Summer Scholars Reflect on Projects

Every summer at Manhattan College a handful of students conduct research projects of their choice, with the assistance of a professor within their department.

Of the multiple programs that MC offers, The Lasallian Research Scholars allows students to apply for a stipend to pursue a project within a specific area of Lasallian ideas.

One of these scholars was Angela Benevenia, a senior sociology and English major. Her research was on Junot Díaz’s 2007 novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”.

“It is the story of Oscar de León, a second-generation Dominican American who lacks machismo and does not fit the stereotype of a Dominican player; therefore, he turns to sci-fiction/fantasy novels and films because he identifies with the marginalized characters. He is not only marginalized in America for being Latino, but does not fit in with his other Dominican family because of his looks and lack of machismo; however, he is not white, so he does not fit into the sci-fi/fantasy culture,” Benevenia explained.

This unique research required a significant amount of reading and also watching films, so Benevenia could gain greater insight.

“I read many sci-fi/fantasy books and watched multiple films that Oscar did in order to try and understand why he liked them so much. I argued that in these books – mainly J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy – and films – mainly ‘Star Wars’ – there exists a deep misogyny equivalent to the misogyny our narrator expresses about Dominican culture: Oscar rejected one kind of misogyny for another in his sci-fi/fantasy obsession; these works’ obsession with heroism and saving the ‘damsel in distress’ are what lead to Oscar’s untimely death,” she said.

Benevenia worked with Adam Koehler, Ph.D., associate professor of the English department, who provided her with texts that helped enhance her argument, as well as mentorship for her throughout the project.

Her method of presenting her research makes the project even more thought-provoking.

“I conducted my research by re-reading the main text, then reading and watching the secondary works, then analyzing it in my Digital Essay, a project that uses Prezi, a digital presentation tool, and pictures, poems, videos, songs, etc. to convey my argument,” she said.

Benevenia’s love for Díaz’s work and her own aspirations to be a writer are what led her to choosing this research project.

“‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ is my favorite novel, and Junot Díaz is a huge influence of mine. I want to be an author myself, and I aspire to write as well as him. His works focus on race and gender tensions, and are majorly influenced by female writers of color. This project was important to me because I was tired of hearing critics of Díaz’s work claim that he thinks Dominicans are sexist because of his ‘portrayal’ of them in his works. However, Díaz himself is Dominican, and is expressing a very real culture; and is simultaneously pointing to the misogyny in the White works of sci-fi/fantasy, showing his readers that misogyny does not exist in a vacuum: these sci-fi/fantasy works portray women in a demeaning way that any American could relate to, because almost every culture is saturated with heavy patriarchy,” she said.

Looking back on the summer, Benevenia points out that a project of this measure was demanding and difficult, but also rewarding.

“As a summer research scholar, you make your own schedule. It was hard to manage my time, but with Dr. Koehler’s mentorship, it was easy to get my priorities straight and create a work that I am proud of and that I love,” she said. “It is the best job I have ever had. I woke up excited every day because I loved my paper so much. And getting to work with one of my favorite professors was invaluable,” she said.

Moving forward, Benevenia feels more accomplished as a student and prepared for the future as a professional: “I learned how to conduct literary research, write an extensive theoretical and critical work, and manage my time. I can apply the skills I learned here to my future in academia as well as in the workplace: critical readings and managing time are skills everyone should have,” she said.

Alannah Boyle, a junior peace studies and philosophy major, was also a Lasallian Research Scholar. She researched the Lasallian roots of the Catholic Worker Movement, with a special focus on Dorothy Day and what her witness means to MC. Boyle worked with Kevin Ahern, Ph.D, professor and chair of the peace studies department.

“For my research I conducted dozens of informal interviews with people who knew or lived and worked with Day while she was alive. I also spent time at four Catholic Worker hospitality houses on the east coast, talking with people who live there about their lives and Dorothy Day’s vision,” Boyle said.

As a journalist and social activist, Day was a writer for her entire life – which gave Boyle an extensive amount of reading to do this summer – but this wasn’t the only part of her project.

