ASH Scholars Find Connections Through Research

ASH Scholars have presented their research to numerous audiences, including recently during MU’s Undergraduate Research Week.

Students in the arts, social science or humanities (ASH) disciplines have the opportunity to join a faculty-led research team at the University of Missouri. Jointly supported by the Honors College and Office of Undergraduate Research, the ASH Scholars program currently has four areas of study. Each study area consists of 10 to 12 students.

Linguistics and English
Those pursuing linguistics or English can join Documenting Luuyia, a project that aims to record and document three Luuyia languages, which are spoken in Kenya. The team is creating dictionaries and sound guides for future linguists working in the field. They are also compiling oral story collections.

Students within the team have presented their research at the State Capitol. Eventually, the team hopes to reconstruct a proto-language – a hypothetical undocumented parent language from which actual languages are derived* for Luuyia.

Amanda Newbold, a sophomore linguistics major from Boonville, Missouri, wanted to do research in the field she was pursuing. She says she’s had an enjoyable experience doing research as an ASH Scholar.

“I think the most interesting thing is, in order to do the specific work that I do, I meet with native speakers of the languages that I’m working on,” Newbold says. “I feel like it’s not something I would have experienced at any other time. I really enjoy the work that we do.”

Language extinction is a pressing issue for linguistics. While the Luuyia languages the team studies aren’t endangered, documenting languages is crucial.

“Language revitalization is an important aspect of a lot of linguistic research,” Newbold says.

Chaeli Rule, a senior from Nebraska, came to the University of Missouri for the linguistics program. She currently works on the Historical Linguistics sub-team of Documenting Luuyia. She wouldn’t have known about the program if it hadn’t been for a professor.

“I took a course with Dr. (Michael) Marlo my freshman year and he sent me an email that summer just saying ‘I think you would be a good fit for this team, you should apply,'” Rule says. “It was scary, just because I had no idea what they did. But I was like, ‘I might as well.'”

Marlo is an associate professor of English and affiliated faculty within the Honors College.

Rule credits the program and the research she’s done with Documenting Luuyia for giving her opportunities she wouldn’t have otherwise.

“In the project that we did last year, everyone had to present their research at Undergraduate Research Week. And we got invited to the Humanities Symposium, which was really, really cool. We also applied to the annual conference on African linguistics, and our work was presented there, which was really, really cool,” Rule says. “I’m going to graduate school next year; I’m going to be a PhD student, and I would not have been able to do that without this experience, so it’s opened a lot of doors for me.”

Another team within the ASH Scholars program is Minority-Focused News as a Locus of Empowerment, which draws students interested in communications. This team reviews news outlets and codes their articles (not to be confused with computer programming), with mainly minority audiences. The team codes articles by analyzing how people groups are portrayed, specifically in terms of ethnicity and picking traits each character, or person in a story, is given.

Brandon Ford, a senior from Lebanon, Missouri, runs the team meetings and has been with the project for four years now.

“We’re examining just whether news sites for a minority-focused audience are actually tools for empowerment and improving self-esteem and group-esteem,” Ford says.

Tanner Smith, a sophomore communications major from Shawnee, Kansas, has been involved in the ASH Scholars for two years.

“The end goal is to better understand some of these minority-focused news sites and be able to publish this research because there’s not a lot of research on the effect of minority-focused news sites and their portrayals currently in academia,” Smith says.

Smith says they’re usually given about 20 articles per session of work. During the team’s weekly meetings, Ford tries to make sure every coder is processing articles in the same way, to keep data consistent. The coding process takes place through a survey and covers a wide swath of questions.

“What’s the title of the article? What’s the date of the article? How many paragraphs are in the article? Then it gets into more the variables we’re looking for, which is, you know, is this a positive or negative story? Are there any stereotypical themes within the story?” Ford says. The coders go on to determine how each character is portrayed and characterized.

The team has presented their research to lawmakers and MU administrators at the State Capitol.

Within the team, relationships have been fostered. Ford, who has known his ASH mentor for all four years, shouts out Chris Josey, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Communication and affiliated faculty within the Honors College, and celebrates his teammates.

“Dr. Josey wants me to know about all these amazing research opportunities and has been a real big advocate for me,” Ford says. “I really enjoy working with my teammates. They’re really awesome.”

Smith had plans for law school in the future, but his work with the ASH Scholars changed his mind.

“I have loved doing this and found it very rewarding,” Smith says. “Now, my plan is I’ll probably go to graduate school and continue in communication, and continue doing research like this, and hopefully become a professor in the future.”

Psychology and Visual Studies
The final two teams, Close Relationships and Art of Death, focus on psychological sciences and visual studies, respectively.

Art of Death is exactly what it sounds like – the team looks at the way art portrays death, across history and cultures. In 2020, the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology hosted an exhibit compiled and created by students, all focusing on morbid art. Jarrod Russo, a then-senior, wrote about his research experience in an article for the Undergraduate Studies website.

Students need not be in the Honors College to apply for ASH Scholars.

*Definition sourced from Oxford Languages.