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The Grammys? The Oscars? Try the Calverts

By BTL on March 11, 2013 11:33 AM | Permalink

The Lance and Elena Calvert Undergraduate Research Award challenges students from diverse academic disciplines to think outside the box, develop research skills, follow guidelines, seek mentorships, and dream big.

The Lance and Elena Calvert Undergraduate Research Award recognizes originality and sophistication in student research projects. Award winners demonstrate strong library research skills, adept use of library resources, and thoughtful reflection upon the strategies they used to investigate a research problem.

A secondary mission of the award is to spare stellar pieces of undergraduate scholarship from slipping into the abyss of lost or unknown works. The Calvert Award has saved many valuable projects from this dismal fate, among them work by students studying engineering, political science, history, psychology, anthropology, and environmental studies. Students of any discipline, and at any point in their undergraduate careers, may apply for the award. The common element all winning projects share is attention to the research process itself.

Liaison librarians who work with students in the subject disciplines connect students with quality information resources. On a daily basis, students present them with challenging questions, but librarians rarely get to see the final product of their efforts. This award allows the entire UNLV community to see how student learning has been shaped by engaging with library collections and resources, with the added benefit of showcasing the best research done by undergraduates here at UNLV.

The Undergraduate Research Award was first established in 2006 by the University Libraries and has since been endowed by Lance and Elena Calvert, who have committed themselves to sustaining it. Because of their generosity, winners are awarded up to $1000 in prize money and are eligible to have their work showcased in Digital Scholarship@UNLV, a research repository primarily reserved for faculty and graduate student work.

While these prizes are noteworthy, the real purpose and value of the competition is its impact on student learning. As part of the UNLV Libraries mission, librarians teach students research and evaluation techniques to utilize information effectively. Librarians frequently work with students as they wrestle with the joys and frustrations of the research process. They host workshops, visit classrooms, and design guides to aid students as they tackle their research inquiries. Liaison librarians also consult with students one-on-one and offer assistance with designing research methods, and navigating the realms of the print and digital materials.  

The value of the competition does not end there. According to Anne Zald, Head of Educational Initiatives, who coordinates the contest:

“Students who participate in independent research have an experience that goes beyond attending classes, compiling credits, and meeting degree requirements. It pulls together all those elements – the knowledge gained in classes, the time management skills gained through juggling school work and life, and the critical thinking skills required to push past a surface level understanding of disciplinary content and concepts.  These students have the opportunity to understand not only how to do research, but why it is important to ask and rigorously investigate original questions.” 

Meet Emylia Terry whose research project, Christine Jorgensen and the Media: Identity Politics in the Early 1950s Press, won the award in 2012. She is currently a senior in the Honors College, majoring in Psychology, History, and Women’s Studies. Upon graduating, she plans to apply to joint PhD/JD programs.

Emylia names winning the Calvert Award one of her “most significant accomplishments,” elaborating that it helped her learn to skillfully incorporate a wide array of the Libraries’ resources into scholarly research. She said:

“Knowing how to find and utilize source material is a vital skill to have, and I believe that the Calvert Award motivates students to make connections, form relationships, and gain research experience. It greatly helped me to hone my time management skills.”

While the UNLV Libraries receives dozens of submissions each year, only a select few reach the level of quality worthy of the award. Emylia found herself among this elite cohort because she identified goals and disciplined herself to work steadily toward them. She explained, “Since my history capstone paper was due a little after the Calvert Award deadline had passed, my goal was to complete my research and drafts relatively early.”

When asked what set her apart from competitors, she stressed the need to maintain open communication with her support network, which included her mentor, library faculty and staff, peers, as well as historians within the community. Librarians assisted her with contacting local historians about their own research, which further rounded out her exposure to the processes and networks of professional history research. The constant support and guidance from librarians, historians, professors, and peers, Emylia argued, “was the strongest part of my research project.”

Beyond support from librarians and local historians, Emylia’s mentor Dr. Marcia Gallo played a vital role throughout the entire research and submission process. As a required component of the award application, students must be endorsed by a faculty member through a letter of support. In addition to the faculty who serve as mentors and advise students as they frame their research questions, faculty volunteers from many different departments oversee the submission process and judge the competition.

Dr. Gallo acknowledged that Emylia’s time management skills were vital to her success, as was her creative and inquisitive mind. “She never held her questions back.” She continued, “Not everyone can produce work like this. I am really very proud of Emylia. She found success because she was eager, willing, and approached the work with a creative mind.” Most importantly, Dr. Gallo noted that Emylia was enthusiastic and patient throughout the drafting and revision process. She remained responsive to criticism and made clear that her primary goal was to produce the highest quality work possible. “Being able to rework phrasing and integrate such colorful sources into the work can be difficult and Emylia accomplished it,” she concluded.

Anne Zald continues to promote this contest each year because she is committed to furthering the information literacy of students. “I encourage students at all levels of their education to recognize the research that they are doing for class can be more than just a course assignment,” she asserted. “I want students to have an audience for their research and to think about writing for someone other than the instructor of that one course. I want students to recognize the impact they can have by seriously taking part in research.”

Already, Emylia Terry’s work can be found in Digital Scholarship@UNLV when searching for her research subject area on the web. It has been accessed 101 times since being uploaded and released to the public last May, demonstrating that her participation truly has provided her a head start in realizing her dream of becoming a professional historian.

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