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How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Albright Students Tackle Research, Creative Projects During Time Off



July 25, 2013

Note: For a complete list of summer 2013 ACRE projects, visit www.albright.edu/elcdc/el/ACRE/recipients.html

Reading, Pa. – Susie Benitez will never look at wool the same way again.

The Albright College costume design major is accustomed to working with the fiber, especially for crafting period pieces and turning store-bought yarn into hats and scarves. But like many consumers, Benitez didn’t “really think about how [wool] is made or how it started.”

That’s all changed, thanks to her participation in an Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) project this summer, which saw the rising junior from Philadelphia leave her city ways for farm life in Utah. There, she is researching the wool industry and traditional hand-spinning techniques, speaking to shepherds and weavers, and learning firsthand how to spin shorn fleece into yarn.

“This is something I probably would have never of done if we didn’t have this program,” said Benitez, when reached by phone from Utah. “I don’t have the means to go out and spin for a summer. I don’t even own a sheep.”

The ACRE program is a multi-disciplinary initiative that affords students the opportunity to conduct research or pursue creative endeavors during their summer vacations or January Interim sessions. Working with faculty mentors, they can choose topics from various disciplines.

“It’s like a sabbatical for students,” said Kim Justeson, director of experiential learning in the College’s Experiential Learning and Career Development Center, which oversees the program. “They focus on something they really want to delve into and find out more about.”

This summer, 13 students are participating in the program, working in such fields as anthropology, biology, biochemistry, economics and fashion. Their topics range from the evolution of moral opinion to economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa to the catalytic activity of aluminum amidate complexes.

Anthropology major Rhiannon Hansing is spending her summer researching genocide, exploring the conditions that give rise to such atrocities and how this scholarship can lead to future prevention, and developing a more comprehensive legal and moral definition of genocide than those presently used. For her work, Hansing is analyzing ethnographies, conducting interviews, and surveying Berks County residents to gauge their awareness of genocide.

Through ACRE, she is able to utilize Albright’s library and Holocaust Resource Center and tap into software on Albright computers to analyze her data. Weekly ACRE luncheons on campus, during which students provide status updates on their work, is offering her invaluable faculty feedback.

“[The ACRE] is a really good opportunity,” said Hansing.

Typically students work on ACRE projects on campus; Benitez is a rare exception. The College covers room and board and provides stipends.

The ACRE program also exposes students to real-world, workplace dynamics, said Paula Trimpey, assistant professor of theatre and fashion design and a longtime faculty adviser for ACRE. She is working with Benitez this summer.

“It’s a different teacher-student relationship. It’s one-on-one, more like a senior and junior colleague relationship,” said Trimpey, who accompanied Benitez to Utah. “And you’re both making discoveries at the same time.”

Students give an informal presentation on their research during the summer and a full presentation in the fall. ACRE students often go on to present their findings at regional or national conferences or use it as a springboard for further study.  

Albright is a nationally ranked, private college with a rigorous liberal arts curriculum with an interdisciplinary focus. The College’s hallmarks are connecting fields of learning, collaborative teaching and learning, and a flexible curriculum that allows students to create an individualized education. Albright College enrolls 1,650 undergraduates in traditional programs, and another 600 adult students in accelerated degree and graduate programs.