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Elizabeth Harney '13 was mentored by Professor Ken Nolley as she researched the "Pride and Prejudice" film adaptations.Elizabeth Harney '13 was mentored by Professor Ken Nolley as she researched the "Pride and Prejudice" film adaptations.

Zena Farm

VIDEO: Faculty and students discuss the benefits of College Colloquium and the summer research program. (2:05)


Emilie Jensen '13 conducted ecological field research with biology Professor Susan Kephart.

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College Colloquium introduces freshmen to Willamette academics and research

The portrayal of women in film adaptations of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." The effects of burning on flower reproduction in a Willamette Valley prairie. The use of murals to enact political change in Northern Ireland.

These are just a few of the topics Willamette University undergraduates researched during the summer. They weren't juniors or seniors working on their theses — they were freshmen who earned grants to conduct independent projects after just a year at Willamette.

Their grants were through College Colloquium, a program for all first-year students that acclimates them to the Willamette academic environment of small-class discussions, critical reading and analytical writing. Their Colloquium professors are also their academic advisors until they pick a major.

Every freshman chooses a class from more than 30 Colloquium topics, and after the course ends, up to five grants are awarded to students who want to continue exploring their topic through an independent research or creative project.

"Spending a summer doing that type of sustained work in collaboration with a professor is something that freshmen rarely get the opportunity to do elsewhere," says history Professor Ellen Eisenberg, director of College Colloquium.

Learning in the Field

Elizabeth Harney '13 was so inspired by her Colloquium class on gender and the movies with English and film studies Professor Ken Nolley that she applied for a grant to examine the way women are portrayed in the "Pride and Prejudice" films.

She plans to major in art history and one day work in the animation field, and her Colloquium class gave her an early introduction to film analysis, she says.

"I dug deeply into each scene of the films, examining every camera shot and analyzing why the director chose that shot and what it meant about the way he was telling the story. It taught me about how to conduct research on a large scale."

Emilie Jensen '13 also appreciated the chance to experience the research process so early in her college career. She studied the effects of burning on flower reproduction in a prairie near Salem — a topic inspired by her Colloquium class, "Innovation, Intelligence and Extinction" with biology Professor Susan Kephart.

"I got to do hands-on work and get out in the field to see if this is really what I wanted to study and whether I would enjoy the research aspect," says Jensen, who plans to major in biology and minor in environmental science.

Some Colloquium grant-winners travel abroad for their projects. Two summers ago, Joe Hines '12 searched through historical archives across England for 19th-century newspaper articles about Alexis de Tocqueville's book "Democracy in America" — the focus of his Colloquium class with politics Professor Richard Ellis.

The politics major enjoyed examining political issues with a historical eye so much that he is considering adding a second major in history.

"I just started working on my thesis, and the process is the same as what I did for my Colloquium grant — digging through old newspapers, choosing which ones are important, determining the historical context of an issue, organizing and writing a 30-page paper. I learned essential research and writing skills that have served me in every class I've had."

A New Academic Environment

That's the purpose of the entire Colloquium program, Eisenberg says — to help first-year students build the academic abilities they will need throughout their Willamette career and beyond.

"Some high school students aren't familiar with seminar-style class discussions, or they have never written the types of papers they are expected to do at the college level," she says. "Having a class that explicitly addresses these things will enable them to be more effective learners in all their classes."

And with the small class sizes — 12 to 14 students are in each section — Colloquium also allows the freshmen to learn from each other.

"You get the chance to explore a topic that interests you while becoming close to both your advisor and your classmates," Harney says. "Colloquium is about community building as well."