UTM welcomes first cohort of JHI Scholars-In-Residence

Group of students smiling at the camera
Wednesday, June 6, 2018 - 11:44am
Blake Eligh

U of T Mississauga has bid adieu to 25 undergraduates who spent the past four weeks on campus as part of an intensive research experience through U of T’s Jackman Humanities Institute. This is the first year UTM has hosted the prestigious Scholars-in-Residence program, which is now in its third year on U of T’s St. George campus in downtown Toronto.

“The Scholars-In-Residence program helps undergraduate students to grow as scholars and also presents UTM with an opportunity to showcase the faculty and the high standards to which they work,” says UTM program coordinator Jordana Lobo-Pires.

UTM Vice-Dean, Academic Experience Michael Lettieri notes that the program benefits both students and faculty. “The Scholars-In-Residence experience fosters professional excellence in faculty, which is important for delivering outstanding student education,” he says. “And it fosters excellence in students, too. When students engage in research, with its deliberate process and requirements for critical thinking skills, they become better students who are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the future.”

Students from across U of T apply to the summer program for the chance to spend an intensive four-week research residency working directly with faculty on active research projects. The 2018 program accepted 75 undergraduate scholars to work on 15 projects. Twenty-five undergraduate scholars participated in the inaugural program on the UTM campus, working with: assistant professors Liza Blake and Lawrence Switzky of the Department of English and Drama, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream Teresa Lobalsamo of the Department of Language Studies; assistant professor of anthropology Liye Xie; and assistant professor of sociology Ashely Rubin.

Third-year UTM student Dariya Darvin welcomed the chance to branch out in her research interests and experience. “I liked how interdisciplinary the program was—I met people from all different programs that I never would have met otherwise,” says Darvin, who is in her third year as a math major at UTM, with minors in computer science and biology. Her interest was piqued by Switzky’s project, which investigate how artificial intelligence intersects with theatre. “It aligned with my interests in math and computer and gave me the opportunity to work with students and researchers in the humanities.”

Students rehearse a stage-fighting scene with wooden swords.The scholars spent their mornings in small teams working on their chosen research projects. Afternoons featured skill-building workshops on writing, advanced research techniques and library research led by staff from the UTM Library and the Robert Gillespie Academic Writing Centre. “External speakers with research-intensive careers, like alumnae Claire Carver-Dias and Karen Kwan-Anderson, were also invited to speak to the students about the ways that research is a part of, and has shaped their careers,” says Lobo-Pires. Evenings and weekends featured excursions to theatres, art galleries and other attractions. Program participants receive complimentary room and board, plus a stipend of $1,000. The initiative is a partnership between the Jackman Humanities Institute, the Faculty of Arts and Science, the colleges of the University of Toronto, the University of Toronto Mississauga and Bader Philanthopies Inc.

Philosophy and psychology major Shadi Laghai, who is heading into her fourth year at UTSC, worked with Rubin’s team to analyze and code minutes from the meetings of early American penal reformers in Philadelphia. “It was interesting to see what the day-to-day research process looks like,” Laghai says. “I gained in-depth knowledge and insight into the collaborative research environment. We learned a lot about what it means to be a researcher, how we can shape our careers and the skills that we can build.”

Jonowin Terrance, Seema Shafei, Joyce Ho, Shadi Laghai and Andrew Plummer“It’s a great experience to work closely with a faculty member on a project that could lead to an article or a book—they’re really invested in the results of this research,” Lobo-Pires says, adding that the scholars will carry their new-found skills forward in their academic careers. “In previous years, participants demonstrated improved research skills, and faculty reported significant advancement of new research.”

“We heard from researchers who told us how to use our skills in the future, which was interesting and very useful,” Darvin says, adding that the close-knit group formed solid connections outside of the program. “We had a very good experience outside of research. It will be sad to leave.”

The program wrapped up with a syposium where the student teams presented the results of their research.

UTM Scholars-In-Residence research projects:

  • Liza Blake’s team analyzed the unpublished manuscripts of 17th century English poet Margaret Cavendish. Students collated and examined manuscripts and worked on modernizing the language to make the works more accessible. The work is to be published as part of Blake’s ongoing research Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies website dedicated to Cavendish’s work.
  • Lawrence Switzky’s team investigated the role of artificial intelligence as active collaborator in the creation of live theatrical performance. Students interviewed artists and curators to learn how A.I. and performance intersect, and created short performances to combine human and machine intelligence using simple algorithms.
  • Ashley Rubin’s team examined documents from meetings of early penal reformer societies in 19th century Philadelphia. The analysis sheds light on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the society and local prison administrators.
  • Liye Xie’s team investigated social change, settlement and urbanization in early China. Team members examined pottery fragments, the psychology of the meeting of different migrant groups and plotted migration patterns using GIS technology.
  • Teresa Lobalsamo’s team studied a dramatic work by Italian playwright Luigi Priandello. The team reviewed records of past performances and film adaptations of the play to create a new adaptation and curricular and other materials for a new production to be staged in 2019.