Skip to Content

University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

Three students win Undergraduate Research Awards

May 2, 2012 7:19 AM
Congratulations to graduating seniors Caroline Porter, Rebecca Krumel and Sonja Berling, winners of this year’s University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research. Top prize winners Porter, far left in the photo, and Krumel, far right, received $500 each; Berling, center, received honorable mention and $300. A short awards ceremony and reception was held in their honor in Thomas Cooper Library on April 30.

The University Libraries Award for Undergraduate Research rewards excellence in undergraduate use of library resources and services, and demonstrates the contribution of the Libraries to student learning. It highlights the value of information literacy by requiring students to describe their research process as part of the application procedures, and encourages faculty to create assignments that engage students in the use of library resources.

Even though this year’s winners had remarkably diverse topics -- ranging from flamenco dance to cross-dressing in fiction to Chilean cinema -- all three demonstrated a willingness to tackle difficult material and great enthusiasm for the research process.

Porter, who is from Charleston, S.C., will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in English. Her winning project was a senior thesis entitled, “Clothing Swap: Cross-Dressing and Gender in Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Writing,” which explores the theme of disguise and gendered self-presentation in writing by nineteenth-century women.

“I had never used so many sources,” Porter said of her project. “I spent a good deal of time in the library, and I used the Oxford English Dictionary a lot. I had done the work for Dr. Katherine Adams’ English class, and to enter the contest I wrote an essay exploring my research process, added a bibliography, and then asked my professor to write a recommendation letter for my project.”

The project grew out of work in Adams’ course on U.S. women writers in fall 2010.

“Caroline conducted original research on a nineteenth-century edition of a children’s book by Lydia Sigourney,” Adams wrote in her recommendation letter. “Her presentation of that research has since become part of the online version of the Hollings Library Rare Books and Special Collections exhibit, ‘Beyond Domesticity.’ It also caused Caroline to develop an interest in practices of authorial masking in nineteenth-century women’s writing. She requested recommendations for further reading, and started investigating a host of issues related to cultural identity, authorship, and disguise. . .Her work with Thomas Cooper Library’s article databases was especially important in teaching her how to acquire familiarity with a scholarly conversation, integrate it with her ideas, and contribute to it with her own confident critical voice.”

Krumel, who is from Cedar Crest, New Mexico, will graduate in May with two bachelor’s degrees: one in dance performance and one in English. Her winning project, “Roots of Flamenco: An Introduction to Flamenco Music and Culture,” was based on the research she conducted for a paper in Dr. Mila Parrish’s Dance 310 course.

“During a year abroad, I briefly traveled to Spain and saw a street performer dancing flamenco. It was the most moving dance experience I had ever had, and I wanted to know everything about flamenco dance,” she said. “Through my research, I began to make discoveries that opened up a minefield of information about this rich and complex art form.” She used a wide range of sources from the library, including film, music and books.

“In the spring of 2011, Rebecca enrolled in my Dance Analysis and Criticism course, where she embarked on a synthesis project to research, produce and perform a dance reconstruction on Flamenco dance,” wrote Parrish in her recommendation letter. “Her reconstruction process began by looking at culture and geography as related to social traditions and rhythmic structures of Flamenco dance. Rebecca’s work has raised the bar in scholarship, engagement, organization, and detail. Her comprehensive understanding of English literature and writing, and dance technique as applied to dance ethnography and performance, supply an uncommon combination of embodied scholarship.”

Berling, who is from Charlotte, N.C., will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Her winning project was a senior thesis titled, “Discourse Practices in Chilean Cinema: The social and political functions of language in cinema regarding the 1973 coup d’état in Chile.”

“My thesis about Chilean cinema and collective memory combines insights from both visual and linguistic anthropology,” Berling said. “All the research I’ve done has been with materials from Thomas Cooper Library. Amy Trepal in Educational Films helped me with accessing films that I used in the research.  She helped me search for films about Chile in Spanish, which was a very specific area.”

Dr. Jennifer Reynolds, a faculty member in anthropology, oversaw Berling’s project.

“I required Sonja to first do some exploratory searches within different literatures to see which area of inquiry would be the most productive for her to follow,” Reynolds wrote in her recommendation letter. “Her next task was to identify and preview appropriate films held within Thomas Cooper Library’s archives. After she had narrowed down her topic and identified a feasible research question, she then conducted an extensive search, tracking down key sources that would enable her to flesh out the historical and socio-political contexts shaping the production, circulation, and reception of the films under study. In fact, she found some primary sources that surprised me and significantly enriched her project. I am very proud with what she was able to accomplish; she certainly would not have been able to do this project without the University’s extensive film collections and journal sources.”

To be eligible to win the USC Libraries’ Undergraduate Research Award, applicants must be a USC undergraduate at any class level in any discipline. Requirements include a 500- to 700-word-essay describing the research process and use of library collections, resources, and services, and a letter of support from a supervising faculty member.

A panel of USC faculty and librarians judges entries based on the submitted project, research essay, and bibliography. The panel is interested in the quality of the project, and evidence of the applicant's research process and personal learning. Winning entries will demonstrate an applicant's exceptional ability to discover, select, evaluate, and synthesize information in the creation of a project in any media exhibiting sophistication, originality, or unusual depth or breadth in the use of library collections and services. This year’s panel was made up of five USC library faculty members: Marilee Birchfield, Amy Edwards, Gary Geer, Jeffrey Makala and Sharon Verba.

For more information about the award, go to