While the University of Portland takes pride in their small student to faculty ratio, few professors get to know their students well enough to about one’s passion for glitter. However, senior English major Cerice Keller and English professor Dr. Molly Hiro are an exception to the rule. The pair spent the summer of 2013 working together on an undergraduate research project.
“This was one of the key moments of my undergraduate career,” Keller said of the research experience. “It was working one-on-one with a faculty member, which I don’t think many students get to do very often.”
Hiro seized the opportunity when Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Terry Favero offered to give scholarships to students working on research with faculty members. Over a six week period, Keller worked to compile a bibliography (essentially, an annotated list of sources) for Hiro on Hiro’s research topic: Racial Feeling and Empathy. The project ended up being the motivation for Keller’s senior thesis.
“I thought, ‘I should look into that…working on a student with something’,” Hiro said. “So I apporoached Cerice and asked if she wanted to do it…when I was a grad student, I was hired by one of my professors and mentors to be a research assistant for her to compile a bibliography.”
Keller feels that she gained a better understanding both of herself and her field of study through her research experience.
“I got to create the environment that I had always wanted for my first three years of college. Being able to wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee and sit with my blanket on my couch and I’d have spread of books on one topic that I am, as well, very interested in,” Keller said. “It was just my own enclave of fantasy, but it was actually happening.”
Hiro agrees that she witnessed growth in Keller throughout the process, as well as growth in herself.
“I had to kind of pin myself down and explain the questions I was interested in,” Hiro said. “Conversations like that make you become a teacher because I think it makes you realize how much you take for granted and how much explaining foundational concepts can be really useful.”
Additionally, Keller cited the value of working so closely with a professor in completing such a project, and in developing as a student in general.
“A lot of people are surprised at how excited I was to get to meet with my professor once a week,” Keller said. “Getting to talk with somebody who knows more than I do about literature and life stuff, too, it was like a mentorship.”
Hiro and Keller agreed that the experience was extremely positive, and that students and professors alike can benefit from working together on such a project. Hiro cautioned interested professors to choose carefully when considering which student to collaborate with.
“I would say, don’t be hesitant to show how passionate you are for a subject,” Keller said, offering advice for students considering undergraduate research. “Don’t be afraid to ask those questions that you may think are stupid because chances are other people have the same questions.”
Story by Clare Duffy