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William & Mary's undergraduate researchers show their stuff

  • Poster session
    Poster session
    Students Nancy Lauer and Max Cunningham discuss summer research at one of the poster sessions that were a component of the four-day Summer Research Symposium. The event celebrates the undergraduate research projects sponsored by William & Mary's Roy R. Charles Center.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

Q: What do horses, movies and math have in common?

A: They’re all subjects of research conducted over the summer by William & Mary undergraduates. Actually, William & Mary undergraduates conducted research on a gamut of topics spanning all disciplines.  

William & Mary’s annual Summer Research Symposium featured undergraduate research conducted in the summer of 2012. Funding for these projects comes through a number of programs, such as the James Monroe Scholars program, the Murray Scholars program, and many more, sponsored by the Roy R. Charles Center. More than 160 students presented their work at the showcase in Blow Hall, which ran Sept. 24-28, 2012. Joel Schwartz, director of the Charles Center, says early research opportunities lead to successes in other academic areas.

“Studies have shown that students who have significant research opportunities have higher grades in their majors and are more likely to attend and be successful in graduate school,” said Schwartz.

One undergraduate in the James Monroe Scholars program, Sarah Nicholas ’15, decided to pursue her love for music and explore more about the history of a cappella. Nicholas’ project, “An Examination of the History of A Cappella Music,” culminated in a set of a cappella arrangements she composed herself. Nicholas said the support of professors has allowed her to delve more deeply into her academic interests while engaging in the opportunities of research at the undergraduate level William & Mary has to offer.

Another Monroe Scholar, Peter Hansen ’15, presented his research, “Comparing the Past and Present Usage of the Subjunctive Tense in French.” Hansen looked at how the French language has changed over time and compared phrases constructed from archaic French with the same content in the present-day current French vernacular. Hansen explained that using his knowledge of French as a template for his research idea, he was able to explore a lesser known side of the language that truly interested him.

Murray Scholar Elsa Voytas ’13 presented her research project titled “Transitional Justice and Universal Jurisdiction,” an investigation of the legal systems that provide that people can be tried outside their home country for committing crimes against humanity. Voytas places great value on her research experiences at William & Mary.

“My undergraduate research has been the cornerstone of my time at W&M,” Voytas said . “We’re really lucky to be able to conduct substantive research that complements our classroom experiences, and we're fortunate that our professors encourage and help us to do so.”

The Summer Research Symposium is an annual showcase event featuring a slate of oral presentations and an even larger set of poster presentations. In addition to the symposium, many participants write about their research experiences in a blog.

Many students believe undergraduate research is an integral part of the William & Mary experience.

“William & Mary is immensely supportive when it comes to research,” said Hansen. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to participate in this capacity elsewhere.”

Schwartz added that the early research experiences offered to undergraduates at William & Mary help to develop other crucial skills.

“Research experiences involve students in an active, engaged way with the discovery of knowledge,” said Schwartz. “It helps them learn how to think creatively, solve problems, how to communicate concisely and persuasively—and, in many cases, how to work effectively in a team environment.”