Corrine Conway, a senior Anthropology major and Core Honors student, spent last summer in New Orleans doing a research project on Louisiana Voodoo under the mentorship of Fr. Stephen Molvarec in the History Department, supported by the Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program. We sat down with Corrine to discuss what her research entailed, what motivated her to pursue her research, and how her experience has prepared her for her professional career.
What project were you working on in New Orleans? The work I was doing was for the Honors Research Fellowship program. I proposed a project focused on debunking problematic notions about New Orleans Voodoo and empowering contemporary Voodoo practitioners to define themselves.
What motivated you to do the project? The rampant misinformation surrounding New Orleans Voodoo motivated me to use this research opportunity to enlighten people as to the legacies of oppression and the impact of it on human beings dedicated to a unique and valid religion. I wanted very much to incorporate discussions about intersectional discrimination as they applied to a specific and often underrepresented group.
What was your favorite part about the project? My favorite part of the project was
Andrew Kunz, Director of Disciplinary Honors in Physics and instructor of Honors seminar on Mars
A few years ago the University Honors Program revised its curriculum to increase the number of social and natural sciences offerings and to emphasize interdisciplinary learning, and part of that revision was the creation of a new Honors Capstone seminar for juniors and seniors. This seminar, the final stepping stone in the Core Honors curriculum, gives juniors and seniors the chance to approach a timely, important problem from a range of disciplinary perspectives.
One such seminar is the Mission to Mars capstone. The course, which was most recently co-taught by Physics professor Andrew Kunz, Physical Therapy professor Kathleen Lukasczewitz, and History professor Tim McMahon, teaches students about the complexity and difficulty of making it to the red planet. Kunz, who has been at Marquette for 14 years, led the creation of the class. “I wanted something that would be big,” he said, “What’s a kind of project that’s going to involve people from all over the world, but that’s not just going to be scientists and engineers?” The answer, of course, was the Mission to Mars.
Another goal of the capstone is to get students from different colleges and majors to interact with each other to solve problems, each student bringing a different area of expertise to the discussion. For their final project, the 60 students in the class worked in groups of four to identify and then figure out how to circumvent a barrier in getting to Mars. “How do we get there? We don’t even have
In 2015 Honors divided its curriculum into two parts: Core Honors, for entering first-year students, and Disciplinary Honors, for students who want to do Honors projects in their majors and colleges. Disciplinary Honors Programs are open to any undergraduates, not only those who have participated in Core Honors. Currently the University Honors Program offers Disciplinary Honors in a variety of areas, from Exercise Physiology to Chemistry to Nursing, and more programs are under development. One of the largest Disciplinary Honors Programs is Honors in Humanities, which encompasses English, History, Philosophy, Theology, and Languages, Literatures and Cultures.
For the students, the end-product of Honors in Humanities is a full, fleshed-out research project. Interested students in humanities majors take an introductory seminar in their sophomore year, in which they learn about interdisciplinary work across the humanities and the new field of public humanities and get introduced to some of the techniques of humanities research. In their junior year they find faculty mentors and put together project proposals, and during senior year they participate in a writing workshop with other members of the program, drafting and polishing their thesis. “The idea is to really support undergraduate research in the humanities,” said Dr. Kristen Foster, an associate professor of History and the director of Honors in Humanities.
"A history student could be doing research on the history of Milwaukee, while a philosophy student is researching how Kantian teachings relate to college athletics, and the two students are interacting, debating, and trading ideas with each other.”
“I love teaching and love the humanities,” Foster said, so when she got the chance to oversee the program, she jumped at it. “Honors in Humanities is unique. It’s the only one that has different departments in the same program. In part, it’s because we’re all asking similar questions about what it means to be human,” she said. So, a history student could be doing research on the history of Milwaukee, while a Philosophy student could be researching how Kantian teachings relate to college athletics, and the two students would be interacting, debating, and trading ideas with each other. “It’s a way to get us all in conversation about what kinds of questions we ask in our different disciplines,” Foster said.
Being a part of Honors in Humanities doesn’t only get students an honors cord at graduation, it offers them the chance to put their ideas in a larger context by interacting with students in
A senior Biochemistry and Philosophy honors student, Brian Martindale has been able to experience Milwaukee first-hand through his work with The Near West Side Partners, a non-profit organization founded in 2015 to revitalize Milwaukee’s Near West Side neighborhood through the support of five anchor institutions: Aurora Health Care, Harley-Davidson, MillerCoors, the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation, and Marquette University.
What exactly is The Near West Side Partners? Near West Side Partners focus on housing, safety, activating commercial corridors, and establishing neighborhood identity and branding through data-driven means.
What type of work did you do with them? My work primarily revolves around the annual resident survey that is distributed to residents of the neighborhood so that their opinions and needs can drive the work of the non-profit, not the other way around. In the fall, I go door-to-door throughout the neighborhood collecting surveys, and in the spring I help with data analysis of survey responses to look for trends that can inform initiatives Near West Side Partners undertakes.
