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Alex Rojek ’15: “Effects of Location on Scottish Wind Farms” (Cairngorms, Scotland)

By Peter Tschirhart on October 28, 2014

During the summer of 2014, Alumni Memorial Scholar (AMS) Alex Rojek ’15 used his AMS Grant to study the growing impact of wind energy in Scotland. By traveling throughout the Highlands–including the Cairngorms National Park–he hoped to better understand the impact wind farms have on the local economy, environment, and public opinion. You can learn more by attending his presentation at the fall AMS Symposium, scheduled for November 18, 2014.

Entrance to Whitelee Wind Farm, Eaglesham

Entrance to Whitelee Wind Farm, Eaglesham

It was obvious from the moment I stepped off the airplane in Glasgow that I was entering a place with a completely different perspective on energy and sustainability. Airport employees were driving around in “Zero Emission Vehicles Powered by Lithium-Ion Technology” (They were also present all around the city of Glasgow too, serving as transportation for city employees). When I rented a vehicle in order to travel to various sites at opposite corners of the country, I was amazed by the fuel economy of the diesel engine (well over 60 mpg!). Many restaurants I encountered embraced the “locavore” movement in a way that was totally foreign to me (One server detailed the exact origin of each one of the ingredients in my meal—all within 20 miles of the restaurant!). One of the wind farms I visited in my study acted not only as a generator of power for half the city of Glasgow, but as an educational and recreational center (more on this later!).

Overall, Scotland seemed to have embraced the culture of sustainability to a degree that has not yet been reached stateside. While the sustainability movement in the USA is certainly gaining ground, it is not quite as pervasive as in the land of our neighbors across the pond (and a little to the north).  Scotland has much more to offer than kilts and haggis—its impressive dedication to sustainability sets an example for the rest of the world to follow. This fact is becoming increasingly well known around the world, and it was a major reason that I chose to perform a study of the public perception of wind power in Scotland.

Proposed site of Nathro Hill Wind Farm, not far from Cairngorms National Park boundary and near a main tourist route across the eastern side of the nation. At the time of my visit, this was one of the most hotly-contested proposed sites in Scotland. Very recently, largely as a result of the controversial location, the proposed construction was cancelled.

Proposed site of Nathro Hill Wind Farm, not far from Cairngorms National Park boundary and near a main tourist route across the eastern side of the nation. At the time of my visit, this was one of the most hotly-contested proposed sites in Scotland. Very recently, largely as a result of the controversial location, the proposed construction was cancelled.

Cairngorms National Park, in the north of Scotland, is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth. The sheer natural beauty and wildlife of the region, recognized by people all across Scotland and the greater United Kingdom, is truly something to be treasured. As such, it was unsurprising to hear that the proposed construction of several wind farms near the boundaries of the park was being met with resistance from the local people. I set out to determine if the general population truly held this belief (as opposed to simply “those who yell the loudest…”) and to find out if there was a deeper rationale for opposition than what appeared on the surface.

My fortnight in Scotland began in Glasgow, and traversed the majority of the country, going as far north as Inverness and as far east as Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Major stops included Carrbridge, Grantown-on-Spey, and Kirriemuir (all on the fringes of Cairngorms National Park and near proposed wind farm construction sites), as well as Eaglesham (home to Whitelee Wind Farm, the UK’s largest on-shore wind farm).

Whitelee Wind Farm was perhaps the most interesting (and potentially even my favorite!) place I visited while in Scotland. Yes, I am saying that a part of me may have enjoyed my time at a wind farm more than the numerous medieval castles and natural wonders I made time to see. The creators of Whitelee took formerly unused land and built something truly spectacular. They not only built a plant that supplies power to half of Glasgow, but they developed what seemed to be a cultural phenomenon. Miles upon miles of walking/running trails wound among the turbines, and a new mountain bike track was recently completed. The previously useless plot of land had  been transformed into a remarkably aesthetically pleasing and recreationally viable area. In addition to this, it has also become an educational powerhouse. The visitors center now offers tours of the grounds several times each day, and has several hands-on-learning exhibits to help explain how wind power can help change the world. All in all, I don’t see how it could be possible for someone to visit Whitelee and walk away not seeing wind power as the answer to the energy crisis.

Me, taking a sound recording at the base of turbine #40 at Whitelee Wind Farm in Eaglesham.

Me, taking a sound recording at the base of turbine #40 at Whitelee Wind Farm in Eaglesham.

While at Whitelee, I toured the grounds and recorded several audio files standing at various distances from wind turbines. A common fear the general population possesses of wind farms is that the noise pollution generated will negatively impact the quality of life in the surrounding areas. I found, however, that at a distance of as little as 100 yards from the base of a turbine, the noise was rather minimal and did not affect the volume at which I had to speak to hold a conversation. By walking only a bit farther from the turbine, the noise all but disappeared.  Therefore, from my judgments, unless one is thinking about erecting a turbine in close proximity to his home, he need not worry about noise.

Through my travels, I learned a great deal about the renewable energy movement in Scotland, and the rationale behind the rather strong opinions about it—both for and against.

A large part of my data gathering was done through an informal interview process, through which I would casually mention either a local wind farm or the concept of renewables to a regular Scottish citizen and take note of his or her response. This proved, rather effectively, how simple conversations could be transformed into a gauge of popular opinion in a certain area. Though it would be unfair to overgeneralize, I found Scottish views on wind farm construction to be positive on the whole, while opinions on wind farm construction near the Cairngorms specifically were resoundingly negative.

People from all walks of life across each area I visited supported renewable energy overwhelmingly. They really seemed to understand that fossil fuels were finite and that something needed to be done to provide power in a different way. Hydroelectricity as well as wind power were constantly brought up as excellent ways to generate electricity in the stead of fossil fuels..

The southern area of Scotland (near Glasgow and Edinburgh) is not particularly prized for its natural beauty or wildlife, and as such seems to be prime wind farm real estate. Whitelee Wind Farm, discussed previously, was built 20 minutes outside of Glasgow on previously unused land and has resulted in an economic boom for the area as well as valuable recreational and educational facilities.  The proposed site of Fauch Hill Wind Farm, not far from Edinburgh, was strongly supported by all the locals with whom I spoke. The plot of land on which it is to be built, though aesthetically appealing in its own right, possesses no real value to the people of Scotland. Because they don’t see it as a source of national pride, they are largely in favor of making it something to be proud of in another way. Similar attitudes are held toward off-shore wind farms, as not a single person I met opposed them. The general opinion seemed to be that land (and water) not directly part of a city or the cherished highlands region could be used in a manner that benefited Scotland, and the planet as a whole.

Though quite impressive, this fervor for taking unused plots of land and transforming them into valuable energy-generating areas, was completely overpowered by reverence for the wild lands of the highlands region and Cairngorms National Park. A Grantown-on-Spey resident put it rather bluntly, in a way that made me truly appreciate how strongly the Scottish feel about protecting the Cairngorms region:

“How would you feel if you went home and found 60 giant wind turbines right next to the Grand Canyon? The people of America would never let that happen and you know it. That’s how we feel about the Cairngorms here.” –Granton-on-Spey resident

My time in Scotland taught me many things. It served to strengthen my belief that renewable energy is an important part of our planet’s future, but it also taught me that people respond rather strongly when things they hold dear are threatened. The Scottish people love the Cairngorms. They love them the way they are, in all their natural splendor. No desire for an increase in renewable energy seemed able to supersede that.

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.