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James Paris ’15: “Flathead Lake Summer Academic Program” (Flathead Lake, Montana)

By Peter Tschirhart on October 23, 2014

During the summer of 2014, Alumni Memorial Scholar (AMS) James Paris ’15 used his AMS Grant funds to visit Montana with a field-based ecology program. In what follows, James describes his research experience and the value of the AMS Grant.

This past summer, I attended the summer academic program at the Flathead Lake Biological Station located on Flathead Lake, Montana. I completed a four-week course in field ecology that delved into general theory, field experimentation and data collection, and local ecological phenomena. The course concerned the natural environment, so we spent a lot of time hiking the surrounding areas and made frequent trips to Glacier National Park.

The class at Firebrand Pass on eastern side of Glacier National Park watching a moose wade in the lake and big horn sheep traverse the mountainside.

The class at Firebrand Pass on eastern side of Glacier National Park watching a moose wade in the lake and big horn sheep traverse the mountainside.

The beginning of the course was spent learning about local plants and how they are distributed across the landscape. We also contributed data to a century-long project on small mammal population size around the biological station. In the second week, we measured lodgepole pine regrowth to better understand how forests recover from a wildfire. Throughout, we traveled to nearby habitats to observe the unique interactions between animals, plants, and the physical environment. Some noteworthy places were the prairie pothole system, a collection of small ponds left behind by retreating glaciers; a river floodplain environment, which illustrated how ecosystems are composed of shifting patched of habitats; and the alpine zone, located above the tree line at high elevations. For my final project, I examined the animal community in an aquifer that flows into Flathead Lake. I found this environment to be particularly unique, because it was predicted to have a uniform physical arrangement. Yet, I found a very diverse community within it, including insect species normally found in fast-moving waters.

Overall, this class contributed to my understanding of the distribution and abundance of organisms in relation to their environment and how tenets of ecological theory play out in the Flathead Lake and Glacier Park Ecosystems. But just as significantly, I learned how to observe the natural world in ways that will allow me to ask important questions and gather relevant information, which I think is crucial for all fields of science. This class also honed my career interests. Though I already knew I wanted to pursue research within ecology, I am now keenly interested in mountain rivers and streams, as well as their associated groundwater environments.

Posing for a picture at Scenic Point near Two Medicine in Glacier Park.

Posing for a picture at Scenic Point near Two Medicine in Glacier Park.

Being able to use an AMS Grant for this experience was amazing. Because I did not claim credit for the course, I worried less about my grade and, instead, could learn for the sake of learning. As a result, it was more liberating than a normal course, and I felt I was gaining knowledge for future career opportunities, my own thesis research back at Colgate, and my burgeoning personal interest in ecology.

Jessica Muttitt, ’15: “Pioneering Childhood: Learning Societal Roles through Play in the American West” (Salt Lake City, Utah)

By Peter Tschirhart on September 15, 2014

“Ever Pressing Forward,” a statue by Karl A. Quilter. Photo by Jessica Muttitt.

During the summer of 2014, Alumni Memorial Scholar (AMS) Jessica Muttitt ’15 used her AMS Grant to study an important collection of 19th-century dolls in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her goal was to better understand how childhood toys generally–and dolls specifically–were used to transmit the ideals, values, and knowledge of Mormon pioneers. In what follows, Jessica provides a preliminary account of her travel and research experience. You can learn more by attending her presentation at the fall AMS Symposium, scheduled for November 18, 2014.

While studying in London last spring with Colgate’s History Study Group, I conducted my research project on the role of dolls and dolls’ houses in the formal and informal education of young girls in Britain.  I found that the development of the baby doll at the turn of the twentieth century coincided with a rise in education for females and signaled a societal backlash against this perceived breech of home and family.  Thus, according to my findings, an understated domestic education, involving dolls, was developed which subtly pushed girls to desire home and family, rather than education and career.

As I performed this research, I wondered if there was a similar phenomenon in the United States. I found that the American West provided a perfect case study.  Since pioneers could only carry a few of their belongings, what was important to them can easily be determined by surveying the objects that ultimately came to the Salt Lake Valley with them. The collections of Mormon pioneers at the Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah most intrigued me and I applied to use my Alumni Memorial Scholars grant to visit the museum and their collections in person.

My Alumni Memorial Scholar project, titled “Pioneering Childhood: Learning Societal Roles through Play in the American West,” was to focus on the games and toys that children were given to play with and, furthermore, how these were influenced by the ideals of the community.  I approached this project similarly to the one I conducted in London, meaning that I examined the toys themselves, children’s periodicals, secondary information, and other documents and files that related to the upbringing and education of children.


The Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Jessica Muttit.

