The New York Times Democracy Forum

Philadelphia to Athens. Seven hours of sitting. “There’s no way this is actually my life,” I thought to myself, plugging into an album of podcasts I’d downloaded for this very long, transatlantic flight. I was about to embark on possibly the most influential, formative week of my life.

This year was the first year the New York Times selected a student delegation to attend their annual Athens Democracy Forum. Every year, the NYT invites a wide selection of world leaders, activists and speakers to discuss various issues pertaining to democracy. I was one out 23 students from all over the world chosen to represent their respective universities to contribute to these discussions.

I arrived in Athens disheveled and jetlagged, naive and anxious. This is what happens when one travels unaccompanied across the Atlantic for the first time, I suppose. Some of my colleagues, which I’d met on my flight to Athens, and I took a very expensive cab ride to the American College of Greece, where we were staying. The R.A. on staff kindly welcomed us, and helped us move our bags into dorms (which, by American standards, felt like a long stay at a Hilton hotel―we even had our own balcony).

That night we attended a student welcoming ceremony on one of the campus’s university building rooftops. Tiers of Spanakopita, roasted red pepper hummus, feta cheese, olives, and mouthwatering chicken gyros awaited our exhausted bodies and eager appetites. The directors of the conference, Dr. Simon Gray and Dr. Antonis Klidas, gave us a happy and warm welcome to Athens with words of encouragement.

Our first full day in Athens was dedicated to touring the Parthenon and Acropolis, which both constitute much of Athens’ rich history. We (the students) spent the following two days working in “breakout sessions,” in which we discussed the importance of youth participation and the role of globalization in redefining a changing political landscape. Entertaining such highly engaging discussions took a lot of brain work, but also brought us close in a very short span of time (which was fine by me–I’ll take philosophical dialogue over an icebreaker any day).

The opening reception for the Forum was held in the Zappeion, a massive marble colosseum, lined with towering pillars and an open rooftop. We arrived at the venue in our varying interpretations of the phrase “business casual,” bombarded with curious photographers and reception greeters who handed us our names on freshly printed badges with our names on them, labeled “delegates.” The event was out of this world. Think
Hunger-Games’-glamorous-capital-level-fancy. But maybe less silver confetti and starring more well-intentioned world leaders. My favorite moment of the evening constituted Times reporter Roberto Nieves, whom I’ve heard on many episodes of The Daily (a New York Times Spotify podcast), sauntering over to my table and offering me sparkling glass of champagne. I blurted out, “Yes of course!” We entertained a five-minute conversation on manners―I was thrilled. My memories of the entire evening are cloaked in elegance, gold shimmer, and a warm Mediterranean breeze. I texted my parents as soon as I got home: “I walked a red carpet tonight!”

The conference itself was an extensive exposure to politicians, journalists, human rights activists, and speakers I never fathomed meeting in my lifetime, much less in the span of a week.
Interviewers asked panels of NYT journalists about the role of fake news in conceptions of modern journalism. Roby Senderowitsch, a World Bank economist, responded to NYT correspondent Katrin Bennhold’s questions about reducing global inequality by calling for
benevolent policies to reduce disparity between countries. Brian Smith, president of the European, Middle East, and Africa group of the Coca-Cola Company, who participated in a panel discussion with four of my student colleagues, prescribed a genuine cooperation between the public and private sectors to achieve progress.

The entire week was unreal. Saying goodbye to the students in the delegation was surprisingly difficult, given our inseparability throughout the entire conference. We spent a week internally hyperventilating together about meeting such prominent leaders of democracies and being in such a cool place―and in the span of 24 hours, we were each back to our normal lives, just as we’d left them (the only thing that was different was that we were all now very behind in schoolwork).

