Broadening Horizons

More than 50 Andrews University students and faculty attended the 118th annual Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters Conference at Alma College in Alma, Mich. on March 2, 2012. Many students presented their own research at the conference, others presented jointly with their professors, and a few attended simply to gain the experience.

The University annually brings students to the MASAL conference, but according to Gary Burdick, associate dean of research, twice as many students presented than in past years. Two of the presenting students were designated Earhart Emerging Scholars: Sarah (Gane) Burton and Kristina Penny. They sat down to talk about the scholarship, their research and future plans.

FOR: What are Earhart Emerging Scholars, and how did you become one?

KP: My teachers nominated me, and at the time I didn’t really know it was a scholarship. For my job, I fill out and sign a lot of papers, so when they gave me the forms I signed them but didn’t realize until later that it was a scholarship.

SG: Last fall, I presented my research at a symposium in conjunction with the Madaba Plains Project, and two months later I got the Michigan Academy notification. The award covers all our expenses registering for and traveling to the conference, as well as a $725 award, and requires that we attend and present our research.

FOR: Describe the research you presented. Did you work with a professor or did you choose your own topic?

SG: My research, overseen by Kristin Witzel and Øystein LaBianca, grew out of an undergraduate research assistantship to Dr. LaBianca in the spring of 2011. I’m exploring national identity in Jordan, especially the effects of Palestinian immigrants on concepts of national identity. Jordan itself is a relatively new state, created in the early 1900s, and has quite successfully begun creating its own identity. Jordanian national identity celebrates tribalism, which is essentially finding one’s identity in a tribe rather than a nation or ethnicity. The problem they’re having now is that with the influx of Palestinians, a more agricultural people, what does it mean to be Jordanian?

When I was in Jordan two summers ago, I conducted interviews with Jordanians and Palestinians—five Jordanians and three Palestinians, and interacted with many more that didn’t want to be interviewed. There hasn’t been much case-study research since 2003, which is surprising since a lot has happened in the Middle East since then.

KP: I also worked in Jordan, documenting the work of the Jordan Field School with Patrice Jones, assistant professor of communication. Our project was an exposé on what’s happening in the Jordan Field School. The Field School prides itself on involving many different departments—archaeology, architecture, art and communication just to name a few. Each department is conducting a different project, and architecture’s current project is to design and construct a Visitor Center at Tall Hisban. Part of our project was to do some ethnography and find out what the community needed from the Center—asking questions like, “If there were a center, would you go? What would you need it to do? What about your culture do you not know or would like to find out?”

So we were there for two reasons—to help the ethnographers capture on film the stories that were useful, and also to gather footage that would promote the site once it’s done. The Field School is a long-term project, and they not only need students to come, but they also need to let the local community and the community at home know about the project. The end result was a film about the Jordan Field School, called “Digging Deep, Building Up, and Reaching Up” that highlighted three different departments and their work through the Field School.

The second part of my research, which is probably more what I’m getting the scholarship for, is primarily the development of a website for the Jordan Field School ( We were also working with Edwin Burke on an iPad app and a virtual tour of the site, which was what a lot of the footage was used for.

FOR: What got you interested inthese projects?

SG: I chose my project because of a conversation I’d once had with two Jordanians. I asked them if there could be such a thing as a Palestinian Jordanian. One said no, and the other, who was younger and had more experience with the West, said yes. I was very interested in the difference of opinion.

FOR: Sarah, what did you discover in your research?

SG: In general, the celebrations of Jordanian tribalism make the Palestinians feel excluded, since they are not natively tribal, but a more agricultural people. The Palestinians I interacted with feel that Jordanians are prejudiced and treat them as second-class, and don’t allow them to get good jobs or to participate in government. On the other hand, Jordanians feel that Palestinians, who actually hold some government positions, are usurping those positions. They believe that Palestinians only want a Jordanian passport and papers. But most importantly, Jordanians are afraid that Palestinians, who have no state of their own and whose identity is now largely centered on displacement, will try to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state.

FOR: Kristina, you described your research as “non-traditional.” In what way is it nontraditional?

KP: My research is “non-traditional” in the sense that traditional research is going into the field, getting something, and bringing it back for study. My field is journalism, and that is research—uncovering the history of a place, finding a source for an interview, conducting interviews, that sort of thing. Journalism is research and reporting. So my project isn’t traditional research, but it’s supporting the effort of research—more creative scholarship, in a sense. We’re saying, “this is what people have been finding; no one knows about it and we need to figure out a way to make that happen.”

FOR: So now you’ve both got what sounds like extensive field experience and experience doing research. How has this affected your professional development?

SG: I’m actually not going into this area, but I now have a permanent obsession with identity. The topic comes up a lot in systematic theology [her area of interest], in relation to the “other.” A lot of theologians are beginning to dialogue with anthropologists, and I realize that my research can be applied to many areas of interest.

Doing the research itself has given me a chance to learn a lot more about my areas of research, and see what it was like to do fieldwork. When you’re the person doing research and not just learning about someone doing research, it’s very enlightening. You begin to recognize the sense and the logic behind the methodologies.

KP: The chance that research provided for me to go to another country is really big, and I wouldn’t have had it if not for the undergraduate research program and my teachers. I didn’t know there were research avenues for the things I wanted to do already—journalism, documentary making, website writing, all of that.

Working abroad is a big thing for a journalist, because it proves that you can interact with people, gain sources and do research. The awards that have come out of the research— from the Society of Adventist Communicators for example—always help professionally.

Editor’s note: Following the MASAL Conference, Focus on Research writer Samantha Snively learned she became the third recipient of the Earhart Emerging Scholar award.

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