The Pioneer Memorial Museum, where I was able to find all of these materials, is located in downtown Salt Lake City, near the Utah State Capitol, and boasts the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one subject: the First Migration. This event took place from July 24, 1847, when pioneers first settled in Salt Lake, to May 10, 1869, when the eastward and westward railroads were joined at Promontory, Utah. It is also the headquarters for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, and its main goal focuses around family genealogy research of the First Migration to the Salt Lake Valley.  The museum is quite large, including cases upon cases of objects belonging to pioneers.  The building also includes history, archives, and photography departments, where patrons can research their ancestors who came to the Salt Lake Valley during the First Migration, find pictures and documents to take home with them, and see any artifacts in the museum that their family formerly owned or donated.

When I first arrived at the museum, I was greeted warmly, albeit, skeptically by the museum staff and volunteers. (Researching dolls and children’s toys often gets me a lot of confused looks.) Essentially, they told me, they did not know what I was looking for, but they would be glad to help me find it.  I spent my first day getting acquainted with the museum, looking at the collections of dolls and toys, and combing through the initial files and secondary source material the archives department had graciously pulled together for me.  I also discussed my project goals with them and determined what research tools they would be able to provide me with.

Although I went into the project with the intention to study toys and games more broadly than I had during my research in London, I was ultimately drawn to dolls once again.  The pioneer doll collection is in a large room on the second floor of the museum and spans across time and place.  There are rag dolls, European dolls, and also American-made dolls.  This collection draws from the collections of various previous owners, donators who have been given or purchased dolls from this time period, and doll makers that have given their dolls to the museum for safekeeping.  There are also modern dolls made to portray pioneers, pioneer dolls, and dolls made in the style of those that would have been traditional pioneer dolls.  When walking through the room that holds the dolls, the museum’s labels provide background information about the doll’s story as well as identifying if there are any known pioneer owners.

Each doll had a unique story, but all shared one trait in common – they were incredibly important to the families who owned them.  A statue outside of the museum illustrates one reason why.  The name of the piece is “Ever Pressing Forward,” and it was completed in 2001 by sculptor Karl A. Quilter.  It shows a woman, leading a young boy by the hand.  He looks up at her, and she looks behind them, at a mound of ground and flowers with a stick supporting a small bonnet.  Presumably, her daughter has died, but given the nature of their journey, she and her son must “press forward” despite their sorrow.  As a memento, the woman clutches her daughter’s doll, bringing it with her to their new life in the Salt Lake Valley.

This statue demonstrates an overarching theme: Dolls were, and still are, prized as pioneer artifacts because they provide an emotional link to the past.  This is connected to the focus Mormons place on the past, both the general history of the Mormon peoples, and their personal family histories.  But, in many ways, the dolls represent more than a document, picture, or household object ever could.  Dolls were important to the girls as they journeyed westward, as they were often the sole personal items children were allowed to bring because of the weight restrictions of covered wagons.  Many girls had a doll made by their mother or grandmother, and often learned to sew the doll’s clothes themselves.

My conclusion regarding the emotional value of dolls is also demonstrated in the secondary materials the museum provided, including their own publications on their collection and external publications.  They have produced a pamphlet on dolls that shares a lot of the dolls’ stories and ultimately concludes that the dolls that were most popular and influential, especially handmade rag dolls, cannot be shown in the museum, because they were loved too much by the girls who owned them.

Children’s magazines are another great primary resource, because the values and expectations of society become apparent when you examine the articles, fictional stories, and editorial comments they contain.  This is also where I noticed the prominence of the strong attachment Mormons feel for their ancestors’ possessions and the importance of this history in both the religious and secular education of children.

I will present the specific findings of my research later this semester during the November 18th AMS Symposium.  This project allowed me to travel to somewhere I had never been before, meet and talk with some wonderful people, and create an interesting project that stresses the role that objects can play in historical research.  Overall, my research trip was a rewarding experience that has allowed me to bring some interesting ideas back to campus and my research projects within Colgate’s History Department.

Linh Bui, ’14: The Human Response to Neoteny in Wild Animals, South Africa

By Peter Tschirhart on June 19, 2014

What makes an adult human or animal “cute?” According to scholars working in developmental biology and psychology, the answer relates to juvenile traits, such as small jaws, short limbs, a large head, seemingly huge eyes, etc. This is called “neoteny;” and among humans, neotenous characteristics are thought to stimulate care-giving behaviors.

But Alumni Memorial Scholar Linh Bui ’14 wondered whether neoteny also plays a role in human-animal relationships. As a Colgate psychology major and general animal lover, she hoped to investigate whether caregivers treat wild animals living in captivity differently–based on their relative cuteness. Linh developed an AMS grant proposal that took her to a lion park in Johannesburg, South Africa during January of 2014. “Those two weeks were a highlight of my Colgate experience,” she wrote. In what follows, Linh reflects on her AMS grant and her experience as a volunteer at the park.

Girraffes around volunteers' dorm

Girraffes around volunteers’ dorm

The lion park is an animal lover’s dream come true with all types of wild animals walking around. I woke up to zebras grazing in front of my door; I had to guard my lunch against giraffes; and of course, at night, I was careful not to run into hippos! The lion park offered many activities, such as a game drive, a lion walk, an elephant walk, etc. It was definitely not an “easy vacation” though. My fellow volunteers and I worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., and our daily tasks included weeding the grazing hills, picking up poop and bones from the predator camps, and digging a swimming pool for the elephants.

