CHESTERTOWN – This summer, Washington College students are fanning out from Chestertown into Congressional offices, art galleries, local police departments, and the medieval libraries of the University of Oxford. Under the auspices of the Comegys Bight Fellows Program, seven undergraduates are spending their summer vacation pursuing research projects and internships built around their own interests. Some stay close to home, reading voraciously, conducting interviews, and burying themselves in dusty archives, while others pursue their research questions across the ocean.
The Comegys Bight program, conceived and generously sustained by Drs. Thomas and Virginia Collier of Chestertown and administered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers stipends for students to pursue these independent projects, with the guidance of faculty mentors.
Now in its sixth year, the program has served 32 students since its advent in 2003. Recipients of the Comegys Bight Fellowship are provided opportunities to take their passions beyond classroom study, resulting in experiences that have, in some cases, changed the course of their intellectual lives.
“One of the most exciting things about this program has been seeing how the students’ experiences as Comegys Bight Fellows continue to resonate in their lives throughout college and far beyond,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. “Past fellows have gone on to study at major graduate schools, and to careers in journalism, book publishing, and teaching. The Comegys Bight program gave them opportunities to integrate scholarly work with real-world experience in ways that they would not have found in the classroom.”
Drawn from a wide range different academic majors, the 2009 Fellows are a diverse and accomplished group:
Philosophy and Humanities major James Schelberg ’11 will investigate the contradictions in the 18th-century American evangelist Jonathan Edwards’s writings, using the collections of some of the world’s finest research libraries, including Oxford’s Bodleian Library and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Andrea Roth ’10 will remain in Chestertown to help plan the inaugural exhibition at Washington College’s new Benjamin K. and Judith C. Kohl Art Gallery. This junior curatorship will provide her an opportunity to work with 18th-century landscape paintings by such artists as Church, Heade and Bierstadt, learn the ropes of curating an art exhibition, and conduct research for her senior Sociology thesis on changing Western perceptions of rural life.
Dominick Iaquinto ’11, a History major, will spend the summer researching narratives written by colonists who were taken as prisoners by Native American tribes in the 17th and 18th-centuries. He will use these “captivity narratives” to explore questions of assimilation and cultural identity in early America.
John MacLellan ’10, a fellow History major, will concentrate on the experiences of homeless Americans during the Great Depression. Using records at the Library of Congress and the National Archives to explain why and how people lost their homes, he hopes to find a new perspective on today’s sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Humanities major Joyell Johnson ’10 is pursuing research for her senior thesis on changing images of African-American women in American popular culture, concentrating on the development of the stereotypical image of the black “Mammy.”
Michael Mason ’11, a Political Science and History major, will explore the evolving role of money in the American electoral process. He will spend the summer in Washington, D.C., conducting interviews with current and former members of Congress, lobbyists and policy advisors.
German major Lauren Seeley ’11 will complete the first half of a comparative study of German and American policing practices, grounded in interviews and ride-alongs with patrol officers.
When the Fellows return to Washington College in the fall, each will bring back a unique point of view shaped by an unusual summer. As the years pass, these experiences may open intellectual and professional doors as yet unimagined.