ASH Scholars Program Promotes Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities

An individual watching a projector screen
The ASH Scholars Program has led to ongoing research opportunities for undergraduate students at the University of Missouri involved in the arts, social sciences and humanities (ASH) disciplines. For example, the Art of Death research project is focused on normalizing conversations about death and dying through the lens of artistic production. Photo courtesy of Katina Bitsicas.

A unique collaboration between the University of Missouri Office of Undergraduate Research and the MU Honors College has led to an ongoing research opportunity for undergraduate students involved in the arts, social sciences and humanities (ASH) disciplines.

The ASH Scholars Program began in 2016 and has continued to grow over the years, including bringing in a new team this year. With the addition of the Santa Fe Trail research project, the ASH Scholars Program now features five teams that research a variety of topics.

“The goal was to replicate the benefits of working in a team like science laboratories do – but in the arts, social sciences and humanities,” said Linda Blockus, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “Oftentimes, undergraduate research and scholarship in these disciplines consists of a single student meeting with their advisor, without the interaction with other students. In science labs, the members work together on common problems, spending time bouncing ideas off each other, discussing results, and learning techniques and research skills from more experienced team members.

“With the multi-year approach to ASH Scholars, students can be involved in an ongoing, team-oriented project for potentially four years, growing from an inexperienced first-year student to a seasoned upperclassman who takes on a leadership role in the group.”

ASH Scholars receive a $3,000 scholarship, disbursed in four equal parts over the academic year. While the Honors College plays an important role in the program, students do not have to be pursuing the Honors Certificate to participate. Students of all academic majors and grade levels are invited to get involved.

Each ASH team consists of eight to 12 undergraduate students who work closely with faculty mentors on an established research project. The ASH teams are:

“The ASH Scholars Program is one of the best kept secrets at Mizzou,” said Catherine Rymph, dean of the Honors College. “The program provides opportunities not often available to students in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Students get so much out of the experience, working over several years on team research with the dedicated faculty who lead these teams. ASH students have numerous opportunities to take on leadership roles and have presented their work at national and international conferences, been listed as authors on publications, and received fellowships for graduate study. No matter what they move on to after graduation, they benefit from the skills they develop as part of these collaborative research teams.”

Brandon Ford presenting his research
ASH Scholars have the opportunity to share their work with a variety of audiences. Brandon Ford, a recent Mizzou graduate, presented at the State Capitol last year. Ford was part of the Minority Focused News as a Locus of Empowerment team. Photo courtesy of Linda Blockus.

The team aspect is one of the most vital parts of the program. Students oftentimes bring in different skillsets, allowing for a great mix of experiences. Many students also join as freshmen or sophomores, meaning their project tasks grow each year. Students generally start with data collection and move into data management roles. Eventually, they have the opportunity to present their work at conferences and forums, including to a public audience during Show Me Research Week, where all ASH team members present.

“The ASH Scholars Program really allows for team members to draw on each other’s’ strengths,” Blockus said. “Research projects are also seldom complete in nine months – it builds on prior findings and may veer off in new and exciting directions. With the security of multiple years of funding, ASH teams have been able to launch multi-year projects. That extended time allows students to develop skills, build confidence, establish a supportive peer community and assume leadership roles.”

While students benefit from the hands-on nature of the work, the faculty leads have also enjoyed being part of the program. Each research project that the ASH teams are participating in was born out of ongoing work from at least one of the current faculty leads.

“We’re blessed to have this program at Mizzou,” said Chris Josey, an associate teaching professor of communication at MU and one of the faculty leads of the Minority Focused News as a Locus of Empowerment team. “It’s great to have leadership who is committed to what we’re doing. The work that each team is doing is valuable. I think it’s one of the coolest programs on campus, and it’s inspired me to get more involved with undergraduate research. I want to help students find these outstanding experiential learning opportunities.”

“It can definitely be tough as faculty are oftentimes spread very thin,” added Amanda Rose, a professor of psychological sciences and one of the leads of the Close Relationships team. “It’s tough to take on another project; however, it’s so rewarding to help the students find their passions. Plus, our ASH teams contribute so much to MU’s overall research portfolio. We all benefit at the end of the day.”

Learn more about each of the ASH teams:

Art of Death

  • Katina Bitsicas, assistant professor of visual studies
  • Debora Verniz, assistant professor of architectural studies

The main goal of this innovative and interdisciplinary research project is to normalize conversations about death and dying through analysis of public structures and memorials through the lens of artistic production. The strategies for achieving this overall goal include generating creative projects that explore death and dying utilizing new media tools such as virtual reality, projection mapping, augmented reality and video art.

Close Relationships

  • Amanda Rose, professor of psychological sciences
  • Ashley Groh, associate professor of psychological sciences

This research teams pursues knowledge related to the science of close relationships. They approach the study of relationships from a lifespan perspective, with a primary focus on childhood and adolescence. The research studies include friends and family members. They are interested in how youths’ interactions with close relationship partners shape their development and emotional adjustment.

Collaborative Research in African Languages (CORAL)

  • Michael Marlo, associate professor of linguistics
  • Rebecca Grollemund, assistant professor of linguistics

The purpose of the CORAL team is to contribute to research in African linguistics at the University of Missouri. The CORAL team currently has two main strands of research in the study of African languages that are connected to one current grant and one prior grant from the National Science Foundation. 

Minority Focused News as a Locus of Empowerment

  • Chris Josey, associate teaching professor of communication
  • Julius Riles, associate professor of communication

The Minority Focused News team investigates the manners in which news websites and streaming platforms that serve under-represented and marginalized populations provide a prosocial benefit to society. Historically, they have analyzed the content present on these sites and presented at local, regional and national conferences. The team has recently branched out to examine the cognitive benefits these sites provide marginalized and under-represented groups and other forms of social identity content (e.g., streaming platforms).

Santa Fe Trail

  • Jay Sexton, professor of history
  • Kyle Jackson, research fellow of history

The objective of this team is to excavate historical data and narrative concerning the Santa Fe Trail. The second objective is to communicate the importance of the trail to public audiences.