental in inspiring my research, providing direction both in terms of feedback as well as just conversing with me about their lives. They are both excited for me to be doing research about their community and that is incredibly encouraging. It has been difficult for me to overcome the awkwardness of doing research about a community that I care so much for on a personal level, especially since this project forces me to bridge my relationships from that of a volunteer teacher to someone who has some kind of other motive as a researcher. I’ve talked about this with my project advisor and professor Judith Schachter, and it seems to be that this is a dilemma that all cultural anthropologists encounter and never fully get over. But, nothing is more reassuring than hearing positive feedback from members of the community like Bhim and Yadhu. My hope in the first 4 weeks is to meet with them at least twice for extensive conversations, and to set up lunch or coffee meetings with as many of their friends as possible. In my head I can probably prattle off at least 10 Bhutanese/Nepali refugee youth I hope to speak to as soon as I get the chance.

In my head I am constantly orchestrating possibilities and thinking about contacts I have in Pittsburgh to gather another perspective in my fieldwork. I hope to eventually meet with people from a number of Pittsburgh area organizations that work directly to benefit Bhutanese/Nepali refugees (ie: Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, which offers free ESL classes to refugees in Pittsburgh; Squirrel Hill Heath Center, the primary health clinic for refugee clients in Pittsburgh; and Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the largest resettlement agency for Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh). At this stage of research however, I hope to focus mostly on the way that history and international organizations has written about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees, as well as conversations with Bhutanese/Nepali refugees themselves.

I am so excited and ready for summer to begin! As a Bachelor of Humanities and Arts student with an additional major in Human-Computer Interaction, my experiences over the summer have been really diverse and different from what I envision this one to be. I spent the summer after my freshman year doing two part-time internships, one at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the other as a visual display intern at the Anthropologie store near my house. Both experiences taught me a lot about the world of what it means to be a working artist, but in two very different contexts: a non-profit, experimental gallery and a retail setting. Last summer I took a Chinese language course at a community college and had a part-time internship at UCLA in their Research in Engineering, Media and Performance (REMAP) Center. I was working on their Google glass team, prototyping a non-linear, audio-based storytelling experience for Google glass. What excites me more than anything else this summer is the chance to really focus on understanding and contributing to other people’s understanding of a group of people in Pittsburgh who have truly changed my life. There are pockets of people in Pittsburgh who really know a lot about the refugee population here, but on the whole they aren’t known about or are misunderstood in some way. Ultimately I hope that my research this summer and through the next year contributes meaningfully to bring awareness to both the humanity and the complexity of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee population here in Pittsburgh.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects

What I’m doing this summer – Christophe Combemale

combemale image

The poster I used to present my research project at the Heart of the Matter event on Monday April 21.

Christophe Combemale

Christophe Combemale

I undertake this summer phase of my Senior Honors thesis with great enthusiasm (and an appropriate measure of trepidation) at the prospect of work largely novel to my undergraduate experience. While I have already conducted historical research and presented my results in an academic forum, the interdisciplinary reach of this project demands an altogether different appreciation for scale.

My anticipated work will combine a thorough analysis of historiography, assembled this semester in preparation for the more dedicated nature of the formal project. I will combine this segment with direct historical analysis supplemented by the statistical excavation of empirical trends in my period of study, oriented toward the theoretical formulation of the relationship between state and society in achieving practical legitimacy. The ambition of the project gives me great cause consider the value of this early summer start.

In order to achieve the intended features of my thesis, I will divide the overarching process into distinct but by no means independent stages. Though I will characterize them by a certain preliminary ordering, the elements of this progression are not necessarily linear, and they may develop in parallel rather than in strict sequence.

As an immediate continuation of the preparatory work I began upon receiving this Fellowship, I will refine my understanding of modern academic perspectives on the reign of Francis I to best situate the historical dimension of my thesis in identifying its most substantive implications for current understanding of the period. My research to date reveals a strongly biographical tendency in the historiography, entirely expected given the intensely personal nature of governance in Early Modern France.

This feature of the period influenced my own decision to use the reign of Francis I as the focus of my analysis of the mechanisms of state legitimacy, using the lengthy continuity of the personality (Francis ruled for 32 years) presiding over the Kingdom of France to properly account for the variations of character which naturally affect the direction and functionality of the state. In a sense, I will both internalize the characteristics of Francis and other dominant domestic and foreign figures affecting his Kingdom as providing the motives which drive high-level state policy (either proactively or in response to pressure on these personal interests) and “reduce” them to more closely analyze the general mechanisms of state operation in evidence.

The advantages of my chosen period bring me to the next facet of my summer tasks. The increasingly sophisticated and centralized state of Francis’s France provides ample primary sources in the form of official records, some available by order from the French Bibliothèque Nationale and others directly online from academic databases. A record of the royal treasury during the period and a collection of every royal edict issued by Francis I are among the most promising examples; in the first weeks of my summer thesis work, I intend to conduct a statistical analysis of the data provided by these sources to evaluate the relationship between the quantitative dimensions of treasury income and allocation and the categorical incidence of royal edicts.

The statistical component of the project will provide a dimension of empirical rigor with which to enrich the conclusions enabled by other primary sources, such as Francis’s prolific letters (with which I intend to construct an evolving image of his motives as a ruler) and the valuable chronicles of the diplomatic meetings which profoundly marked the monarch’s foreign policy. These materials will provide the core of the historical stage of my thesis, and the last essential part of the first weeks of my summer work. I will begin research under the Honors Fellowship shortly after the end of my final exams, and my anticipation grows each day.

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What I’m doing over the summer – One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

Over the summer, I will continue to recruit and interview participants until 50 older adults have been interviewed in total. Then, I will run preliminary analyses on the data acquired from this first set of interviews. I will also develop and implement a procedure to code the volunteer responses in preparation for in-depth analyses (e.g., categorizing the responses). All of this will contribute to the design of the second interviews. Toward the end of the summer, I will begin the second set of interviews (of the same people from the first interviews) and write the introduction to my Honors Thesis; to accomplish this, I will further research the existing literature pertaining to the effects of volunteering and social participation/interactions on health outcomes, specifically cognitive functioning.

Since the first four weeks of the summer will be primarily spent finishing up the interviews and running preliminary analyses on the data, the only physical resource I will work with is the interview room. In terms of personnel, the participants could be considered a resource, as well as my advisor, Dr. Vicki Helgeson.

Regarding the summer work, I am most excited about being able to focus on my research without having to balance it with the stresses of academic coursework.

As I get started, I am somewhat anxious about the preliminary data findings. I know it will only be correlational data, but I’m afraid to see no positive correlation between time spent volunteering and greater health outcomes (cognitive functioning, specifically).

This summer’s work will be different than any of my previous experiences at Carnegie Mellon University. This is the first major independent research project I have undertaken as an undergraduate. Again, I have not been able to focus completely on research without having to worry about academics, so this summer fellowship is most different in this regard.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects