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Haverford College

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Exhibit: Imbued with a Better Learning

As Haverford’s motto (“Not more learned, but imbued with a better learning”) enjoins, the college challenges students to combine deep inquiry with integrity and ethics. The work that they do enables them to develop mastery and critical understanding of issues, to contribute original ideas, to work in depth, and to put their learning into action. In their first year many students encounter research projects in which they follow their own interests, formulate questions, survey the scholarly literature, present their analysis to an audience, and write a paper with a well-argued thesis. In the sophomore and junior years, students gain greater knowledge, have a variety of experiences on campus and in the world, and develop advanced skills in research with greater facility in the use of databases, in laboratory practices, and in employing primary source material. In the senior year, students work on a capstone experience, whether a thesis, art exhibit, or musical composition, which is a culmination of research, learning, and a long, thoughtful, and deep engagement with issues.

Throughout their four years, students receive advice and support for research projects from faculty and librarians. In some cases students collaborate on research projects with faculty and publish results jointly. In the Global Terrorism Research Project, for example, directed by Professor Barak Mendelsohn, students created a contextual index and built a custom- designed database structure in order to present analyses of Al-Qaeda statements in detail. Their database and website allow researchers worldwide to see trends, make comparisons, and pinpoint shades of meaning.

The emphasis on student research is not a recent innovation at Haverford. Beginning in 1856 through 1893, seniors delivered speeches at graduation about subjects they had studied. The speeches we have preserved in Special Collections testify to the students’ deep familiarity with texts and their concern to make them meaningful to the graduation audience. Some speakers took the opportunity to address current issues with talks on the cause of poverty, the benefits of high speed travel, and in 1863 “The Uncertainty of the Future.” In 1897 all students wrote senior theses for an ethics class taught by President Isaac Sharpless. The students engaged in case studies of welfare and social institutions in the Philadelphia area based on site visits. Some of the organizations are familiar to modern readers, like Eastern Penitentiary and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, while others, like the House of Refuge intended to reform juvenile delinquents, open up avenues into American social history. Students continued to write senior theses through 1918 with the study of Philadelphia institutions giving way in 1899 to topics in all subject areas. Various academic departments reinstituted theses in the 1950s, and many copies from the 1960s to the present are preserved in library archives as well as in departmental collections.

For much of its history Haverford College awarded master’s degrees, and the various programs involved form a part of the story about research. Beginning in 1857 the college awarded master’s degrees for advanced study. The first recipient, Franklin Paige, wrote a thesis on intellectual education which was read aloud at a faculty meeting and considered “sound and able.” In the twentieth century there were also three special graduate programs with specific educational aims. The T. Wistar Brown Graduate School (1917-1927) trained teachers, social workers, and religious leaders. Graduates included twenty-seven women who received master’s degrees from this program, although the college did not admit a full class of undergraduate women until 1980. The Relief and Reconstruction Program (1943-1946) gave students (a majority of whom were women) an opportunity to learn about relief work while doing summer internships and writing master’s theses. Many of the graduates went to Europe to aid in post-war reconstruction work. The Social and Technical Assistance Program (1951-1956) addressed issues of economic development and political justice. Students had work-study experiences in the United States and around the world that contributed to their thesis projects.

The research experience–seeking, understanding, questioning, evaluating, and then formulating original ideas—widens students’ thinking and experience of the world. It puts them into dialog with ideas, texts, cultures and people. In looking at student research at Haverford across time, some themes appear consistently:

  • Depth of study, seriousness of purpose, and independence;
  • Impact on students by fostering interests that lead to life-long commitments;
  • Engagement with people, issues, and resources globally;
  • Service to others strengthened by research and reflection;
  • Connections with faculty and the curriculum.

The student research on exhibit here provides representative examples from a variety of departments and programs drawing upon recent projects as well as those that range across the college’s history. What work like the Global Terrorism Research Project and the 1897 case studies of welfare institutions have in common is in-depth study combined with an engagement in identifying needs and providing solutions.

The intersection of College Lane and Coursey Road in front of the Cricket Pitch.

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