Heather McConnell ’17 saw the Mellon Summer Scholar program as a way to combine many of her varied passions. As a Music Performance major with a history minor, she saw it as an opportunity to develop a research project combining her academic fields with her personal interests in Anne Boleyn and feminism. Heather looked at musical compositions about Anne Boleyn from different time periods and examined what the pieces conveyed to the audience. This gave her an opportunity to examine women’s rights through those periods, as the way Anne was portrayed in each piece depended largely on how women were viewed in society at the time.
Heather will be presenting her final project at Celebration ’16, but the research process was not an easy one. She explains “You become so buried in [the research]. It is so helpful to have someone come from the outside…to bring a fresh perspective.” Speaking of her faculty mentor, Professor Marta Robertson of the Sunderman Conservatory of Music, Heather says she was given great advice on working through writer’s block to develop a “clear, concise academic paper that others are going to be able to understand.” Professor Robertson encouraged her to talk and to ask and answer specific questions about the research in order to accomplish that important goal.
As valuable as this advice was for Heather, Professor Robertson also benefitted from coaching Heather through the writing process. She coaches academic professionals in this way, and enjoyed the opportunity to support younger writers throughout the summer. She used Facebook to create a learning community with Heather and the other students doing research through the summer. They shared weekly goals and checked in with one another to offer support. “Writing can be such a lonely or singular thing” explains Professor Robertson, and she thinks it is really valuable to find other people struggling with the same issues. Through being a faculty mentor, she really enjoyed the opportunity to provide this learning community to Heather and the other scholars.
Through the mentorship experience, Professor Robertson also learned that she really enjoys working individually with students outside of the typical classroom in an advising role. “I love to think about the process and not just the product” explains Professor Robertson, and she had the opportunity to do just that as she focused on just one student over the summer and worked closely with Heather at all stages of the research process without the need to put a grade on the project in the end, an experience she describes as an “unusual luxury.”
To sum up her experience as a faculty mentor, “…in a way I gave a piece of myself to Heather to take out into her brilliant career in the future, and that feels good,” says Professor Robertson. Taking all of the advice given by her mentor, Heather is proud of the project she will be presenting at this year’s Celebration. To her, the event is “an opportunity to see what each [student on campus] has been working on, and spending so much blood, sweat, and tears on, that no one else knows about…until that moment.”