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Wyndham Robertson Library Undergraduate Research Awards: 2020 Award Winners and Finalists

First Year/Sophomore

 First Year/Sophomore Winner
Rejecting Bolivarianism: Political Power in South America

by Jaiya McMillan

Recommended by Associate Professor Rachel Nunez

What about this topic made you want to find out more?

I’ve always been fairly interested in South American politics, and Hugo Chavez changed Venezuela and its political system significantly. I wanted to learn more about the connection between Simon Bolivar and Chavez, and see if they were as alike as Chavez claims they were.

What are you most proud of when it comes to this project?

I’m very proud of my research skills. This was my research project, and I didn’t know how much work it actually was. I spent a lot more time looking for books in the library than I was expecting to.

Having completed a project like this, if you could advise other students working on a research project, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to just go for it! I really enjoyed the research process, there is something exciting about finding information you didn’t expect to find, and figuring out a way to work it into your paper. I would also tell people not to be afraid to ask for help or get professors to read it over. It really helps!

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your work?

South America’s story, especially regarding Venezuela, doesn’t start with Bolivar or stop with Chavez. Currently, the country is facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of economic and political tumult. This crisis cannot be ignored. 

Judges' Comments:

"[S]hows an incredible grasp of the leaders’ political views and histories, making Bolivar and Hugo live on the pages. They provided an easy to understand definition of political theories with a grasp unexpected for their class year. Their argument is clearly stated and well defended"

"[A] deeply imaginative, elegantly framed, and powerfully argued paper.  A study that traces Hugo Chavez's appropriation of Simon Bolivar’s political legacy, the paper is also an exemplary work of historical comparison, one that pulls together seemingly disparate histories in creative and compelling ways. "

First Year/Sophomore Finalist

What are you most proud of when it comes to this project?

Being a Public Health major, I have a love and passion for women’s health, especially maternal health. In addition, I am an advocate for female sexual liberation and women’s right to autonomy so writing about a practice that explicitly oppressed women and stripped their rights to femininity, sexual expression, and free speech was challenging. However, I am proud of my ability to shine light on such a difficult topic without subjecting my own biases and opinions. I was able to solely narrate through the eyes of a community who supported the practice to expose their perspective and learn why the practice was implemented and continued for so many years.

What about this topic made you want to find out more?

In my future, I plan to open an OB/GYN clinic in Africa with programs and policies designed to lower the rates of maternal mortality as African countries accumulate the highest rates in the world. Understanding the cultural and historical influences and practices that contribute to these rates is vital to solving this epidemic. I chose to focus on the practice of clitoridectomies as it’s infamous for its associations with infertility, hemorrhaging, and irreversible scar tissue; all complications that affect the fertility and life of mothers. Within my essay, I wanted to know why an unethical practice that exhibited clear signs of physical and emotional pain and scarring was encouraged by the tribes and communities. I wanted to learn how history and culture of Kenyan tribes, European colonialism and imperialism, and Kenyan nationalism contributed to the continuation of clitoridectomies. I wanted to understand, through the eyes of the indigenous people, why the practice was heavily guarded and protected. My desire to learn about the maternal health history in Africa lead me to research a taboo topic on clitoridectomies and get to the root of why African tribes and countries held the practice so sacred.

Having completed a project like this, if you could advise other students working on a research project, what would you tell them?

My advice for upcoming students interested in research is to not be afraid to study a topic that they may be uncomfortable with. Initially, I was hesitant to conduct my research as the topic is very sensitive, political, and does not align with my perspective or beliefs. It is okay to be out of your comfort zone when you conduct research as that is when the journey of growth and understanding begins.

Judges' Comments:

"I applaud this student for taking on a controversial topic and doing a good job of explaining why it is a culturally relevant/important practice."

"The student demonstrated a willingness to explore the nuances of a possibly challenging topic. In discussing the importance of the irua ceremony for the Gikuyu tribe in Kenya, the student thoughtfully considered ways the practice of clitoridectomies can be part of a group’s national identity. In doing so, the consequences of British imperialism on Kenya’s society are tactful and well laid out. I appreciate the clear topic sentences and idiomatic writing style."

Junior/Senior

Judges' Comments:

"[E]xploring an interesting and powerfully important topic, the author went above and beyond in surveying and synthesizing the relevant scholarly literature; indeed, this paper demonstrates graduate school-level research.  But the author reached far beyond mere synthesis in offering up original and well-defended arguments on the effects of long-term stress on the hippocampus."

"This was a well-researched, thorough review of the literature on the impact of long-term stress on the hippocampus and its relationship to the pathophysiology of various diseases. After reading this review, I am excited about the possibility of seeing a presentation of the actual research at science seminar in the future! My daughter is in the JROTC at her high school and she is also a student at the RVGS. She has to do a research project in the sciences every year and after chatting with her about some of the information that was detailed in this paper, she is now interested in looking at differences in cortisol levels between branches of the ROTC within the Cadet Corps at Virginia Tech. That is a fantastic complement- that your research has inspired another project!"

Junior/Senior Finalist

What about this topic made you want to find out more?

I've always tended to lean towards the topic of environmental sustainability. In this case, I thought it would be interesting to challenge the widely accepted idea that sustainable operations were more costly. I found it fascinating that sustainable operations could not only be less costly but also necessary for the success of a business's future economic success.

What are you most proud of when it comes to this project?

I'm most proud of the editing process. Where my project began is nowhere near my end result. It's better than I ever hoped it could be and I have Professor Hernandez to thank for all his help along the way.

Having completed a project like this, if you could advise other students working on a research project, what would you tell them?

Trust your advisor - You'll spend hours researching and writing and it becomes muddled after a while. An extra pair of eyes will help catch things you missed and possibly even lead you in another direction that ends up better than before.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your work?

My friends and I had a lot of laughs over my project topic being about fish. It made the process a little more fun and I can guarantee I can tell you more about bluefin tuna than the average person.

Judges' Comments:

"In their discussion of the need for sustainable blue-fin tuna fisheries, the student writes a well-researched and thought-out paper. Their literature review showed an impressive investigation into their topic. The writing style is not only informative, but it was also enjoyable to read."

"[D]id a commendable job pulling together an impressive array of statistics and sources to make the case for bluefish tuna as a keystone species."