Fondren Library Research Awards highlight vast resources at students’ disposal

2019 winners honored at luncheon

Students who have found Fondren Library an invaluable resource took time away from studying for finals to thank the Friends of Fondren Library at the April 18 board of directors meeting, where they also picked up awards for the original and creative research they conducted at Fondren this past year.

Joshua Smith, center, explains how Fondren's subject librarians helped him with his research this year. (Photos by Katharine Shilcutt)

Philosophy graduate student Joshua Smith, center, explains how Fondren’s subject librarians helped him with his research this year. (Photos by Katharine Shilcutt)

In addition to discussing library business over a Cohen House lunch, the board handed out this year’s Fondren Library Research Awards to a group of students who used the library to explore topics ranging from middle-class culture in Cairo under Ottoman rule to modern-day discussions of imposter syndrome.

As a philosophy graduate student focusing on ethics, Joshua Smith is pursuing answers to such big questions as, “What does it take to live a good life?” And because he’s only in his first year of studies, Smith knew he needed guidance as he undertook his journey toward a Ph.D.

Fondren’s subject librarians — a group Smith hailed as “this wonderful thing that’s worth my entire program” — were able to offer just that, helping him track down databases, articles, journals and monographs he wouldn’t have found on his own.

“All in all, I retrieved 51 high-quality research resources for this project, of which nine were relevant,” Smith said. “Fondren’s library tools offered that to me.”

But the guidance didn’t stop there.

Because he used only a few of the materials pulled by Fondren’s Amanda Thomas for his paper on “Disability, Love and Limitation,” Smith wanted a system that would allow him to go back and easily access those materials at a later date as he continued his graduate studies.

Together, he and Thomas created a research methodology and software solution to track it all. This helped Smith win first place in the graduate student portion of this year’s Fondren Awards, recognition for extraordinary skill and creativity in the application of library resources to original research and scholarship.

“Amanda helped me organize the vast array of all the resources and research I was getting,” Smith said. “She showed me how to arrange them so I don’t double-back and reread my resources in two years’ time when those unused resources become relevant for a future project.”

Lovett College senior Akin Bruce took advantage of Fondren's GIS software and classes.

Lovett College senior Akin Bruce took advantage of Fondren’s GIS software and classes.

Lovett College senior Akin Bruce took first place in the undergraduate portion of the awards for a project that found its way to him.

The city of Houston approached Rice’s Center for Transforming Data to Knowledge, where the statistics major was working on learning-lab projects, for help analyzing thousands of 311 customer survey responses and gaining insights into what drives positive and negative responses. Bruce and his team, which also included Ben Herndon-Miller, Soo Bin Park, Ben Rieden and Emily Rychener, took the data to the GIS/Data Center in the Fondren basement to create something valuable.

What they came back with demonstrated two crucial things. First,  311 services around the country, including Houston’s, were addressing issues incorrectly, focusing on callers’  experience with the system itself rather than actual results such as potholes being filled or garbage being picked up. Second, many customer service requests to 311 were being routinely ignored.

“We were able to use the ArcGIS classes that we had at Fondren Library’s data center and the plotters to express our research,” Bruce said. “If we hadn’t been able to visualize it, not only would our argument be considerably less convincing, it would have taken us much, much, much longer to complete the project.”

Jennifer Lee, a Jones College junior, also undertook a group project, studying imposter phenomenon and how it affects likeability. The final result was awarded honorable mention. The psychology student said she and her fellow undergrads found Fondren invaluable not only for its numerous scholarly resources, but also for its convenience and accessibility.

Jones College junior Jennifer Lee shared how Fondren was used as a central hub for her group's research project.

Jones College junior Jennifer Lee shared how Fondren was used as a central hub for her group’s research project.

“Our group really utilized Fondren as our central hub for meetings,” Lee said. “We have students who are in the south colleges and students in the north colleges, so Fondren was a central location for us to meet together for late nights or to all gather around the first-floor desks to work out our statistics, utilizing the SPSS programming to do our analysis.”

In addition to using dataset tools like SPSS (which originally stood for Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) and academic literature found through Google Scholar, Lee said Fondren’s large-format printers enabled her group to make posters presenting their findings at this year’s Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS).

“This was a really great process for students to get to know what the research process is like and what it takes to be a psychology researcher,” Lee said. “We’re really grateful for the opportunity to present at RURS.”

The students were applauded for their research by the Friends of Fondren Library board, which was happy to hear how well Fondren’s resources continue to serve the evolving needs of students at all levels.

“I’m so impressed that between the three of you, you talked about the library in terms of technology, human resources such as the subject librarians and the physical hub of the university,” said Bess Wareing, board president. “I mean you really hit it all.”

2019 Fondren Library Research Award Winners

Undergraduate Students

  • First place: Akin Bruce, “Houston 311: An Analysis of Citizen Satisfaction and Engagement”
  • Second place: Isabelle Bunten, “The Evolution of the Three Living and the Three Dead: From Moral Meaning to Memento Mori”
  • Honorable mention: Jennifer Lee, “Acknowledging Imposter Phenomenon: How Does It Affect an Individual’s Likeability?”
  • Honorable mention: Zelda Ziebell, “Exchanges: Artistic Dialogues between Tibet and China”

Graduate Students

  • First place: Joshua Smith, “Disability, Love and Limitation: A Response to the Mere-Difference View”
  • Second place: Waleed Rikab, “Middle-class Culture in Cairo under Ottoman Rule: Perceptions of Power and Knowledge”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.