Each year, John Near and Mitra Family endowment scholars are honored at a special reception in the Nichols Hall auditorium. Established in 2009 and 2011, respectively, The John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund and Mitra Family Endowment for the Humanities have allowed students to pursue research on a wide variety of topics. At the reception, students, their teachers and their mentors come together for the formal presentation of the papers prior to Harker’s librarians archiving them online for posterity.
The 2018 scholars are seniors Derek Yen, Andrew Semenza, Serena Lu, Matthew Lee, Amy Jin, Alan Jiang, Jacqueline He and Emily Chen. These students traveled new paths as they defined and researched their chosen topics. The results are eight papers, each delving into a facet of history, and eight students who know more about themselves than when they started their projects one year ago.
Each student spoke eloquently on the journey to self-knowledge and was effusive in praise for both the program and the mentors who helped them succeed in a grueling task while maintaining all of their regular classes. The list of papers is below. Each scholar had poignant memories of their intellectual journey.
Emily Chen, via video, spoke to the magnitude of the project and the changes that came along the way. “It was a really interesting project that started and ended in two completely different places,” she said. “I was definitely not expecting to change my thesis 60 pages into the paper, or to hold a tiny plastic ruler up to my computer screen hours before the deadline getting the widths of 40 different screen caps of movies or to produce a paper of this length. None of this was in the original game plan, but I’m really glad it turned out this way and I’m really glad to have participated in this program.”
“With a project of this size comes the invaluable support and contributions of many,” said Amy Jin, addressing her mentors. “I have learned from you the importance of not just challenging, questioning and striving to connect the pieces of historical narrative, but also of accepting any missing pieces simply because not all questions are answerable.”
“For me, at least, researching as a Near Scholar has been truly one of the most fulfilling, challenging and informative experiences of my life,” said Derek Yen. “I realize that this will … be one of the defining features of my entire education. The fact that Harker has such a well-developed and comprehensive humanities program is very, very valuable and very rare.”
Among the many positive aspect of the effort, Yen noted, is the contact with university research sources. “Besides just being able to access university archives and primary documents, being able to connect with the scholarly community by being able to speak with professors has really, for me, put into perspective the true nature of academic scholarship.”
Andrew Semenza, who was traveling, had his remarks delivered by Yen. “Despite some frustrations, the past year has been significantly bettered for me by my participation in the program. Not only did I have the opportunity to dig into something quite meaningful to me, but the research gave me a sort of an extracurricular intellectual structure through with I might think about other ideas. To me, this sharing of research (with the other scholars) is particularly important in the humanities where the intellectual currency consists of concepts and ideas, above all else.”
Jacqueline He added, “To me, Near/Mitra represents not just an academic endeavor, but also a journey of personal growth. I grew to love the atmosphere of the humanities, which is immersive and interdisciplinary and always challenging. I learned that nothing in history is ever meant to be clear cut, and that’s what makes the process so inherently enjoyable.”
Alan Jiang has attended Harker for the last two years. “Throughout the whole process, I realized that there is so much more that I have learned,” he said. “I thought that my paper was only going to be focused on psychology, but there are elements of linguistics, there are elements of biology on how the human brain interacts with the vocal mechanisms, and I am truly humbled by the vast knowledge that I was exposed to. Although my time as a Near/Mitra scholar ended, my time as a student has not; there is so much more new information, new knowledge that awaits.”
“The Near/Mitra program is near and dear to my heart,” said Serena Lu, “and I think the research we have all done demonstrates the value in learning about humanities no matter what field we go into. I have learned one very big lesson from my research: Always think critically about what you are taught, and what you teach.”
Matthew Lee thanked the entire social sciences department at Harker, where, “stopping by with a quick question evolved into a discussion on how a specific historical event came to be, how we critique and view history, and that really, really matters,” he said.
“That to me,” he added, “is the essence of social science. Learning social science enables us to view the world through a different lens, altogether – it creates better citizens, not just better workers. Beyond just the eight scholars on this stage, today, know that you have planted a blossom in every single Harker student that enables them to not only be good students in the classroom, good workers in the workplace, but also dedicated citizens in the world around them.”
“Critical Mass: Examining the Unique Circumstances that Elevated the Newsworthiness of the Three Mile Island Accident,” by Derek Yen, Near Scholar
“River to Reservoir: Changes in Philosophies of Environmental Preservation Argumentation in Relation to 20th-Century Dam-Building,” by Andrew Semenza, Near Scholar
“Games of Truth: The Evolution of Japan’s History,” by Serena Lu, Mitra Scholar
“’There Are No Neutrals There:’ Radicalism, Progressivism, and Class Struggle in 1930s Harlan Kentucky,” by Matthew Lee, Near Scholar
“Carving Small Fish From Gold: Exploring the Genesis of Magical Realism in Latin American Literature as a Means of Resistance,” by Jacqueline He, Mitra Scholar
“Sounds as Speech Therapy: The Trials of Pronouncing a New Language,” by Alan Jiang, Mitra Scholar
“Bad Blood: Racialized Medicine and Scientific Self-Regulation in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,” by Amy Jin, Near Scholar
“Across Every River: French New Wave Formalism and Fifth Generation Chinese Cinema,” by Emily Chen, Mitra Scholar