Every January, the normal rhythm of classes at New College gives way to the pursuit of the Independent Study Project. Students involved in ISPs spend most of the month researching and preparing papers and presentations on a single subject.
The ISP process accomplishes several goals. It trains students to conduct in-depth, independent research vital to completing their senior thesis. An ISP also supplements the regular curriculum, exposing students to new and innovative ways to learn, and encourages work-related experiences, such as internships.
ISPs are time-intensive. Students are expected to spend at least 40 hours a week on research and writing. A student must successfully complete three ISPs in order to graduate.
This January, there are nearly 400 ISPs being conducted under the watchful eyes of faculty advisers. Here’s a sample:
A Personal Journey
Third-year student Kaylie Stokes is traveling around Great Britain this month, interviewing family members for an oral history project. “I’ll be interviewing my great-grandparents (who are both in their 90s) my great-great-uncle, and my great-aunt and great-uncle,” she wrote in a blog.
She will transcribe the interviews and plans to create a multimedia presentation on her experience. She’s been preparing for her trip by studying interviewing techniques. “I’ve also been reading discussions about oral history as both the collection and creation of data, as well as oral history as a form of activism by giving a voice to those who are often excluded from historical documentation,” she said.
“Though I took an oral history tutorial this past semester as an intern for Sarasota County, it’s been really rewarding to go more in depth into some of the topics we touched on.”
Her project also received funds for her airfare from the Council of Academic Affairs, administered by the New College Student Alliance.
Follow Kaylie’s experience on our Tumblr blog.
Group takes on serious subject
Not all ISPs are solitary pursuits, nor are they limited to personal reflection.
Nine New College women are teaming up to tackle the issue of sexual violence on campus, with a goal of permanently changing the campus culture. During the ISP titled “Bystander Intervention,” the group will research models and systems in place at other colleges and develop strategies that will best work at New College. One of the main goals is to create an educational program for incoming first-year students.
The amount of work involved in such a project makes it well-suited for a team of participants, one of 20 group ISPs underway this month. First-year student Lauren Stewart said she appreciates the support of her team members. “It’s a heavy topic,” she said, adding it’s helpful “to have people help you decompress thoroughly.”
Emily Guinta, also a first-year, said younger students are drawn to group ISPs. “There’s more structure.” Being interested in the health care field, the topic was also a factor in Guinta applying for this project. “I wanted more experience with people dealing with sensitive issues.”
On a more personal level, she said many of the nine women in the group have either personally dealt with sexual assault or known someone that has. “We want to feel safe. We want our friends to feel safe.”
The ISP is lead by fourth-year student Cassandra Corrado, the president of VOX – Voices for Planned Parenthood – and is state-certified as an advocate for sexual assault victims. She’s also last year’s president of the New College Student Alliance.
During a previous ISP, she organized New College’s first Sexual Assault Awareness Month. She said the idea for this ISP came from experience with Title IX working groups. “We were looking at securing grants for sexual assault awareness training and realized the costs were out of reach.”
Examining Willpower, Self-Control
Bayta Levy, a fourth-year transfer student, said she began thinking about the subject of willpower and self-control while she spent a summer working with the U.S Forestry Service in Idaho. “It [The work] was a lot of hiking, swinging tools … lots of monotonous manual labor,” she said. She thought about what motivates people to do hard things. “What is it that keeps them going? It’s a question that impacts every facet of your life.”
Levy’s adviser, Catherine Cottrell, an assistant professor of psychology, said she’s looking forward to seeing what Levy will discover. She says Levy is inquisitive and has the gift of critical thinking. “She’s clearly engaged with the material,” she said.
While she’s only beginning her research, Levy has an idea about what she’ll discover. “I think [willpower] is entirely within yourself,” she said. Self-control becomes difficult when people lack focus. “Most people don’t know what they want to do. It makes it a lot harder to push yourself” toward goals.