From the watery depths of Lower Lake to the center of the Milky Way, HSRP scholars delve deep into summer research

Daniele Ramirez ’18 (center left), who recently completed a comparative, historical study of archery styles in England, Hungary, Mongolia and Japan as a Pannell Scholar, is doing her summer research on women’s military roles in medieval/early modern Japan and Italy.
Daniela Ramirez ’18 (center left), who recently completed a comparative, historical study of archery styles in England, Hungary, Mongolia and Japan as a Pannell Scholar, is doing her summer research on women’s military roles in medieval/early modern Japan and Italy.

Eight Sweet Briar students — seven of them rising seniors, one a junior — have been selected to participate in Sweet Briar College’s Honors Summer Research Program this year. Beginning in May, they will spend eight weeks delving into an area of interest in collaboration with a faculty mentor. Both mentors and students will present on their projects.

“It was the most competitive year in recent memory, so these projects really stood out,” said program director and associate professor of English Tony Lilly.

The topics to be explored this summer include women combatants during wartime, a study on the hydrilla growing in the Lower Lake and a search for transient radio emission from the center of the Milky Way. Here, in their own words, are the participating students’ synopses of their research goals:

Daniela Ramirez ’18
Faculty sponsors: Lynn Laufenberg (history), Tony Lilly (English)

“My HSRP proposal challenges the widespread assumption that women are often associated with either passivity or peace movements during wartime, across time periods and geographical regions. My project seeks to demonstrate that during extreme crises, women become more active militarily. I propose a comparative analysis of women’s military roles in medieval/early modern Japan and Italy. I am particularly interested in their direct involvement in combat and comparing their roles with those of their male counterparts during those same periods. In particular, I will investigate the records concerning Shogun and anti-Shogunate female military leaders in 12th- through 16th-century Japan (from Gozen, Minamoto and Jo clans) and those concerning female condottiere in early Renaissance Italy — for example, Caterina Sforza and Isabella d’Este. These women assumed key leadership roles in significant military conflicts that threatened the political independence of their city-states or dynastic lineages. Research will draw on letters, chronicles and political documents.”

Holly Rueger ’17
Faculty sponsors: Tim Loboschefski (psychology), Alessandra Chiriboga (modern languages and Latin American studies)

“This interdisciplinary project aims to investigate the specific psychological challenges facing women fleeing from organized violence in the ‘Northern Triangle’ of Central America — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. My research will focus on the trauma that these women, often mothers, face during each part of their journey — from violence at home through resettlement or deportation once in the United States. I am also interested in how existing services and policies affect refugees as well as studying historical and cultural antecedents in order to generate a more wholesome understanding of the crisis at hand.”

Jessie Schuster ’17
Faculty sponsors: Lynn Laufenberg (history), Tony Lilly (English)

“I am proposing to investigate the role of female combatants in the Russian military during World War I. This contributes to my honors thesis on ‘The History of Women in Combat in the West.’ I am currently pursuing an independent study with Professor Laufenberg on women warriors in Classical Greece, Britton and in the Crusades. My summer project will draw on gender studies, history and political science. In 1917, the Russian government enlisted women to improve soldiers’ morale. Many of them ended up fighting on the front lines. I will investigate personal memoirs, such as ‘Yashka, My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile,’ and political documents that reveal Russian women’s roles in World War I. Through this study I hope to document the extent of the presence of women combatants and the impact of their contributions to Russian military efforts. My resulting paper will constitute a chapter of my senior honors thesis.”

Vanessa Finnegan ’17
Faculty sponsors: Tony Lilly (English), Mark Magruder (dance)

“I will study the ways in which philosophical ideals can be expressed and realized through movement, with a focus on the relationship between idealistic writers and dancers. I will study Frederick Nietzsche’s influence on Isadora Duncan and the influence that the ancient Greek philosophers had on Erick Hawkins, along with other dancer-writer relationships and their individual ideals. I will use my research to inform my own choreography of a dance based on my own ideals, which will use writing as a source of inspiration. This dance will be accompanied by a piece of my own writing attempting to convey the same ideals through words. The two will be put together as a video project that I plan to use in my Bachelor of Fine Arts concert next semester.”

Sweet Briar biologists measure a sterilized grass carp prior to releasing it in the Lower Lake on May 3. The carp should help control hydrilla, an invasive plant that is the subject of junior Katherine Ferguson’s summer research.
Sterilized grass carp released in the Lower Lake in May should help control hydrilla, an invasive plant that is the subject of junior Katherine Ferguson’s summer research.

Katherine Ferguson ’17
Faculty sponsor: Linda Fink (biology)

“I will be researching the effect of the invasive water thyme, hydrilla, in Sweet Briar’s Lower Lake ecosystem. Hydrilla is abundant in the Lower Lake, but it is not present in the Upper Lake, which will serve as an excellent comparison. I will be comparing aspects such as oxygen content, water pH, phytoplankton abundance, fish larvae numbers and surrounding wildlife — waterfowl, insects, rodents, mammals, etc. — between both lakes to gauge the overall effect of the invasive hydrilla. The College is also adding triploid grass carp to the lake this spring in order to control the hydrilla. This should benefit my project, as I will be able to monitor any fluctuations in the hydrilla density along with the corresponding changes in the lake’s ecosystem.”

Kimberly Colbert ’17
Faculty sponsor: Kimberly Morse-Jones (art history)

“For my project, I will be doing research concerning the visual representations of women and women of color in comics. Using the comic book character Wonder Woman as my guide, I will study her and other key female characters associated with her, starting from her earliest rendering to depictions of the character in our current times. I believe that this research is important given the recent acceptance of comics in popular culture and growing interest in both high art and literary domains. I hope to use my findings as part of my senior honors thesis project.”

Alicia Wooten ’17
Faculty sponsor: Scott Hyman (physics)

“Radio astronomers study celestial objects by detecting naturally emitting radio waves from space. Radio waves have a longer wavelength than visible light, so studying them allows astronomers to observe phenomena that may not be seen in other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. We are interested in transient sources, which are objects that vary on minute-to-month timescales, such as flare stars and supernovae. During the summer, we will observe in the direction of the galactic center since it has a high stellar density and some interesting transients that don’t fit the typical profile of higher-energy transients that have already been found there. We will obtain weekly observations from the Very Large Array radio telescope, and I will search through each observation for transients, measure the faint steady population of sources, and make preliminary identifications of them.”

Kiley Jolicoeur ’17
Faculty sponsor: Heidi Samuelson (philosophy)

“I intend to continue the research I began in my 2014-2015 Pannell Scholar project, ‘An Exploration of Borgesian Time.’ Due to the time constraints inherent in the Pannell project, I restricted my investigation to Borges’ work alone, with minimal time spent on his numerous and detailed references. My plan is to move beyond the largely in-text research I conducted that year and work on creating an understanding of Borges’ creative philosophy in the context of his contemporaries and his self-admitted inspirations. As my work in the Honors Summer Research Program last summer prepared me to embark on my classics senior thesis, this research endeavor will in turn prepare me for my senior honors thesis in philosophy. For that research, I will be examining Borges’ work as literary philosophy, culminating in a discussion of how Borges presents the apparent contradictions of time as an overarching and self-reconciling truth.”