What motivated you to get involved with The Near West Side? I heard about Near West Side Partners my first year at Marquette, and I was really impressed with the fact that the work is resident-driven through the survey. When there
"Go west of campus and explore. . . shop for second-hand items at Razed and Found, eat soul food at Daddy's, go bowling at Sander's Super Bowl.”
was an opportunity to volunteer and help distribute the survey, I signed up and was hired shortly after, and I have been with them ever since.
What was your favorite part about working with The Near West Side? I love getting to go out into the neighborhood, learn about all
getting to know the individual Voodoo practitioners on not only a research level, but as people making their way in the world with very particular perspectives. Though they were all dedicated to the same religion, they all have their own interpretations and interests related to Voodoo, and it was really fascinating to get to hear practitioners outline this in their own words.
What was your favorite part about New Orleans? My favorite part of New Orleans was the cultural diversity and how it manifested in the neighborhoods and local cuisine especially. There was always something to do, someone to talk to, or some food to try that I had never gotten the chance to try before.
How do you feel this experience has prepared you for the professional world? This experience helped me become more of a self-starter and taught me how to establish reasonable deadlines with little outside guidance because I was fully responsible for ensuring I got my work done. My work in New Orleans also taught me how to become more confident when meeting and communicating with new people, as I needed to get out of my comfort zone to find research participants; this helped embolden me to become a more confident networker.
the rockets right now. How do you live in space? Then, when you get to Mars, there’s nothing there. How would you live on that planet?” Kunz asked. At the end of the semester, students presented their problems and potential solutions in a sort of a science fair. Challenges the students tackled ranged from meteor showers and rocket berthing mechanisms to decreased immune function, depression, and the difficulties of showering in space. Kunz said that no two groups tackled the same problem, and the solutions they presented were all feasible in one way or another. “I’m proud that the students invest themselves into the course to the level that they have…the work that they put into these posters is impressive,” Kunz said.
“How do we get there? We don’t have the rockets. How do you live in space? Then, when you get to Mars, there’s nothing there. How would you live on that planet?”
Hasan Barakat, a senior studying Biomedical Engineering, described the class as “a low pressure way to explore something cool that's been a hot topic in the news lately, thanks to hype from SpaceX and whatnot. The class forced us to consider the numerous factors that make a Mars mission a difficult undertaking… There were a lot of factors that I hadn't considered before.”
Overall, the Mission to Mars seminar has been a wild success. The class, which has been taught in the fall semester for the past two years, has brought together Honors juniors and seniors from all over the University to investigate a topic they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. That, Kunz said, was something that he was proud of. Not only that, though. “It’s been fun. I’m proud that it’s still fun,” he said.
Check out the CBS58 coverage of last semester’s class here:
Kristen Foster, Director of Honors in the Humanities and Assoc. Prof of History
multiple disciplines. “The sense of community in there surprised me. They really enjoyed doing it,” Foster said about the writing workshops, “I think they were much better about opening up their work to other people’s criticism.” Foster also said that students who are a part of the program are more competitive in applications for graduate programs, internships, and research grants, since they gain the skills “to explain your position to someone who’s not coming from the same framework, which I think is a good skill.”
Angela Scavone, a senior in the College of Education with a second major in History, wrote an Honors thesis about campus safety at Marquette in the 1970s. “I loved being with people who were passionate about learning and sharing knowledge,” Scavone said. “It was really nice to have different perspectives and a supportive group of peers to bounce back ideas.”
Another reason that Foster believes Honors in Humanities is so meaningful is because it creates advocates for the humanities. “The humanities need strong voices to support them right now. It’s good for students all over campus to think about the purpose that the humanities serve in our culture… I love the idea that there’s a home for humanists who want other people to talk to and explore these questions with,” Foster said.
Honors in Humanities is just one of the (at this writing) eight Disciplinary Honors programs. While the experience that Dr. Foster spoke about was specifically about the humanities, the other Disciplinary Honors programs each provide students of those disciplines with similar experiences, challenging students and making them into better and stronger thinkers overall. Dr. Foster described the programs the best, saying “With the support of the seminars and the faculty, it puts students in the driver’s seat.”
the awesome things going on, and meet some of some of the incredible people who are our neighbors. Many students are worried about going west of campus, but the opportunity to get to know the people and places of that area has been a very fulfilling experience.
How do you feel like your experience with The Near West Side has shaped you personally? It has helped me to understand the importance of community. I have learned so much and been so inspired by getting into my community and meeting the people, businesses, and non-profits that make it great, and no matter where I end up after graduation I want to enter into that experience of community.
If people want to get involved with The Near West Side Partners, where should they go? First, they should go west of campus and explore some of the awesome places that are there - shop for second-hand items at Razed and Found, eat soul food at Daddy's, go bowling at Sander's Super Bowl, or volunteer with Neighborhood House. There is a student organization called CAMPus Impact that does a lot of exploring and service in the Near West Side that can help get people involved. In addition, there are usually a few jobs available each semester with the PARC team of Near West Side Partners through Marquette's Center for Peacemaking, so people can check Marquette's job board or stop in to ask about possible positions. For more information, visit their website