Hamline News

Relevant, Real, and Reaffirming

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Peter Elwell ’03 recently returned from Botswana. He spent two and half years there as a Peace Corps volunteer helping the government coordinate its HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and treatment programs. Roughly one-third of Botswana’s population is living with HIV/AIDS, Elwell said. While his experience as an international volunteer was life-changing, Elwell credits his years at Hamline for his readiness to take on the task.

“My time at Hamline really got me to Botswana,” he said. “When I came to Hamline, I didn’t go for the most marketable of degrees. I decided to study something that my heart was really in.” Elwell graduated with majors in social justice and religion. “My sole purpose in getting a liberal arts education was to gain a better understanding of the world at large and to learn how to be a better citizen of the world,” he said.

Elwell fulfilled his quest. A term paper he wrote in a sophomore social justice class inspired his senior honors project. “Just talking about social justice issues really overwhelmed me and I started to wonder how I would be able to maintain involvement in the issues over a long period of time,” he said. “Reading and talking about a problem actually becomes disempowering at a point. You spend all this time learning about the issue but never doing anything about it,” he said.

With guidance from professors Earl Schwartz and Deanna Johnson, Elwell created an oral history project. He interviewed twelve longtime community activists about their work, their inspiration, their downfalls, and their triumphs. He identified shared themes from each interview and discovered some key thought patterns activists use to help them sustain their enthusiasm for work in the social justice realm.

As his project progressed, Elwell applied for funding from Hamline’s collaborative research program. The program awards undergraduate students with stipends to help them pursue their individual research interests. Some students use the money to offset living expenses while they immerse themselves in their project; others use the funds to travel to national undergraduate conferences and present their work. Students participating in the program pair with a faculty advisor and attend weekly meetings where all recipients discuss their progress.

The collaborative research program pulls income from many sources. Since 1989, one of the program’s most reliable funding pools has been the Carol Young Anderson Endowed Fund for the Social Sciences. Each year, this fund alone provides grant monies to between four and six students.

Carol Young Anderson graduated from Hamline in 1946 and served eight years on Hamline’s Board of Trustees. When she and her husband, Dennis, who shares Carol’s commitment to higher eductation, started to think about settling their estate, including Hamline seemed like a logical choice. “Both my husband and I believe very strongly in getting an education and the importance of education,” she said.

“I really believe that students need to get out and away from campus,” Anderson said. She remembers an opportunity she had as an undergraduate social work student to serve as a case manager for two young boys. “Actually going out and having a small case load did as much for me as anything else at Hamline,” she said. “I only worked with two boys, but I got the feeling that I was their social worker.”

“Encouraging undergraduate research and scholarship is an integral part of Hamline’s mission, and we’re very grateful to have funds like this to help make it possible,” said Fernando Delgado, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Peter Elwell won funding from the Carol Young Anderson Fund to travel to two conferences during his senior year and present his oral history project. Monika Piotrowska was also awarded travel money from the fund. A philosophy major who graduated in 2003, Piotrowska attended an undergraduate conference in Portland, Oregon, and spoke about her research—an honors project that investigated whether or not antidepressants relieve mild mental health issues or add to them.

“Presenting at the conference was a really good experience,” Piotrowska said. “I learned to present my ideas in a precise manner and to think quickly on my feet. For example, if someone asked a question and I didn’t know the answer, I had to satisfy the question without distracting from the merits of my work.”

Now a graduate philosophy student at the University of Utah, Piotrowska is studying bioethics. She keeps in touch with David Owen, her faculty advisor, and is grateful for the opportunity to conduct research and attend a conference that Hamline provided.

“Now that I’m in graduate school,” she said, “I realize what a huge difference it’s made for me to have had this experience. Most students I meet here have never presented to an audience. They’ve never done extensive research projects or had to defend their work in front of others. For me, the whole experience really solidified my interests and reaffirmed what I’m capable of doing.”


By: Kelly Westhoff