Roxy the hyena runs to visit when her name is called.

Roxy the hyena runs to visit when her name is called.

I used my free time during lunch and after dinner to conduct informal interviews and observations for my AMS project. I discovered the volunteers’ interactions with animals were, indeed, governed by “cuteness”–just not in the way I expected. For example, most people would say hyenas are ugly and scary, but many volunteers loved Roxy, the hyena at the park, for how dog-like she was. She would run to visit whenever we called her name. Another animal, a fully-grown cheetah named Oliver, would be called “scary” instead of “cute,” but volunteers simply adored the fact that he purred when petted. Some volunteers even liked the ostriches best, because ostriches followed them around. Cuteness can be defined behaviorally, not just physically.

Oliver the purring cheetah

Oliver the purring cheetah

Aside from enabling me to carry out my research, my two weeks at the lion park also taught me to appreciate physical labor. To be honest, I had never done physical labor in my life, so it was quite a shock. Before the trip, I did expect to clean up after the animals, but nothing could have prepared me for the task of shoveling elephant poop! The hard work did pay off though, and I learned how to use agricultural tools properly. Seeing the final results of my work made me very happy. A highlight of my trip was watching the elephants playing happily in the swimming pool we made for them: they splashed water and mud on everybody, but none of us cared.

Picture with the lion siblings

Picture with the lion siblings

Despite the hard work, I learned many things about neoteny, had a lot of fun, and even got to pet lions. I definitely recommend that all AMS student take advantage of the AMS Grant experience. Why would you hesitate to travel abroad and pursue your interests?

Chloe Holt ’14: The Dance of Two Cities, a study of ballet culture in Paris and London

By Peter Tschirhart on June 10, 2014

Missouri native Chloe Holt ’14 was an English and Spanish double major at Colgate, but it was her strong passion for dance and the arts that inspired her AMS Grant proposal. Chloe traveled to Paris and London over winter break (2014) to gain a better understanding of the history and tradition of ballet. As an accomplished dancer herself, with over ten years of experience, she wondered why ballet occupied a position of prominence in the life and culture of these cities, while in others–specifically in the United States and especially the midwest–dance companies struggle to stay financially afloat. The objective of her project was to dig-in to the vibrant dance scene in these two cultural centers, to find out who participates in the culture of ballet, why, and what they gain from it. Over several weeks, she attended a wide variety of performances–from an all-male version of Swan Lake to a more traditional staging of The Nutcracker–took backstage tours whenever possible, and visited museums relevant to the history of dance. She also interacted with audience members, took photographs when possible, and kept detailed notes.

Chloe Holt '14 in Westminster.

Chloe Holt ’14 in Westminster.

Chloe explains how, prior to attending each performance, reading local reviews “allowed me both to learn about the companies and choreographers, and to gain insight into the public’s general impression of the production.” Her research lead her to conclude that, “while the ballet world does seem to be leaning towards more contemporary repertoires, classical ballet will always have a strong presence. Companies such as the Royal Ballet of England, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet have both the talent and the support to perform [traditional] ballets … while at the same time experimenting with contemporary choreography. The public may flock to see today’s hot choreographer’s latest controversial piece, but they will not give up their annual production of The Nutcracker.

Eric Taber ’13: Road Development Along the Annapurna Trekking Circuit, Annapurna Region, Nepal

By Peter Tschirhart on August 12, 2013
A biology and geography double major from Ohio, Eric traveled to Nepal to investigate the relationship between development, the trekking industry, and conservation practices within the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). Entrance fees from trekkers currently finance conservation and development projects in the ACA. However, recent construction of an unpaved road along the circuit threatens the reputation of the area as a trekking mecca and the decreasing numbers of trekkers have raised questions over the future financing of conservation projects in the area. Eric used survey questionnaires and semi-structured interviews to identify reasons for local citizens’ support for ongoing road construction. Although the ACA has been widely hailed as in integrated conservation and development project success story, his work revealed that the community development projects and social benefits financed by trekking tourism in the ACA do not outweigh the promise of road construction for locals. Current road construction has opened the door to further development in the area and will likely result in decreased revenue from trekkers and decreases in funding for conservation projects. Eric plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Geography after graduating from Colgate.
Eric Taber in Nepal.

Eric Taber in Nepal.

Coming up with the initial idea for your research project may be the hardest part of the fellowship proposal process,” Eric writes. “I recommend considering what you are truly passionate about, whether that is a topic that caught your interest during lecture, a topic that you read about on your own time, or something that you plan on pursuing post-Colgate. The options you can pursue with an AMS Research Fellowship are innumerable; few other funding opportunities provide grants with so few strings attached. Take full advantage of that and do something that you are passionate about.