Starring: The Humanities

STAR ScholarsThe STAR Scholar program gives Drexel’s brightest freshman the chance to start graduate-level research before they’ve even begun their second year of college. For many students, this means outstanding opportunities in traditional research-related fields. Drexel’s 2011 STAR Scholarships Summer Showcase highlighted everything from Chemical Engineering students working with solar cells to Psychology students researching autism.

But the STAR program isn’t all science, engineering, and math. Students majoring in humanities have their chance to shine too, with the help from some of STAR’s most unusual research opportunities.

Professor Bill Fennelly, from Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, is a STAR Mentor for the first time this summer. He’s working with students Samantha Wend and Alex Cummiskey on an upcoming production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“I’m directing this production for the Churches Stages Company,” says Fennelly. Having STAR students work with him has been especially helpful because much of his work as a dramaturge for the production must be done well in advance. The production is set to open in March 2013.

“Samantha and Alex did an incredibly useful and detailed character analysis of the entire text for the design team,” says Fennelly. “I asked them to go through the text and pull any text that revealed character traits. Now we have a 150-page document.”

Samantha, an Entertainment and Arts Management major with a Theatre concentration, already knows she wants to work in theatre. “Dramaturgy is a facet of theatre that I have never really had the opportunity to get involved with before now, and I’ve really enjoyed trying it out to see if it is an area which I might be interested in pursuing further or for a career,” she says.

Drexel’s Digital Media program, one of the leading programs in the country, is also giving STAR Scholars creative research opportunities. Professor Glen Muschio uses his work with STAR students to show them that there are more Digital Media career opportunities available beyond creating video games and working for Pixar. For the past several years he’s been working with various institutions associated with Independence National Historic Park on multiple projects with which STAR students help.

“We’re trying to see how Digital Media can enhance the colonial era,” says Muschio, “Students can use skills in animation and 3D modeling to make a world no longer visible, visible.” This work includes creating x-reality accessible via Smartphones. Visitors can use their phones in different areas of Philadelphia to see what that space looked like in the colonial era, thanks to the work of Muschio’s STAR Scholars.

This summer he’s working with student Joseph Tomasso, who is helping to create a digital archive of the furniture in the Dexter House, the home of James Dexter, a slave freed in the 1790s. “For the re-creation of the Dexter House, I've been researching James Dexter's life and the time period he lived in,” says Joseph. “Through several books and articles, we're able to discern what sort of furniture he may have had, the sort of tools and appliances he may have had, as well as smaller details specifically influenced by his background. The more specific the detail, the more crucial it is to making the environment feel as real as possible.”

Professor Muschio believes this is some of the most innovative research and work students at Drexel are conducting. “Digital Media is the literacy of the 21st century,” Muschio says. “These experiences are educating students for jobs that don’t even quite exist yet.”