Taylor Mills: Not Just a T.A.

This year, Hope hosted the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities (also known as UNRH) conference. Recent graduate of Hope and the Mellon Scholars Program, Taylor Mills, is just one of the minds behind UNRH. In my effort to be a life-long learner, I asked Taylor some questions about UNRH and how the Mellon Scholars Program influenced her during the creation of the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities.

The Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities

How do you feel Mellon prepared/encouraged you to collaborate on the creation of UNRH?

I had an amazing group experience during the Mellon Scholars seminar, which was a first in my entire academic career. I learned the value of collaboration which I think lead me to believe I could create an organization from scratch with people I wouldn’t meet with regularly in person, but all virtually. It was a huge undertaking, but we had just enough passion and insanity to go for it. Furthermore, I think the Mellon Scholars Program does a great job of encouraging students to be independent in their research interests. I felt supported and prepared to embark on something entirely from scratch, which is what makes the Mellon Scholars Program so unique.

Are there any projects you did, that you feel inspired the creation of UNRH?

I co-founded UNRH having only just finished the Mellon Scholars seminar so I hadn’t completed many projects yet. The seminar group project topic was one I proposed because I think research can and should have an impact beyond the world of academia. UNRH is an organization designed to empower students and provide them with opportunities often limited to graduate students and faculty. Since I have always had interests in pedagogy and social justice, the Mellon Scholars Program equipped me with the academic and collaboration skills that propelled me toward creating UNRH.

What do you hope to accomplish with UNRH in the coming years?

I hope that UNRH continues to diversify, involving more institutions, international students, and original scholarship. I also hope that UNRH participants do feel empowered to take ownership over their educational experiences. Undergraduate students are full of potential and I hope UNRH becomes known for changing the pervasive student mentality from being a passive learner and receiver of knowledge to an active agent of change and independent researcher.
In a different sense, I am no longer a student, so what I hope to accomplish with UNRH in the coming years is to have new groups of students keep UNRH going and growing as I take a back seat.

To learn more about UNRH click here.
Or to read another blog post about the UNRH click here.

What Does It Mean to Be a Mellon Scholar? (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, I talked with Cherish Joe, a first-time Mellon Scholar, and Studio Art Major. She shared insight on the Arts aspect of the Mellon Scholars Program. In this installment, I went in search of more answers.

The Alumna

Madalyn Muncy-Piens, a 2013 graduate, graciously answered my questions about her time in the program. Through her answers, I learned about the evolution of the program, and her answers have given me a new perspective. This is what she said:

What was your Mellon experience like?

I had a wonderful experience in the Mellon program and think it was one of the highlights of my college career. Not many undergrads get to have a digital liberal arts experience and I got to spend three years dabbling in media, the archive, and my own desire to share stories with the world. I would probably never have had such an enriching experience elsewhere. The thing I find most compelling about the program is the emphasis on sharing research through digital means. I think this is an important distinction, as it’s one thing to have the skills to write a thesis. It’s another to share that thesis in a meaningful way. I think that’s probably the most important part of the program and though I have never attended graduate school, I use those skills I gained in the program all the time in my career.

Madalyn Muncy-Piens (’13)

What is your favorite/most memorable experience you had with Mellon?

I really enjoyed the summer research I did in the program. I participated both summers I could on two very different projects, both very media-heavy. Having someone pay me to research something I was really passionate about just didn’t feel like work. I often wish someone would do that again!

Do you have any advice for students currently in the program? Is there something that you wish you would have known?

Two things: one stick with the program and make it your own. Follow your passions and you will get a lot out of your three years. Secondly, do not at all feel pressured to attend graduate school by ANYONE. We all know the pressure is secretly there (you’re doing some pretty hefty research that some grad students are envious of), but do some hard thinking about how you can apply the skills you’re learning right now to a career. Every other member of my cohort has gone on to earn a graduate degree and if that’s your goal, go do it! But don’t feel like you’re a failure (like I felt) if you want to try your hand at something else in the industry. You can get a job as a humanities major and you can use all of these skills, just in a different way. 

Madalyn’s answers gave me a chance reflect on why I wanted to be a part of the Mellon Scholars Program. This program offers so many opportunities to students who are passionate about the arts and humanities. I look forward to making this program my own, as Madalyn said. While I do not know where my research will take me over the next couple of years, the endless possibilities,  I think,  are what make the program unique.

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!