“She was a journalist by trade, and in turn she published thousands of pages of writings. I enjoyed doing my research because much of it was interactive, and I felt that while I was collecting information for my research paper, I also learned a lot about life from the dedicated people that I had the opportunity to meet,” Boyle said.

Since Day’s impact as an American Catholic icon was so long lasting, she is a candidate for sainthood. What makes Boyle’s project even more compelling is that prior to beginning her research, Boyle was already interning for Day’s canonization process. It was this that led her to take her work for the cause a step further and gave her even more opportunities for research.

“This internship allowed me to be a part of a historic process, but also granted me access to every person that knew Day that is still alive. Part of my job description was to track down old writings of Day’s – I also had access to every piece of writing she has ever published. After talking with Dr. Ahern, we decided that doing a research project would complement this internship as well,” she said.

Boyle was also one of the few students who were selected to travel to Mexico for two weeks for the Lasallian Leadership and Global Understanding Conference in Mexico City.

“While the conference was not directly related to my research, I learned more about what it means to be a Lasallian which in turn helped me to understand the similarities between the mission of the Catholic Worker and the five points of the Lasallian Star,” Boyle said.

She was also able to travel to Baltimore, Maryland, and visit Viva House, a Catholic Worker organization which has been operating for almost 50 years. Balancing research and travel may seem difficult, but Boyle affirms that working on the go is feasible: “As long as I had a book, or articles I was currently reading, I could do my work anywhere.”

As her research comes to a close, Boyle’s dedication to Catholic studies and causes doesn’t. In September, she will be presenting at the International Lasallian Research Symposium in Minnesota. Reflecting back on this summer, Boyle notes that it was all worthwhile.

“The ability to spend two months doing this project, and knowing that no one is checking up on you mimics what I imagine many jobs after graduation are like. Doing this project is a great test in self discipline and allows for self growth. I think that all students could enjoy this experience as well as learn and grow from it,” she said.

While Boyle and Benevenia’s projects were in the humanities, there were also a handful of students who did research in the sciences.

Devin Prant and Lauren Dougherty, senior kinesiology majors, spent the summer researching the effects of carbohydrate swishing on anaerobic endurance and muscular strength with Tedd Keating, Ph.D, associate professor of the Kinesiology department.

Prant and Dougherty explain their research process:“Sixteen fellow Manhattan College students volunteered to be subjects in our two-day experiment. The two-day trial consisted of students swishing the placebo (non carbohydrate beverage) or the actual carbohydrate beverage in their mouth for ten seconds before performing a grip strength test. Using the same drink, they rinsed it in their mouth for an additional 10 seconds and then immediately performed the Manham step test. This entails repeatedly stepping up and down on the risers without stopping for one minute. The beverages were presented in a double blind fashion in a counterbalanced sequence. Two days later, we repeated the trial with the same volunteers using the alternative drink. We recorded the number of steps they took during the Manham step test and their grip strength to compare the difference between the two days. Unfortunately, our results were not significant so the carbohydrate swishing did not have any effect.”

Utilizing what they learned in their kinesiology courses and their own lives is what caused Prant and Dougherty to come up with this complex research project.

“Devin and I wanted to do the Summer Research Scholars Program to expand our knowledge beyond what we learn in our daily classes. We thought carbohydrate swishing was an interesting way to refuel when exercising because it does not involve ingesting the drink. As consistent runners, we both find drinking Gatorade or any sugary drink to cause nausea while exercising,” Dougherty said.

She also notes that conducting this type of research project was only possible because of this summer program.

“Doing the research in the summer allowed us to completely devote our spare time to this project, which may not have been the case during the school year. We were able to space it out and collect the data freely. We both worked and had other commitments as well, but the summer gave us free time for us to stay committed to the research.”

While it was disappointing that their research was inconclusive, Prant and Dougherty do not feel defeated. “It was a great learning experience and an opportunity to spend the summer doing something productive towards our future.”