Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 19, 2022

Freshman Fellows promotes undergrad research

By SARAH Y. KIM | September 14, 2017


COURTESY OF SARAH Y. KIM Freshman Fellows presented the results of their research at the end of their freshman year.

Special Collections, a University archive of rare documents, introduced the Freshman Fellows program last year as part of an effort to more closely engage undergraduate students with Special Collections research. The year-long fellowship drew 24 freshman applicants, of which four Fellows were selected.

The Fellows who participated in the program last year, Kiana Boroumand, Lucy Massey, Faith Terry and Caroline West, each chose a specific field to research during the year and they were partnered with mentors from Special Collections who had expertise in those fields. Their research culminated with presentations based on what they had learned.

Special Collections Outreach Librarian Heidi Herr explained the Fellowship’s place in the undergraduate learning experience.

“Students can create lasting legacies within Special Collections,” she said. “They can help us develop collections. They can even help us figure out what types of courses we should offer. They can help us figure out what students are really interested in.”

Herr emphasized that student research in Special Collections often has a tangible impact on student life.

“All [students’] interests, all their excitement, all their contributions to Special Collections can help us direct not just how we collect materials but how we engage undergraduate life within Hopkins via public programs as well,” she said.

Herr, who served as a mentor for Boroumand, commented on undergraduates’ general lack of exposure to Special Collections.

Herr also said that the Fellowship helped further curatorial staff’s goal of diversifying the resources within Special Collections, which she described as being more traditional.

“When Special Collections started, the emphasis tended to be on great books, the 19th century, the early modern era, the voices of great white European men,” she said. “However, in the past few years the collection has really diversified. We are acquiring collections that deal with the African-American experience. We’re also trying to buy more materials that reflect the cultural contributions of gay life, as well as materials written by women.”

Last year’s Fellows had the opportunity to help expand Special Collections. Boroumand, who researched the relationship between fashion and gender politics, worked together with Herr to amass both new and old materials for Special Collections on fashion and feminism.

“Even though the Fellowship only lasted one year, her research has led to a legacy,” Herr said. “It has directly impacted our collections and because of her interest, we now have these things for future scholars to look at. Not only did she have a hand in curating a collection but she’s also the very first researcher at Hopkins to use those materials.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Boroumand explained how she developed an interest in studying fashion.

“What we wear — and, perhaps more sociologically relevant, what we are expected to wear — says so much about the societies in which we live,” she wrote. “Gender norms, economic cooptation, socioeconomic class distinctions, what it means to ‘afford’ an appearance, the pure aesthetics of design — there’s just so much to talk about.”

She also commented on the need to continue diversifying Special Collections.

“Research done in Special Collections, not just at Hopkins but across all universities, tends to focus on white, typically male narratives, and it’s time we do some consciousness raising,” Boroumand wrote.

When Boroumand began her Fellowship she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to study.

“Research is exciting because it reveals itself to you; and if you have patience and faith in your work, the payoff can be incredible,” she wrote.

In addition to offering students the opportunity to develop their own field of interest, as Boroumand did, the Fellowship offered a list of suggestions for research projects. One of the suggestions was a study of the University’s collection of Latin holdings. This caught the attention of Massey, who wanted to build off her studies in AP Latin.

“They have a lot of old things that are cool because they’re old and a lot of newer things that are cool because they’re new, and they’re from a time when you wouldn’t expect people to be writing in Latin,” she said.

Massey acquired texts from Special Collections, as well as from the George Peabody Library. She also had the opportunity to study materials recently bought by Paul Espinosa, curator of the George Peabody Library, who became her mentor. In addition to translating materials, Massey researched background information on documents.

She credited the Fellowship for helping her manage long-term research projects.

“This was a different approach, and it [involved]... using primary resources, which is always a good skill to work on,” Massey said. “Really analyzing those sources and working on background research too, not just the translation itself. There were different levels of research going on.”

Terry, who studied the history of housing on Homewood Campus, said that in addition to helping her hone her research, writing and graphic design skills, the Fellowship helped her understand the University better.

“It made me feel more like a student at Hopkins,” she said. “I felt I knew the school better. That was the most rewarding thing I got out of it, feeling like I knew more about the place. I didn’t really expect that.”

Unlike the other Fellows, Terry was able to depend largely on digitized sources, including old editions of The News-Letter and Hopkins yearbooks. This allowed her to familiarize herself with minute details about the University’s history.

She was particularly drawn to the 1970s, when the University began welcoming female undergraduates. The decade marked a turning point in University housing and coincided with increased competition between undergraduates and graduates over housing. Previously, the University had placed more emphasis on its graduate programs and gave housing priority to graduate students.

“I think that the concept of the Hopkins undergraduate is a relatively new thing,” she said. “For a long time, graduates were the University’s focus. Seeing that shift and how that played out in housing was really interesting.”

In order to meet increasing demand for Hopkins housing, the University attempted to buy the Baltimorean Apartments on North Charles Street. In protest, a long-time resident of the apartments set her apartment on fire and died as a result.

“It was a huge scandal and the city was furious at Hopkins,” she said. “I don’t have any proof, but I think after that, plans started to be discussed to build [Buildings A and B], because those opened in 1983.”

She said the incident offered a lens into the history of the University’s relationship with Baltimore.

“Some people in Baltimore still see Hopkins as the big bad Hopkins,” Terry said. “That was interesting because it was a very extreme example, but it was a continuity.”

Four new Freshman Fellows will be selected this year, and Special Collections is currently accepting applications.

Massey said that while the application process may be daunting for freshmen, they should not be discouraged from applying.

“Definitely don’t be afraid to apply just because you don’t think you are qualified for something,” she said. “Freshmen tend to do that. This program, being specifically for freshmen, eliminates a lot of that.”

Herr added that even though the program is selective, there are other opportunities for undergraduates to do research through Special Collections.

“There’s the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Awards, and the University Archives also offers the Hugh Hawkins Fellowship,” she said. “If Freshman Fellows doesn’t work out there are tons of other opportunities for students to become involved with Special Collections research.”

Special Collections will be accepting applications for the fellowship until Oct. 1.

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