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Fairmont State Student Researchers probe literary topics

The School of Humanities (formerly Language and Literature) is pleased to recognize the 2020 student recipients of the department’s Summer Research Program: Maralisa Marra, Autumn Cox and Montana Richards.

Students receive a stipend for 6 weeks of dedicated work on an original research project under a Humanities faculty mentor of their choice.

Maralisa Marra, a sophomore double major in English and Studio Art from Shinnston, Harrison County, WV is researching “The Roots of Gatsby” under the direction of Dr. J. Robert Baker.

“The most interesting thing that I’ve discovered about my subject is that F. Scott Fitzgerald actually used a lot of his wife Zelda’s writings and journals as inspiration and content for his own literary output,” she said.

Baker, the creator of the department’s Summer Research Program and Marra’s mentor, said it has been energizing to see the intellectual enthusiasm and delight of Maralisa Marra as she has worked on her project.

“Her discovery of information about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s composition of The Great Gatsby reminds me of why my colleagues and I are committed to scholarship and to helping students learn the habit of research and analysis,” he said.

Autumn Cox, senior English major from Craigsville, Nicholas County, WV, is working with Dr. Matthew Hokom on her project, “A Critical Assessment of the Objections to John Calvin’s View on the Will of Man.”

“One of the most interesting things I’ve read thus far is Jacobus Arminius’ work, ‘A Declaration of the Sentiments,’’ Cox said. “In this proclamation, Arminius identifies three different opinions on the decree of predestination. Though Arminius does not agree with any of these views of predestination, it has been fascinating to discover his objections, and thus deepen my research on John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion by conjecturing how he would respond to these challenges.”

The project has allotted her the time to enhance her understanding of some of the most well-known figures during the Protestant Reformation.

“I have the opportunity to read material that is too specialized to teach in a typical class, but that will definitely help me be a better teacher of those classes,” Hokom said. “As a project like this is so intense, I am able to see enormous progress in a (relatively) short period of time, which is extremely gratifying and is a helpful reminder of what students can achieve when given the opportunity to intensely study a subject in which they are passionately interested.”

Montana Richards, senior English major from Monongah, Marion County, WV is working with Dr. Elizabeth Savage on her project, “Sexuality in Passing.” Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel dramatizes the choices African-Americans were forced to make in regard to segregated white society.

“One of the most intriguing parts of my research has been reading Queering the Color Line by Siobhan Somerville…[who] points out scientific racism where scientists would justify their hate by using science,” Richards said.

Dr. Savage notes that the students are not the only ones who benefit from these summer research projects.

“Montana’s project has led me to think about Nella Larsen’s novels in the larger context of modernism and helped me to practice teaching queer theory, which entails intersectional and anti-heteronormative close reading strategies,” Savage said.

Given the current protest of systemic racism across the country, Savage notes working with Richards has helped her discover “materials best suited to counter the racism and bigotry exposed, again, these past months… I have plans to revise my classes for this fall so they address more fully the current crises in both content and design.”

Once their research is completed, and students have submitted their final projects, they are required to present a version of their project at either an academic conference, or at the University’s annual Celebration of Student Scholarship. This sharing of their research is an important part of the learning process, and inspires other students to pursue projects of their own.

In the words of Dr. Hokom, “Intellectual enthusiasm is contagious. Mentor and mentee are able to share their enthusiasm in a way that is constantly and mutually invigorating.”

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