We published our summaries of the policy discussions we overheard, and now our reflections are being published by the New York Times. Again—completely, totally unreal. I cannot thank my colleagues enough, for making the trip so enjoyable, the directors of the conference for welcoming us so warmly, and of course, Hope College and the Great Lakes College’s Association for making this venture possible. In the very real words of Kofi Annan, “Education is a human right with the power to transform.” I am unbelievably fortunate to have the ability to pursue my education at an institution that fosters values consistent with those of the individuals who spoke at the forum: peace, empathy, and a willingness to do good for the world.

 

[This post was written by Irene Gerrish ’19]

What Does It Mean to Be a Mellon Scholar? (Part 1)

    In my quest to become a digital humanist, I’ve started to wonder: what is it like for everyone else? So over the next couple of months, I will be listening to the experiences of several Mellon scholars past, and present, to figure out what does it mean to be a Mellon Scholar?

An Artist Among Us

Cherish Joe is my first subject. A sophomore who has just started the program, she is a Studio Art major. In my quest to understand all sides of the Arts and Humanities aspect of the Mellon Scholars Program, I decided to choose Cherish first because unlike myself she is in tune with art. At the time, her sculpture “My Legs” was being displayed outside the Kruizenga museum, this is what my inquiries led to:

    Tell me about your sculpture, what does it represent?

“My Legs” is an inflatable sculpture piece. I created the piece to start a discussion on rape culture. I think my piece engages the viewer in an interesting way that connects to the idea of rape culture. When you look at the big inflatable legs, you may want to touch them, sit in between them, or interact with them in some way that you as a viewer knows is socially inappropriate. Those are “my legs.” I created them, and they belong to me. I think that’s interesting that a piece of artwork or an object on display can easily be seen as desirable but unattainable, unless consent is given. When I think of rape culture in connection to this piece, I consider the social standings involved. For example, most victims of rape culture are female. When a female is unconscious or unresponsive to the interest of a viewer, she is not seen as unattainable. Her body is at the viewer’s disposal. Rape culture goes beyond the physical act of rape. It can be seen in a magazine article that criticizes a woman for her short skirt. I only want to start the conversation with this piece about rape culture. Because I’m curious as to why there is a social barrier with a work of art, but not a human body?

    Why do you like being part of the Arts and Humanities?

I became an artist because there is a tremendous amount of responsibility that comes along with it. People who work in the humanities often have a tough time because their work involves the process of creation and redirection of society. This is why like the humanities and chose art as my medium.

I learned a lot from Cherish and her amazing sculpture. Her insights have allowed me to realize that there is so much more that comes with being a digital humanist. Like she said, there is a lot of responsibility with these fields and with time there will be new aspects to discover. Who knows what I’ll learn next time!

-Sarah Herrera

You Can Be a Digital Humanist Too!

Becoming a Mellon Scholar has been an amazing journey so far, granted I only started the program this fall. When people ask me what the Mellon Scholars Program is, I give them a long spiel explaining the program as a whole and how we Mellons- a term used hereafter to identify students in the program- we study the field known as the digital humanities or DH. Those two words, “digital humanities”, they encapsulate so much and yet people know very little about the digital humanities. Partly this is because there is no set definition of what the Digital Humanities are. Digital humanists have argued from the very beginning whether the digital humanities discipline means applying the digital world to the humanities, or if DH applies the humanities to the digital world. Now, believe me, these are two very different things, and that’s why there is such a debate in the field. Whichever it means to a digital humanist, to me it means integrating two essential parts of human history.

The digital humanities integrate humanistic practices, e.g. the work of philosophers, artists, writers, linguists, and religionists, with digital technologies that are part of all of our lives. Mellons, in our journey to becoming digital humanists, are tasked with finding projects that reflect these two worlds. Without the digital humanities, we wouldn’t have access to archives that are digitizing their collections. Because of technology, people can view works that are spread across the globe. As researchers, we can now find sources with ease thanks to digitization. And yet, we ask questions that have energized generations of humanists: what can we learn from the past, present, and future?

Being a digital humanist is exhilarating and challenging and you can be one too!

Mellons at Conferences

What opportunities do Mellons have to present their research?

