Carson Scholars gather to celebrate value of grant research program

by University Communications,

Since 1989, scholars of the Carson Undergraduate Research Grant program have composed music for a wind ensemble. They’ve collaborated to write, direct and produce two short films, and they’ve traveled to Cuba to study revolutionary theatre.

On Oct. 17, more than a dozen of these scholars gathered to celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary. Joined by founder Bill Long ’59 and former College of Liberal Arts Dean Julie Carson — for whom the program was named — the attendees shared how their scholarly, creative and professional projects have shaped their lives.

“The Carson Grant gave me the opportunity to delve deeply into a problem that I felt I had only touched the surface of before,” says Soren Underdahl ’15, a philosophy and politics double major.

“It allowed me to engage in the kind of academic research that undergrads rarely get the opportunity to do, and for that, I am immensely thankful.”

Exploring their Interests

Underdahl was one of eight 2014 Carson Scholars to present their research on Friday. For his project, Underdahl focused on the potential connections between Immanuel Kant and Nazism as an ideology. His research stemmed from the Democracy and Nazism course taught by politics professor Sammy Basu.

“My research delved into possibly the most studied modern philosopher and surfaced with ideas that most academic scholarship in the past century would rather forget,” Underdahl says. “Kant is most definitely not innocent of ideological connections with the very foundations of Nazi thought.”

For her project, Brenna Smelt ’16 built an aerial apparatus and designed choreography to accompany it. The choreography explores the idea of perfection.

“I had never done any sort of major construction before, so taking this on was a little daunting for me,” says Smelt, a psychology major. “But now I have a completely new set of skills in welding and construction that I wouldn’t have had without funding from the Carson program.”

Students Lindsay Russo ’15, an exercise science major, and Benjamin Mow ’15, a physics major, also appreciate what the Carson program has done for them.

Using a telescope at Zena Forest & Farm, Mow conducted research on a pulsating, variable star. And for her project, Russo studied the prevalence of ACL injuries in adolescent female soccer players.

“I examined how the duration of warm up effects knee motion, and how the knee motions may be leading to increased injuries,” says Russo, who is applying to physical therapy graduate programs.

“This was an excellent chance to experience the scientific research field, and I hope to apply for publication and attendance to several conferences on the West Coast.”

Impressive Results

When he established the Carson program, Long, a Willamette trustee, hoped students would pursue opportunities beyond the structured curriculum. During the past 25 years, he says he’s been thrilled with the results.

"When I initially made the gift, the ramifications of the program couldn't be known at the time. It’s exceeded my expectations by a wide margin,” he says.

“I'm so pleased to see how it has impacted students and provided important visibility for Willamette. The recognition that's come from the students' work also helps the university achieve its strategic goals."

Carson agrees. Having attended scores of student presentations since the program’s inception, she says she’s been continually amazed by the brilliance and promise of the grant award winners — a trend she expects to continue in the years ahead.

“When you start something, you don’t really know where it will go,” she says. “But each year, as people learned from one another, they set the bar higher and higher. It was like they lit a little fire that became larger and more brilliant."

The next deadline for Carson Grant proposals is Feb. 17. Learn more on the Student Academic Grants and Awards website.