Each year, a small number of students apply for and are selected to receive research grants from two endowments, the John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund, established in 2009, and the Mitra Family Endowment for the Humanities, established in 2011. The endowments provide funding each year for eight or nine seniors to pursue topics of their choice in depth. To date, 28 Near scholars and 19 Mitra scholars have completed papers on subjects ranging from a study of the Gettysburg campaign during the Civil War (2011) to the influence of punk music on the overthrow of the Soviet regime in Poland (2017), with many interesting titles in between.
The scholars, along with their mentors and parents, gather each spring at a reception on campus to celebrate the end of the long, sometimes trying, but always enlightening, journey. The student papers are a collaborative effort driven by the student, with the help of one or two history department mentors and an upper school librarian mentor. The mentors help students negotiate the highways and byways of in-depth research and compile the research into a coherent paper. At the reception, each scholar says a few words about their effort and then a mentor speaks to the journey he or she helped facilitate. What emerges is that the learning is great and the bonds of scholarship are strong.
“Tonight, we celebrate passion, persistence and partnership,” said Donna Gilbert, history department chair, as she opened the reception in late April. The mentors were there to “correct, guide and confront, not just cheerlead,” she said. Mentors questioned researchers’ presumptions, advised them to change direction, rewrite, reexamine, reorganize and narrow their focus, she added.
Susan Smith, Harker library director, noted this year’s scholars used 315 sources, appended 896 end notes and wrote 380 pages in their researches. “We celebrate the hundreds of hours of research that led you to scholarly analysis of literature, oral histories, journals, maps, images, technical papers and interviews. We celebrate all that you learned in the process of thinking deeply,” she said.
“We celebrate the bumps in the road that caused you to question, rethink, organize and question, again. That’s how you build new knowledge. Mostly, we celebrate your love of learning. There is no trophy to win or prize to take home, except what you learned along the way,” Smith finished.
Each scholar spoke for several minutes, touching on how deeply grateful they are for the support of their parents in the grueling effort to produce a great paper, as well as for the foundation of support from their library and history department mentors.
All scholars had poignant memories of how mentors and parents helped them through rough spots. All papers are listed below.
“Honestly, you have given me, and all of us, the chance to explore interests that I don’t think many of us knew we even had,” said Aditya Dhar. “The Near/Mitra program offers us unparalleled opportunities to learn more, not only about the rich history of different issues, but also about the broader research process.”
Dhar’s history department mentor, Katy Rees, noted “The real value of the Near/Mitra program is it can give students the opportunity to engage in authentic and independent research at a level that is impossible in the classroom.”
Andrew Rule found a true home in the research program. “I believe deeply in reading and in storytelling. I kind of would like to say I’m going to devote my entire life to storytelling, but in some ways, I’ve already started,” he said. “The idea is that myth is cyclical, that its ending is another beginning, and the ending of this paper is another beginning for me. I have a long, long way to go with Native American literature before I’m done, so thank you for this beginning.”
Rule’s history department mentor, Mark Janda, noted Rule “argues for the validity and the beauty of oral traditions [and] illustrates in his research the growing endless joy derived from literature when we understand the historical context that informs the writer or the speaker of that literature.”
Each scholar and mentor who spoke added to the sense that true scholarship had resulted from the efforts of the students. Each expressed passion for his or her topic and recognized the valuable skills he or she had gained in researching and writing the paper.
Soham Khan spoke for all the scholars when he said, “I’d like to acknowledge the Near/Mitra Endowments for empowering us to conduct high level research in the humanities. After all, the purpose of genuine scholastic inquiry is to examine the complexity of human experience, and I’m so grateful to have been offered this opportunity to explore my passion in a supportive space that affirmed my aspirations.”
The 2017-18 Near Scholars, all seniors, next year, will be Amy Jin, Matthew Lee, Andrew Semenza, Isabella Spradlin and Derek Yen. Mitra grant scholars are Nirban Bhatia, Emily Chen, Jacqueline He, Alan Jiang and Serena Lu. Best of luck to all these scholars as they begin their journey!
Joe Rosenthal, executive director of advancement, closed the event noting not only the hard work and wonderful scholarship on display, but the tremendous poise scholars displayed in presenting their papers. “Many years ago, when we talked with John Near about this concept,” said Rosenthal, “he really had a vision to continue to help the school in a way where students can really study and be very serious about researching topics that are of interest to them in the area of history, and the Mitra endowment followed that lead.”
“The idea was not only to help the students, but also to have deep involvement from the faculty. Sue [Smith] and Donna [Gilbert] have put together a program that is really, absolutely, what John had in mind when he conceived of this program. He would be very, very proud of what we are doing now, that’s for sure.”
The Scholars and Their Papers (available at http://library.harker.org/upperlibrary/nearmitra)
Mitra Endowment Papers
Arnav Tandon: “Cross-Cultural Camaraderie: Tracing the Roots of Cicero’s Philosophy on Friendship to Aristotelian Ideas”
Maya Valluru: “Listen, This One’s for You: The Influence of Punk Music in the 1989 Overthrow of the Soviet Communist Regime in Poland”
Raymond Xu: “Saving Health Aid from Death’s Door: Analyzing Fraud in the The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Through the Principle-Agent Problem in Nigeria”
Tiffany Zhu: “Putting the Realism in Socialist Realism: Gorky’s ‘Mother’ as a Bridge between Soviet and Chernyshevskian Aesthetics”
Near Endowment Papers
Aditya Dhar: “Constitutional Conundrums and Measuring Minimalism: Analyzing the Incorporation of Restraint and Avoidance Canons in the Roberts Court’s Decision in Citizens United v. FEC”
Soham Khan: “Truth is a Pathless Land: Examining the Influence of Theosophy on Jiddu Krishnamurti’s Philosophy”
Sarisha Kurup: “Art in the Era of AIDS: A Look at the Emergence of ‘AIDS Art’ in 1980s and 90s New York City as a Result of AIDS Activism”
Andrew Rule: “Sunrise, Sunrise: Repurposing the Native American Oral Tradition in the Literature of the Activist 1970s”
Molly Wancewicz: “Crossing the Line: Angelina Grimké’s and Sojourner Truth’s Motivations as Representative of the Interaction Between the Women’s Suffrage and Abolition Movements”
Read more about the Near and Mitra Endowments at Harker News