Oberlin College summer research around the globe

By Justine Goode - OC communications

More than 80 Oberlin College students are conducting research around the country and the world this year, with many projects funded by programs or fellowships.

Rising fourth-year Jenna Bellassai is using a Research Experience for Undergraduates to innovatively combine her English major and computer science minor. Bellassai is working as a programmer on the “Data-Driven Interactive Narrative Engine,” an interactive storytelling Web application being developed at the University of Southern California.

“DINE is like those ‘choose your own adventure’ books with a twist,” Bellassai said. “When you visit the website, the beginning of a story comes up, you type in what you would do next, and the story continues based on what you wrote.”

Bellassai is working on a part of the application that chooses what will happen after a user types something in, and collaborates with a team of six interns at the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC. Her day-to-day responsibilities include experimenting with unsupervised and supervised methods of text classification — “basically programming and testing out new ways for the site to decide what to do based on user input,” she said.

Emilie Lozier, a rising third-year, is working at the Otto Schott Materials Science Institute in Jena, Germany, running spectroscopic analyses on shards of stained glass from a 14th century church to help determine their chemical composition.

With its rich history in glass and optics, Jena is one of the world’s foremost hubs of optical research.

In addition to her everyday duties in the lab, which include taking measurements of the medieval glass shards using a UV-vis spectrometer, Lozier said she has greatly enjoyed getting to know the city. “This is my first time being abroad for such a long period of time, so unsurprisingly my life has become both exhausting and exciting,” she said.

Having taken only a semester of German at Oberlin, she admits the language barrier can sometimes be stressful, but after several weeks on the job, she is beginning to settle in.

Anthony Moaton, a rising fourth-year, is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. As part of his fellowship, he is conducting research at the University of Chicago’s Summer Research Training Program. This research will ultimately serve as his capstone for his individual major in performance studies.

Moaton’s project was inspired by his work as a Bonner Scholar, as he wanted to find a way to combine civic engagement with academics. He will work with youth in Oberlin through a local organization called the Oberlin Youth Project to develop a “Living Newspaper” for youth to share their concerns about their place in the Oberlin community.

“The Living Newspaper is a form of theater that was very popular during the Great Depression as part of the Federal Theater Project, the only time there was federally funded theater in this country,” Moaton said. “It allowed people of all backgrounds to be paid to research social issues, turn that research into a script, and perform the script for their communities.

“I want to examine how the process of doing that type of political performance will assist or hinder youth from gaining political power in a town that’s attempting to fix its town-college divide,” he said.

Other student research projects include studying the genetic disease congenital dyserythropoietic anemia type II, processing photos of bovidae skulls at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, working in the language and cognition lab at Stanford University, and helping build a muon (subatomic particle) detector to image the inside of the Santa Maria del Fiore dome in Florence, Italy.

Editor’s note: This piece was prepared by Oberlin College and has been edited for style and length.

By Justine Goode

OC communications