In my experience, Mellon Scholars are much more likely to be involved in a variety of groups and programs around campus. I’m currently the Vice President of the Gamma-Omicron chapter of the Phi Alpha Theta historical honors society. We sent three members to a regional conference at Andrews University on April 7th. Two out of the three members were Mellons. Conferences like this are great places to interact with students from other schools. They’re also very enthralling at times. I heard some great paper presentations that day. It’s also a great environment to hear feedback on projects. Matt Meyerhuber, another Mellon, actually won an award for his paper. There are plenty of opportunities for Mellon Scholars to go to conferences like this and I’d encourage scholars to attend at least one while at Hope. “-Jon Tilden, ’17.

I attended the National Council on Undergraduate Research this year. It was a beautifully orchestrated showcase of the nation’s most pertinent research and poised researchers. Spending four days with students from your own college at the University of Memphis, with easy access to downtown, accompanies presenting and observing high quality research well. It was wonderful to be surrounded by students from all over the country who were similarly toggling with important questions about the world. Also, the barbecue was so worth it!”-Irene Gerrish, ’19.

The Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities

 

What is UNRH? 

“The Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities (UNRH) is an organization committed to promoting, presenting, and encouraging rigorous student research in the humanities with an emphasis on incorporating digital technologies. We at UNRH fulfill our mission by hosting a competitive annual conference for accepted undergraduates with impressive digital humanities projects. As a project manager and co-founder, I have had the privilege of watching UNRH develop from an idea to two years of successful collaboration among students from all over North America. The idea for UNRH came when I met six other undergraduates at the IliADS Digital Humanities conference in the summer of 2015. We were there as assistants for our professors, and after sharing ideas about tools, projects, and research, we realized just how valuable time together with other undergraduates from different backgrounds and institutions can be. Thus the idea was born for a conference just for undergraduates. We designed a website and received approval from Davidson to host our first conference. Then we planned, crafted, and created a conference, received and reviewed applications, and finally held UNRH 2015 at Davidson College on November 6th a mere two and a half months after our first meeting at ILiADS. Having just returned from our second conference, this year at Washington & Lee University, I am blown away by how far our initial idea has come. I am excited to see the what UNRH becomes in the years to come.” -Taylor Mills ’17.

What’s it like going to a research conference? 

Image is taken from unrh.org. http://unrh.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Workshop8-e1485179365355.jpg

“This January, I had the chance to travel to Lexington, Virginia, to present at the 2nd Annual Conference sponsored by the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities. The conference itself was remarkable, as it was the first chance I had to engage directly with other digital humanists from regional liberal arts schools. Just the chance to talk side-by-side with other students about their prospective endeavors in the digital humanities both amazed and inspired me. Additionally, it was incredibly rewarding to receive feedback for my own research project on Boston’s 1976 Bicentennial celebrations.  Though it was only UNRH’s second year, the opportunity to involve myself in a strong and ever-growing network of digital humanists was invaluable. It revealed to me just how vast the universe of the digital humanities is and how we as students continue to adapt and shape future research.”-Cullen Smith ’17.

To learn more about our story, check out unrh.org

The Mellon Seminar

What have you learned in the Mellon seminar this year? What are your favorite parts?

“My favorite part about the Mellon Scholars seminar thus far is the opportunity

to be around and collaborate with my cohort on the subjects we’re tackling within digital liberal arts and research. It has been new to us all, in a way.  Being able to hear the thoughts of my intelligent and passionate classmates on topics like considering user experience or writing research questions is so valuable, because it allows me to better dive into these subjects myself. When certain projects seem tough, we definitely lean on our own groups (shout-out to Founding Sistas)! But we also have a great camaraderie as a cohort in general. I’ve been able to meet people with passions for so many different subjects within the humanities, and even outside it, too; from French to Political Science to Women and Gender Studies, these fellow students bring perspectives into the classroom that will benefit us all long after we leave it.”-Kelly Arnold ’19.

