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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carls pursue research over summer

<e classes ended in June, many Carleton students left Northfield to seek out experiences that would further enrich their lives this summer. Others did the same by staying put.

Many Carls spent their summer in Northfield working on research projects with professors and other students. The students probed the world aroundthem, asking a diverse array of questions and getting a chance to see the environment around Carleton in a new light.

While many students worked for specific departments, several of the projects being done around campus were independent research fellowships funded by the Carleton Quantitative Inquiry, Reason, and Knowledge Initiative (QuIRK). These projects typically attempt to answer humanities research questions using quantitative methods.

Evan Dusenberry ‘12, True Overholt ‘12, and David Williams ‘12 worked on a QuIRK-funded project that examined how cultural identity affects consumer habits.

“As Mexican immigrants move from one country to another, their culture changes from being entirely Mexican to an entirely American culture.” Williams said. “How this change affects their consumer behavior hasn’t been effectively studied, so we hoped to figure it out.”

The idea for the group’s project came from Overholt’s and Williams’s research on the “country of origin effect” for their psychology comps. Psychologists believe that the strongest trend that comes from the effect is for people to prefer products from their own country.

In their project, local Mexican immigrants viewed 18 advertisements of products from Mexico, the U.S., or Korea (which was used as a control country) and rated how much they liked the products and how willing they were to buy them. The respondents also filled out a questionnaire that answered how culturally American or culturally Mexican they were. The trio of students translated their surveys into Spanish with the help of English Professor Adriana Estill in order to accommodate for the low levels of English literacy among Northfield Mexican immigrants.

However, their research did not run as smoothly as expected. Many people were unwilling to be participants because of the lengthy surveys–Williams said that filling out a survey was often a “very foreign” experience to Mexican immigrants.
“Although our project didn’t turn out to be as successful as we’d hoped in the research domain,” Williams said, “it taught us a lot about conducting and was a valuable experience.”

Most of the non-QuIRK-related enterprises were done through academic departments. In the Computer Science department, three groups were conducting research. Michael Groeneman ‘12, David Long ‘13, and Laurel Orr ’13 built a website that analyzes news articles web users read and encourages them to use those articles to cite citations on Wikipedia. It was an undertaking that consisted of completing several complex task including downloading the entire revision history of Wikipedia even though no computer on campus could hold the five terabytes of text. In order to process the revision history, Orr used St. Olaf’s cluster computing system which allowed much more hard-drive space.

“Learning to work on large CS projects is something for which CS homework doesn’t really prepare you.” said Groeneman.
Much of the student research that came from the biology department utilized the unique local ecosystems found in the Carleleton Arboretum. Using long-term animal exclosures, Emily Rogers ‘13, Kelsey Ross ‘12, Erik VanDis ‘12, and George Wheeler ‘12 worked with Biology Professors Dan Hernandez and Mark McKone on an ongoing study of animal/plant interactions. Students may have noticed small fenced-off areas in the prairie in the Arb; these exclosures are built to exclude diffrent combinations of deer, voles, and rabbits, in order to examne the combined and individual effects of these species on thier environment. In addition, the McKone-Hernandez lab sampled 210 perminent vegitation plots, in an effort to better understand the phases of prairie restoration.

“My experience with Mark and Dan validated my love for ecology.” said Rogers.

Life in Northfield without classes was a change for the students but often a positive one.

“Some say it’s lonely, but I think it’s quite peaceful when the construction isn‘t being too loud,” said Anya Johnson ’12,  who worked with Computer Science Professor Sherri Goings on seeing how artificial life could evolve through altruism by a using a platform known as Avida . “The trick is to make sure you hang out with people a few times a week and otherwise just enjoy the lack of homework while still getting the Carleton atmosphere.”

Ellen Farnham ‘13, who worked on the Arb Crew, agrees that the city of “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment” can be better without all the formal aspects of college.

“It’s crazy to see how people change when they aren’t chained to their academic responsibilities 24/7 –I know I’m not only speaking for myself when I say I’ve met people here this summer that I would probably never have the chance to interact with during the school year.”

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