Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

College of Liberal Arts News

More than 200 students shared their research through SSRD

Maxwell Mensinger '13 gives his presentation, Maxwell Mensinger '13 gives his presentation, "Finish Him: The Ethical Implications of Drone Warfare," during SSRD April 17.

Students explore a poster session examining European integration in Ford Hall. Students explore a poster session examining European integration in Ford Hall.

Megan Hash '13, an environmental science major, discusses her thesis research on improving the tracking efficiency of wolves.Megan Hash '13, an environmental science major, discusses her thesis research on improving the tracking efficiency of wolves.

Maxwell Mensinger ’13 wants more people to start talking about the ethical implications of drone warfare — and at Willamette University’s Student Scholarship Recognition Day his wish came true.

“The notion of open and honest speech is pivotal to my project’s message,” he says. “Presenting at SSRD allowed me to bring my research full circle; it allowed me to start a conversation."

Mensinger was one of more than 200 students who shared their research findings at the 13th annual SSRD on April 17.

Throughout the day students presented their senior capstone research projects or independent research, while others displayed original works in fine and performing arts.

Regular classes were canceled — allowing students to explore the wide variety of talks, performances and posters.

“For more than a decade, SSRD has allowed the campus to join together in a diverse ritual of sharing our research and creative work with each other and increasingly with our Salem community,” says David Craig, who serves on the SSRD faculty committee.

“We don’t really ‘cancel’ classes so much as we liberally and artfully abandon our regular schedule to let curiosity, friendship and commitment determine where we spend our time.”

Original Research

With so many fascinating options — including, “The Criminalization of Latinos Under the ‘War on Terrorism,’” “Bicycle Physics: Dynamic Lateral Displacement and Analysis of Bicycle Wheels,” and “Tweens, Teenagers and Songs of a Generation: Music as an Alternative Religion for Modern Youth” — choosing which talks to attend wasn’t easy.

In one presentation, Meagan Hash ’13 — an environmental science major — discussed her thesis research on improving the tracking efficiency of wolves. Most of the audience probably didn’t know that when wolf researchers howl, wolf pups will howl back. Hash says the howling pups helped her research team locate wolf pack homesites, allowing them to collect data.

Mensinger — the 2013 Presidential Scholar— also captivated his audience with surprising facts and figures. Despite controversies surrounding targeted strikes, a recent poll found that 83% of Americans approve the use of drones. With drone warfare on the rise, he asked the audience to consider the moral issues surrounding the ability to kill from halfway around the globe.

By allowing students to pose challenging questions and share original research with the campus community, Hash says both the presenters and the audience benefit from SSRD.

“Having a program like SSRD at Willamette allows students to be exposed to various student research and thesis projects that otherwise go unrecognized,” she says. “It gave me a chance to share my research with a wider audience than just the environmental science department and inspire underclassmen for their future research.”

Engaging Others

This year, SSRD also attracted high school students to campus as part of the Salem-Keizer School District’s Science Expo Darwin Discovery Days Program.

At the TOPX session, four outstanding scholars presented their diverse works and discoveries to an audience that included 400 high school students from the Salem area.

Students also organized a “Breaking the Bubble” event, which promoted conversations between Willamette students and Salem professionals who work to serve the broader community.

“SSRD is a day in which we manifest our motto, 'Not unto ourselves alone are we born,'" Craig says.

“We pause in our personal and sometimes isolating aspect of scholarship to explicitly engage an audience greater than ourselves.”

Alumna cites WU for helping her win a Fulbright grant to teach in Russia

Kathryn Burns '12Kathryn Burns '12

Since graduating from Willamette University, Kathryn Burns ’12 has helped Russian immigrants who’ve survived domestic violence.

Through a $30,000 Fulbright grant, Burns will learn how to better communicate with these women by working as an English teaching assistant in Russia.

“I see this Fulbright experience as the perfect bridge between Willamette and higher education,” says Burns, who majored in religious studies and minored in Russian. “It will not only enhance my language and teaching skills, it will also afford me the level of cultural competency I will need to be an effective educator and advocate.”

Ambitious Undertakings

Each year the Fulbright program allows Americans to teach English, conduct research or complete graduate work in more than 150 countries. The award covers travel, research and living expenses for up to a year.

In a Russian university, Burns will plan and conduct conversational classroom activities and give presentations on American culture and society. She will also research women’s roles in modern Russian society and how those roles have changed in recent history.

“Willamette prepared me by not only exposing me to the subject matter I’m now most passionate about, but by arming me with the written and spoken communication skills and critical thinking capacity that I will need to be successful as a Fulbright Scholar,” Burns says.

Finding her Calling

When she enrolled at Willamette, Burns intended to study Spanish. But after taking Russian classes her first semester, she fell in love with the department and the language.

“My professors and advisers at Willamette helped me tie together my various interests in true liberal arts fashion, and I couldn’t be more grateful — particularly to the Religious Studies and Russian departments,” she says.

During her time at Willamette, Burns joined the Russian Club and the Environmental Community Outreach Society. She was awarded the Northwest Conference Scholar-Athlete Honor for rowing for the WU varsity crew team, and she spent her senior year working with survivors of domestic violence at a local nonprofit agency.

After graduating, she became an advocate at a domestic violence shelter in Portland. She also volunteers in the same capacity at several agencies, including the Russian Oregon Social Services.

Burns plans on applying for graduate school to study interpretation and language education this fall. Once she graduates, she intends to advocate for immigrant women and their families through both language instruction and interpretative services.

For more information on Fulbright grants and similar opportunities, contact the Office of Student Academic Grants and Awards.

Students write book through environmental history course


Zena Forest and Farm is many things to many people.

It’s where fires are deliberately set to restore the oak savanna, which dominated the area centuries ago. It’s where students practice organic farming, and it’s where a powerful telescope is used to inspect the heavens.

In a new book, “Finding a Sense of Place: An Environmental History of Zena,” 25 Willamette University students present the first coherent and comprehensive history of Zena — exploring details of its geological past and plans for the property’s future.

The book retails for $20 and is available at The Willamette Store and Amazon.com. Royalties will benefit the Willamette Sustainability Institute, which provided the funds for the book’s publication through a Faculty Fellow Research Grant.

“One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is you get to do your own exploring,” says Morgan Gratz-Weiser ’13, one of the book’s authors.

“It was a tough process in a way to find the information you needed and to work on your own writing style, but now, it’s great to look back to see how your writing has progressed.”

History Lesson

Zena Forest and Farm is a 305-acre property in the Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley, 10 miles northwest of Willamette University. Willamette purchased the land in 2008 to develop educational programs and to “protect, restore, manage and enhance the natural resources and ecosystem services of Zena.”

Visiting History Professor Bob Reinhardt assigned the book project through his course, “The Environmental History of Zena,” helping guide students as they examined everything from studies of the Willamette Valley’s geology to church and state archival records.

“The main objective of the course was to learn about the approach, method and tools of environmental history,” says Reinhardt, who recently received a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University.

“I chose Zena as the place for the beginning of this process (but) the students decided what should go into the book, who would write which chapters, etc. …This book is the product of the students, not me.”

During the recent Student Scholarship Recognition Day at Willamette, about half of the student authors discussed the rewards and challenges of writing the book.

Most said the project helped them improve their writing and editing skills while also giving them a greater appreciation for Zena’s rich history.

“It was a fun puzzle to piece together, but definitely a challenge,” says Andrew Splittler ’14. “This process is something I’ll definitely remember.”