“Our seminar has allowed me to develop and hone my research skills, as well as introduced me to new technologies. My eyes have been opened to all of the amazing things that you can research, and how disciplines can cross to create projects that I never would have thought of. Working with my team members who are passionate about our topic has been a delight, and has shown me what can really be accomplished when people apply themselves to a task they love. I love to learn, and this program has allowed me to discover complementary areas of study to mix with my primary discipline, furthering my desire for knowledge in an incredible way.” -Rachel Brumagin ’19. 

“I loved the exposure to high-level digital research, especially in fields outside the 
hard science realm. The subjects we analyzed spanned across several significant and relevant aspects of the humanities. The research projects we conducted made me feel as though I was contributing important findings to the world of academia, even as an undergraduate. I was also appreciative of the amount of group collaboration and the relationships I eventually developed with my peers throughout the first semester.”-Irene Gerrish ’19.

Mellon Research

elizabeth-ensinkWhat are you doing for Mellon credit this semester? 

“This semester I’m taking COMM 255: Writing for Media, which counts for Mellon credit without an extra project. In the class, we’re learning basic journalism skills while developing our abilities to disseminate news across digital platforms such as Twitter and WordPress. Everyone in the class gets to choose a “beat” to write on for all the assignments, so it’s a great way to bring in your own interests. I’m covering undergraduate research and events in the natural sciences at Hope College.
“-Elizabeth Ensink, ’17.

 

 “In my Mellon experience this semester, I have been examining Vietnam War cullen-smith-1literature with Prof. Gruenler in the English Department. Though I do not have a thesis statement yet for my final paper, I am trying to analyze Vietnam War literature, mainly the “meta”-narratives of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, etc, against more journalistic forms of war writing, such as Michael Herr’s Dispatches and A Bright Shining Light by Neil Sheehan. From these works, I plan to apply a lens of literary criticism to the various works to analyze their expressions of truth versus what “seems” to be the truth. So far, I have considered a few lenses, particularly structuralism, deconstruction, and new historicism, but of course, I need to do a little more reading. I am particularly excited in the results at the end of the semester!” -Cullen Smith, ’17.

 

“I’m researching the representation of minority on the covers of popular magazines, such as Seventeen, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Playboy and Health. In the past year, I have seen an influx of minority women on magazines, but what issue of the magazine is it? Will you see a black woman on the cover of Vogue’s beauty issue? How do magazines cast minority women versus white women?”-Hannah Pikaart, ’18.

 

Welcome

Welcome to the Mellon Scholars Blog. Over the next few months, this blog will be

14390639_1149509928437805_6078842723332815139_nexploring a variety of topics.  Research, a day in the life as a Mellon scholar, community events, conference presentations and numerous Mellon festivities will all be featured at some point. We hope that the blog will offer the reader a glimpse into the Mellon program and how its members carry out scholarly research, academic presentations, community engagement and overall excellence in their day-to-day college lives.

The Mellon Scholars

The Mellon Scholars program aims to combine humanities research with digital platforms and presentation. The program recruits talented freshmen who have demonstrated excellence in the classroom. After undergoing a competitive selection process,  students take two interdisciplinary seminars in their sophomore year, each focused on research in the digital humanities. At the end of this year, students present collaborative digital projects that are the result of the entire year’s work.

Who are the Mellon Scholars?

14191954_1131891136866351_6595221005175628559_nMellon scholars are mostly humanities majors, but even this belies the breadth of majors and disciplines represented. Current Mellon scholars range from historians to dramatists to environmental scientists.  Mellons can also be found in a variety of campus extracurriculars as well. Theater, Dance Marathon, Hope Democrats and a myriad of honors societies number among the other organizations Mellons can be found in.

Community

One of the program’s goals for this year is to increase the sense of academic community among members. This blog will attempt to chronicle these social events for students, as well as some of the many Mellon events scholars will be involved in. Follow this blog throughout the year for insight into the Mellon program. Our next blog, released in early November, will be composed of interviews with Mellons about their research this semester.  Stay tuned for more!