Perry Grants assist faculty-student duos with ongoing research

Karah Kemmerly

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This summer, several dynamic professor-student duos will be doing Perry Grant research in Walla Walla and beyond.

Perry Summer Research Grants, named after Louis B. Perry, the eighth president of the college, are given to students and faculty so that they can work collaboratively on a project and then publish their findings in a paper, book, academic journal or similar publication.

Tom Callister, associate dean of faculty, believes that these grants are beneficial to both students and faculty.

“The award provides faculty with resources with which to continue to conduct their scholarship and research : activities that often inform their teaching as well as their own scholarly development. And the award benefits students in that it provides them with the invaluable opportunity to serve as junior collaborators with faculty conducting professional research and scholarship,” he said.

Twenty Perry Grants were awarded this year in a variety of departments. Projects range from archeological mapping in Eastern Jordan to designing costumes for Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” to preserving coral larvae.

Melissa Wilcox, associate professor of religion, and junior Jack MacNichol are working on a project entitled “Spirituality in a ‘Post-secular’ Age: Ongoing Research on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.”

The Sisters are an international charity organization supporting the GLBTQ community. According to their web site, they “have devoted [themselves] to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.”

For their project, Wilcox and MacNichol will be attending sister-sponsored charity events, interviewing as many sisters as possible, and transcribing interviews back in Walla Walla. The pinnacle of their project will be a trip to the Sister’s annual week-long international conference entitled Conclave. Wilcox says they will be looking primarily at the role of spirituality in the sisters’ work.

Wilcox is looking forward to working with MacNichol for the summer. She feels that his interests are especially fitting for the project.

“Jack is a double major in politics and theater and the Sisters have a lot to do with both politics and performance,” she said.

Assistant Professor of Art History Matthew Reynolds and Olivia Mitchell are going to Los Angeles for four days to work on their project: “Ed Ruscha’s Moving Pictures: Hollywood Boulevard Then and Now.”

They will be looking at the materials and documentation that went into the production of artist Ed Ruscha’s photography book, “Then and Now: Hollywood Boulevard 1973-2006.” They will also be doing research in Walla Walla.

Mitchell was in one of Reynold’s classes focusing on LA art, architecture, and cultural geography. Reynolds says he was impressed with her research and contributions in class and he was glad that she wanted to work on a Perry Grant project with him.

He believes the projects are a great opportunity for both students and faculty.

“The Perry Grant is a fantastic opportunity. It allows me to continue my research and allows the student to become familiar with the professor’s research and methodologies,” he said.

He also feels that the projects are a “great bonding opportunity.”

Reynolds hopes their research will be published in an essay in the fall.

Associate Professor of English Sharon Alker and sophomore Brianna Gormly will be taking a trip to London to read primary sources in the British Library for their project. They are looking at the role of the Church of Scotland and Union politics in Daniel Defoe’s writing. They plan to present their findings in an essay at the annual Defoe Society Conference in Worcester, England in July.

Alker is especially glad to be able to go abroad for the project.

“By actually going to Britain, we’re not just reading a text. We’re seeing what the books actually looked like, getting a feel for the culture, looking at eighteenth-century architecture and furniture. It makes the reading experience more real and tangible,” she said.

She believes the project will have many benefits for Gormly.

“She’ll get to see what I do. She’ll see how to take works from the archives and weave them into arguments. And then she’ll see the paper developed from her work delivered at a scholarly venue and meet experts in the field,” she said.

Gormly, one of Alker’s advisees, is Alker’s fourth Perry Grant student. She approached Alker asking about research opportunities in literature and they formed the team.

Gormly is thrilled to be working on this project as an undergraduate.

“In another university, I’d have to be a grad student to work directly with a professor like this. I’m really excited,” she said.

Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Prull and sophomore Tarzan Mighell will be staying in Walla Walla for their Perry Grant project. They will be conducting studies to look at differences in recognition memory between young people and older people and to see its neuropsychological test correlations.

Members of the Walla Walla community will be participants in the studies.

Prull is glad to have received the grant money.

“We can’t do research without financial support,” he said.

Prull and Mighell plan to publish their findings in a journal article. Prull said he is unsure yet which journal.

Meanwhile, in the chemistry department, associate professor Frank Dunnivant and junior Angela Raso are working on a project called “Determining the Presence of Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPLs) Pollutants in River Sediments.”

Their Perry Grant experiments are the next step of another DNAPL-related project completed by four Whitman students over the course of five years.

Raso and Dunnivant are hoping to find a method which will prove or disprove whether or not DNAPL is present in river sediment or soil. If successful, they will publish their findings in a journal called “Environmental Toxology and Chemistry.”

“This could cost or save industry a lot of money,” said Dunnivant. “We’re very anxious to see the results.”

Raso thinks this project will help her get ready for the future.

“Doing undergraduate research is a great opportunity to help you get into graduate school and to prepare you for the research you’ll do there,” she said.

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