Wilkinson students Prabhnoor Kaur (Art History, ‘20) and Michael MacInnes (History, ‘20) spent their final summer in college doing something most don’t: traveling  more than 2,000 miles from campus to do in-depth research..

Kaur and MacInnes participated in SURF—the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship—headed by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. These highly competitive fellowships span 8 weeks during the summer and fellows are expected to perform an average of 30 hours of research or creative activity per week during the SURF program. 

“It really confirmed for me that I want to do research because this is what I’m passionate about,” Kaur said. “It encouraged me to do better—to think about the ways in which I’m talking about what I’m talking about.”

“SURF really gives you the funds, the ability, and the time to work it all out and get [your work] to where you really want it to be,” said MacInnes, who included this experience in his resume. “Being able to do research is a skill that translates into a lot of different jobs or experiences later in life, like being able to think critically about information and being able to write about it.”

Prabhnoor Kaur (Art History, ‘20)

Kaur decided to investigate the history of violence and indentured labor in the West Indies. While researching artists that emerged out of the South Asian Diaspora, she came across a Denver-based artist, Suchitra Mattai, whose art focuses on the sugar industry in Guiana. With the guidance of Dr. Wendy Salmond and her SURF funding, Kaur flew to Denver to meet and interview Mattai, as well as view some of her work.

Prabhnoor Kaur plans her project with faculty

In the end, Kaur had a lot of independence over when and how she conducted her research. It instilled in her the confidence to host an immersive art exhibit rather than a research paper. Her exhibit featured colonial prints of indentured colonial women and a video Mattai supplied of the Middle Passage.

“I wanted to do something more experimental,” Kaur said in regards to changing this element of the project. “SURF really pushed me to think about how the form that I’m presenting my research in serves the content.”

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, MacInnes researched the topic of violence in a totally different way.

Michael MacInnes (History, ‘20)

MacInnes chose to do his project on political and ethnic violence in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. With the logistics of his trip planned with the help of Dr. Erin Mosely, MacInnes spent two-weeks in South Africa using SURF funding to visit archives and meet academics who could help him with his research. He spent the majority of his time digging into the archives, finding newspaper clippings and old ‘80s cassette interviews that covered the violence in the region. 

“At first it was kind of intimidating to be by myself, but once I started getting into the groove, I felt a lot more comfortable,” MacInnes recalled about the experience. “It’s completely different to go there and get a chance to experience the local culture and see the local sights while researching.”

Michael MacInnes presenting during last Fall’s student symposium

At the end of the program, MacInnes presented his findings at a student symposium this past December. He said that his SURF research has been instrumental in formulating his senior thesis, which he plans to complete at the end of the spring 2020 semester.

Both Kaur and MacInnes remarked on the sheer collaboration that the program provides. Kaur enjoyed speaking with other SURF fellows doing work that they were “really passionate about,” especially those engaged in political matters. MacInnes agreed, saying the program “gave me a good chance to meet other people doing research, even people who are completely on the other side of the academic spectrum from me.” MacInnes also added:

Representation of the humanities is always a good thing.

Are you interested in applying to become a SURF fellow? Fill out the SURF Application today, the deadline is February 24.

Wilkinson College also supports summer research, and interested students can fill out the Summer Undergraduate Student Research Grant Application, the deadline for students to apply is April 1.