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1,000 One-on-Ones

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60 percent of undergraduates pursue independent study under faculty supervision

Independent study is one of the distinct hallmarks of a Dartmouth education, with 60 percent of the undergraduate student body taking advantage of the opportunity. Dartmouth faculty direct more than 1,000 one-on-one independent studies with undergraduate students every year. 

Liana Chase '11, from South Salem, N.Y., and Peter Shellito '09, from Wellesley, Mass., are two students now engaged in one-on-one projects.

From New Hampshire to Nepal

Medicine is different, halfway around the world. Less than a year after entering Dartmouth, Liana Chase '11 found herself some 7,000 miles from Hanover, working with Sienna Craig, assistant professor of anthropology, in Nepal. During first-year orientation, Chase heard about Craig's interest in traditional Tibetan medicine, which meshed with her own. "I Blitzed her right away," Chase remembers. In winter term, Chase worked as Craig's research assistant. She made summer plans to do independent study, receiving funding from the First-Year Summer Research Project and the Dickey Center to explore how patients and their families draw on multiple coexisting medical systems in Darjeeling, India.

Chase
Liana Chase '11 conducts interviews about residents' health in Chongkar, a village in lower Mustang, Nepal. (Photo by Tshewang Norbu Lama)

However, political instability in the area forced Chase to move the project to Nepal. There, she contributed to Craig's study of how doctors who practice Tibetan medicine view the changing nature of their work. They explored topics such as the conservation of medicinal herbs, professionalism, methods of instruction, and the rising costs of producing and distributing herbal medicines among rural populations. With the professor's colleague Tshewang Norbu Lama, a program officer with the Himalayan Amchi Association in Kathmandu, Nepal, as translator, Chase conducted interviews for Craig in Kathmandu and Mustang, Nepal. For her own project, she interviewed homeopathic, biomedical, ayurvedic, and Tibetan practitioners.

Chase also traveled in Nepal with Norbu Lama, gathering "illness narratives" for her advisor. She stayed in villages, totally immersed in the local culture: "We would find our sources through our host families' connections, or by simply going out and asking residents, 'Do you have a story about when you or your family members were sick?'" She describes those interviews as deeply affecting and "distinctly different" from any experience she might have had as a tourist.

Chase was amazed by how much responsibility she was given. She says, "I was doing real anthropological field work." Chase expects to major in anthropology and psychology, and hopes to return to Nepal to research her senior thesis. She encourages fellow students: "There's nothing better for your academic experience than working directly with faculty. If you show some interest, they're ready to help."

Craig
Liana Chase '11 (left) and Assistant Professor of Anthropology Sienna Craig present Chase's work on medical pluralism in Nepal at the First-Year Summer Research Project panel/poster session. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Craig enjoys working with students like Chase. "The opportunities afforded both Dartmouth students and professors through experiences like the First-Year Summer Research Projects are unique," she says. "They allow motivated and focused young adults to learn in a way that expands and deepens what is possible in a classroom. As a professor, I value the opportunity to not only benefit from student assistance on ongoing projects, but also, in the best of circumstances, to watch a student's world expand in the process."

Downstream

Your eyes alone can tell you that a dam changes a river upstream: the deep pool of delayed water that a dam holds back is utterly unlike a free-flowing stream. But a dam's influence reaches downstream, too. How far? That's one of the questions that Peter Shellito '09 is pursuing in his senior thesis, in conjunction with his advisor, Professor of Earth Sciences Carl Renshaw.

Shellito
Professor of Earth Sciences Carl Renshaw (left) and Peter Shellito '09 in the short-lived-radioisotope laboratory, with a broad energy high-purity germanium detector. Shellito is using the machine to evaluate riverbed sediment samples as part of his honors thesis research. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Shellito's connection with Renshaw began with the coursework for his earth sciences major. A technique Renshaw discussed in a spring term 2008 hydrology course-using the decay of radioisotopes to track the retreat of a glacier-caught Shellito's attention.

Shellito is tracking the movement of sediment over time in three rivers by measuring levels of the naturally occurring radioactive isotope lead-210. Vermont's White River, which is undammed, is the project's control, the point of comparison for the regulated West River in Vermont and the Ashuelot River in New Hampshire.

"Peter's thesis research is part of our study of how the movement of sediment might provide a tool for determining how rivers are disrupted by dams, and how they recover," says Renshaw. "It's part of a team effort, which also includes research led by Frank Magilligan in the geography department." Identifying the place downstream where the sediment of a regulated river resembles that of an unregulated one, Renshaw explains, helps locate the place where other aspects of a river's ecosystem may be unaffected by the dam. "The sediment data we gather becomes a tool to understand the impact of a dam and, hopefully, manage a river in a sustainable way."

Shellito is headed, he thinks, for graduate school in earth sciences. "Hydrology interests me because unlike most geologic processes or climate change, surface water moves on a human time scale," he says. "I like the idea that I can learn enough to implement an intelligent, beneficial, and effective change to the environment."

He hopes to present his findings at a regional conference this spring. "What matters most for good independent study work is your advisor," Shellito continues. "You have to be comfortable asking questions, even ones that seem stupid. Professor Renshaw has been great."

The Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Office of Undergraduate Advising and Research oversees the allocation of up to $500,000 annually in funding to students engaged in faculty-mentored research through venues including the James O. Freedman Presidential Scholar Program, the Senior Fellowship Program, and leave term and senior honors thesis research projects. Additional offices and centers on campus providing funding for faculty-mentored student research include the First-Year Office, the Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, and a number of academic departments.

By KELLY SEAMAN

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/4/08