Get with the Program: Why I loved being a Summer Scholar

The International Relations program boasts highly engaged students who possess a diverse set of experiences. Every summer, our IR majors and minors prove this through their participation in study abroad, summer classes, and internships. To recognize their accomplishments, and serve as a resource for current and future IR students, Hawk International will be highlighting our student’s summer activities throughout the month of August.

Next up, is rising junior Chelsea Smith!

 Chelsea Smith, International Relations and History Major, 2020

            When people ask me what I did over my summer break they are usually expecting to hear about an amazing vacation I took to Hawaii or horror stories from months spent as a summer camp counselor.  This year, they have been shocked to find that I spent my summer writing a 35-page paper on the transformation of Russia’s national identity. Watching them attempt to formulate an appropriate response to that declaration has been almost as satisfying as finishing my summer scholars project. Almost.

As anyone who has ever had to go through the research process knows, there is almost nothing so satisfying as finally, mercifully, completing that paper.  Closing the dozens of tabs which have occupied my laptop screen for the past eight weeks was easily more exciting than any Christmas morning I’ve ever experienced. Grueling as it was, I could not be more thankful for the experience of being a summer scholar. I am now headed into the next semester better equipped to tackle the research process in the future and more confident in my own abilities as a student, writer, and researcher.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Summer Scholars program, it is an opportunity open to all students at Saint Joseph’s University which provides them with a generous stipend to pursue a project of their own design for the duration of the summer. I repeat: Summer Scholars is open to all students at Saint Joe’s, regardless of their major.  However, in order to apply, students must have a faculty mentor. Think of them as the Jedi Master to your young Padawan.  They are there to advise you for the duration of your project and will probably meet with you at least once a week to touch base. I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Lisa Baglione as my faculty mentor. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of working with Dr. Baglione, having her as your mentor, especially on a project pertaining to Russia, is equivalent to being personally trained by Yoda. (And if that makes me Luke Skywalker in this scenario I fully embrace it). I could not have asked for a better mentor. She sets a very high bar, but will do anything in her power to help you attain it. I can honestly say that the summer scholars experience would not have been nearly as rewarding, for me personally, without her guidance.

Dr. Baglione’s book “Writing a Research Paper in Political Science.” IR/POL students who are lucky enough to learn research methods from Dr. Baglione use and love this helpful guide!

Another really incredible aspect of the summer scholars program is the opportunity it affords for students to interact with and grow from one another.  As a rising junior, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to two rising seniors who took me under their wing: Erin Davison and Megan Lynott. They had both been through the research process before and were more than willing to answer any questions I had or offer advice from a student’s perspective. Having upperclassmen with similar majors take the time to mentor me, both in regards to Summer Scholars and the overall Saint Joe’s experience is something I am eternally grateful for. Talking with Erin and Megan made me even more excited to study abroad and take on the various opportunities in the Philadelphia area in the future.

Furthermore, I have never felt so accomplished at the end of a summer break as I do this year. By early August, I had mapped out the transformation of Russia’s national identity in relation to the West for the duration of the 21st century and analyzed the role which the Euromaidan played in the unraveling of Russia-West relations.  I would not say that my research is ground breaking. Dozens of scholars have written about Russia’s foreign policy and national identity. However, what I believe to be valuable about my work is that it presents in clear, uncomplicated language an explanation of the events which unfolded and the reasons why U.S. relations which Russia have grown so fractured. Thus, the information contained in my research paper is accessible to individuals of all backgrounds, not simply academic scholars.  My hope is that people who read my work walk away with a more informed view of Russia-U.S. relations which will enable them to critically analyze our foreign policy in the future. After all, broadening peoples’ understanding of their world is the ultimate goal of scholarship.

Overall, the Summer Scholars program was an amazing way to spend my summer. The opportunity to work closely with a faculty member I hold in the highest regard and meet inspiring upperclassmen alone made the program well worth it. The ability to spend the summer in the city I love, research a topic I have wanted to learn more about for quite some time, and develop a project that I could not be more satisfied with was simply the icing on the cake. Is it a daunting task? Absolutely. Will it challenge you? Definitely.  Will you come out of it a more informed citizen of the world, empowered to take on whatever challenges come your way? Undoubtedly.  I sincerely hope more International Relations students take advantage of this opportunity in the future. In our current political climate it is more vital than ever for citizens of democracy to commit themselves to separating fact from fiction. As the future leaders of the world, IR students are uniquely charged with committing themselves to the quest for truth and the defense of scholarship against the pervasiveness of a post-truth mentality.  The truth is out there. Go chase it. Do Summer Scholars.


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