Preface to the Proceedings of the University of North Texas Department of Anthropology’s 2011 National Science Foundation Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates

Program Description

The Department of Anthropology at the University of North Texas has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the past 12 years for the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). This past summer marks the end of the latest three-year cycle of the grant. The goal of the program has been to increase the number of under-represented and first-generation college students in the ranks of social science and natural science Ph.Ds. in the academy. Over 100 students have now participated in the NSF-REU Summer Program and approximately 75% of them have gone on to pursue advanced graduate degrees. Many recent graduates have used the outstanding research they produced during the Summer Program as part of their graduate school applications. The result has been their enrollment in Ph.D. programs at Texas A&M, University of Michigan, University of South Florida, Southern Methodist University, and Emory University, many with full funding. This Summer Program is unique in comparison to other REUs funded by NSF on the UNT campus, as well as across the U.S. by being one of the very few that allows students to do research on topics which they choose. The selection of participants for the program comes from a competitive pool of applicants. In the selection process, we focus on whether students can articulate the research they would like to do and how well they fit their research plans to the constraints of the local Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) metropolitan area.

The program is 10 weeks long, over which time period the students move from conceptualizing their research ideas, through learning about research methods and ethics, to completing a research project, which includes research design, fieldwork and content analysis. At the end of the program, students write and submit a scholarly paper for publication. During the first five weeks, students receive rigorous training in qualitative research methods and ethics through a combination of readings, lectures, discussions, assignments, and fieldtrips. The fieldtrips, as well as several of the assignments, challenge the students to work on the ethnographic skills being taught, as well as to make the methods their own. During this time, students are also paired up with a program staff member and a faculty mentor who act as advisors during the process of research problem development, Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, and IRB approval. In the second five-week segment, once students have received IRB approval and have gained entry into their field site, they complete their fieldwork, analyze their data, and produce a scholarly paper. During this time of independent field work and library research, students continue to receive training from their mentors and program staff. They participate in weekly research analysis seminars which provide knowledge on interpreting and analyzing field data. The Summer Program has also collaborated with UNT’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Training Program (Diana Elrod, Ph.D., Director) each summer. For this, students were required to attend lectures throughout the summer, on topics such as, graduate school application tips, strategies, choosing a graduate mentor and research ethics.

The Papers

In this issue of The Eagle Feather, we are happy to introduce the 2011 Summer Program participants. The students include: Megan Bonham (Indiana University, South Bend), Martha Diaz (California State University, Fresno), Khalia Grady (Swarthmore College), Carlos Hernandez (University of North Texas), and Candice Lanius (The George Washington University). Their projects were covered a variety of topics, including immigration, religion, language and identity, and agritourism.

Martha Diaz focused her research on the impact of immigration. She examined how the healing practices of two folk healers, from El Salvador and Guatemala, have changed over time as a result of their immigration to the United States. Her study used life histories to better understand the ways that they adapted to their new environment here in the U.S.

Khalia Grady and Candice Lanius anchored their research questions in language use and identity. Khalia Grady worked with students of Mexican heritage from the University of North Texas to uncover the ways in which their language choice was connected to their self-identity. She also paid attention to how language use and self-identification varied according to social context. Candice Lanius’s research site was virtual: she studied the “comments” posted in response to videos uploaded to YouTube. Her research centered on emerging cultural formations in the online context and how users learn “acceptable” social behavior without the context clues typically available in face to face social interaction.

Carlos Hernandez addressed the issue of maintaining identity by investigating how Orthodox Jews observe the Sabbath and create, through practice, “sacred space” (both spatially and temporally) and renew their larger sense of community. Finally, Megan Bonham studied the environmental values of farmers who include agritourism as part of their livelihood, visiting a number of farms across Texas.

The range of topics studied by the 2011 summer program participants reflects the changing discipline of anthropology; where once anthropologists studied “the exotic other” in faraway locations, now, we are staying at home to learn about those who may not, at first glance, seem very exotic at all. The point, as always, in anthropological research, is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. If you see aspects of your own humanity in these papers, then the authors have done their jobs properly!