Celebrating Undergraduate Research

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For the last month or so, it’s been awards season at colleges and universities across the country—and of course I am especially interested in awards for student writing. A week ago, I had the pleasure of joining one such event at Stanford for the annual Oral Presentation of Research Awards, given every year to students in the second-year required writing course. While individual classes in this course are themed so that students can elect a class on a topic that appeals to them, all students prepare an extensive research-based argument—and then “remediate” it into a fifteen-minute oral presentation. Over the years since we first introduced this course and assignment in the early 2000s, this assignment has consistently engaged students’ imaginations—and effort. Over and over again, they tell us that having an opportunity to “boil down” a lengthy written text into a memorable oral presentation is one of their most rewarding challenges. It’s no surprise that this assignment, or some version of it, is now common in writing programs, as students learn the importance of being able to communicate the results of often difficult-to-follow research to public audiences with clarity and verve.

Imagine my delight, then, as I listened to these four students describe their research and receive commendations for their work (including a generous cash award as well as several books chosen especially for them by their instructors):

  • Ijeoma Alozie, “What Heartbeats are Worth Listening To,” about medical neglect and “misogynoir” in medical institutions,
  • Liv Jenks, “Charting a Car-Free Point Forward: Addressing Resident Opposition to Green Urbanism,” which featured extensive field-based research on local attitudes,
  • Amantina Rossi, “Pelo Melo: An Exploration of the Dominican Mother-Daughter Dynamics Regarding Hair, Beauty, and Professionalism,” about inter-generational tensions surrounding expectations and desires, and
  • Haley Stafford, “Environmental Equity at Bay: Climate-Driven Evictions in Jakarta, Indonesia,” about causes and effects in a city that is literally sinking.

As I listened to these four second-year students, I was struck by the range of their research interests, by their understanding of the methodologies available to them, and especially by their eloquence: while their comments were clearly crafted, they were delivered with such poise, openness, clarity, and audience awareness that they seemed to be in conversation directly with me. That these students have all had their personal and educational lives disrupted during the last two-plus years of a pandemic made their savoir faire all the more remarkable—a celebration truly to be cherished.

I hope your school year is winding down as well as possible and that you may have some much-needed R and R during the summer months. I am going to be taking a break from Bedford Bits for a while myself, looking for ways to enjoy life’s good and simple pleasures. As I do so, I will be thinking of writing teachers and students everywhere with admiration.

Image Credit: Photo 839 by NappyStock, used under a Public Domain license

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.