Student research highlighted at annual conference

April 09, 2014

Maddie Fega ’14 received a grant to help her learn about the slower, friendlier pace that she has grown to appreciate in Richmond.

The grant funded research for her presentation “Places of the Average People: Southern Regionalism as Determined through Experience, Practice and Perception in Richmond, Indiana,” which examines Southern culture affinity among Richmond’s residents. She will present during Earlham’s 5th Annual Research Conference (ARC). The conference runs Monday, April 14, 4:30 – 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 15, 4:30 - 6:30 p.m., and Wednesday, April 16, 1- 2:15 p.m. in various locations throughout Bolling Center. Admission is free, and the public is invited.

“As a student you can’t afford a lot and because of the grant I was able to get out and take the time to do the things I needed for my research,” says Fega, who completed 17 formal interviews and hours of informal observations. With one particular family, Fega attended a church Christmas program, helped a grandmother clean out a closet, and shared several meals.

“At first I was overwhelmed,” the sociology/anthropology major remembers. “It was a humbling experience to do ethnography. It takes a lot of effort and confidence to research a phenomena that you simply feel or sense and assert yourself to explore the why, when, where and how of this sense.”

Adjusting to a new pace

When she first arrived as a first-year student, Fega says she could not understand why local cashiers took the time talk to each customer.Maddie -fega1

“I would be standing impatiently in line and thinking it was rude, but then when I went home to western Massachusetts and asked the cashier how she was, she was instantly cold and annoyed,” Fega explains. “Within two months I realized that I liked the slower, friendlier pace better than the northeastern rush, and I wanted to learn more about this.”

In September, she applied for and received an ARC grant to conduct her research, which she completed in March. Results showed that state borders are nearly irrelevant and that nearly 90 percent of the people she interviewed were from Kentucky or Tennessee or had family in Kentucky or Tennessee. She also found that during the time that the area was populated, Richmond’s industrial opportunities made it a favorable stop for Kentucky and Tennessee residents who left their native homes searching for work.

“Richmond was the southern most tip of factory work,” says Fega who plans to attend grad school and eventually teach social activism through experiential learning.

Learning from research

Her research was enlightening in a variety of ways.

“I learned a lot about the ways in which we hold onto meaning through abstract parts of our identity,” she explains. “We humanize ourselves by finding affinity and solidarity with other people, and that becomes who we are.”

For the conference presentation, Fega must condense her 20-plus page thesis into a 10-15 minute presentation.

“The ARC is a great opportunity, especially for social science and humanities students because there aren’t that many opportunities for us to present,” Fega explains.

ARC faculty advisor and Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachael Reavis says the conference grew from 101 presenters last year to 130 this year.

“The students do a really nice job with their presentations, and it is a rewarding experience both for the presenters and the audience,” Reavis explains. “When people see that, they are more eager to participate, either as student presenters or faculty advisors. Faculty have really been encouraging their students to present. This year, politics, philosophy, art (history emphasis), and international studies required some or all of their seniors to take part in ARC.”

Additional presentation topics include head and neck strength, drone policy, privatization of the American prison system, bacterial and protozoal infections, and Australia’s seeker policy. Other titles include “Do You Smile with your Nose? A Comparative Analysis of Emoticon Usage in English and Chinese,” “Does Time Really Fly When You’re Having Fun? The Effects of Memory on Time Estimation Tasks.” 

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