ORCA Symposium Highlights Student Projects

Six recipients of ORCA grants in the BYU College of Humanities recently presented on their projects.

PROVO, Utah (October 26, 2018)—Welcoming back the event for the sixth time, the BYU Humanities Center recently hosted its annual ORCA Symposium. The symposium invited six university grant recipients within the College of Humanities to present on their projects and share the fruits of their research. The students, though all studying the humanities, had varied projects that covered a wide range of studies and interests.

Blake Smith, a student studying linguistics, used his grant to develop a computational tool that helps computers check for consistency as they separate Chinese characters. This process of segmentation prepares the Chinese for translation or to be part of a corpus. Smith’s passion lies in machine translation, and the tool he was able to help create paves a way towards better digital translation of Chinese in the future. Smith said, “I think people should have another option besides relying on phony translations from Google Translate or hiring an interpreter.” His project takes a step closer toward that goal. Smith said that although the project was a rollercoaster, “We ended up creating something really useful and that we’re really excited about.”

Another linguistics student, Corey Ketering, also focused on Chinese for his project. With the help of Professor Yu Liu, Ketering helped develop a method of teaching Chinese to improve speakers’ fluency. Ketering researched formulaic language, which consists of set phrases that can be used to signal different parts of a presentation or conversation, like transitioning or introducing the main topic. Ketering was able to create a plan for implementing formulaic language into Chinese learning and then watch as it was applied to learning in a real classroom.

A third linguistics student, Kate Menlove, pursued a project that had nothing to do with Chinese—or even linguistics. Under the direction of associate professor of German & Russian Michelle James, Menlove focused on the author Nahida Ruth Lazarus and her book Das Jüdische Weib or The Jewish Woman, which highlights the strength and sacrifices of different Jewish women. After reading the book in its original German, Menlove set out to create an introduction, analysis, and annotations for the text. As she undertook the project, Melove came to love the messages of the book, learning that “you can be a feminist and be a stay-at-home mom.” 

Isaac Robertson, an English major, was also drawn to literature for his project. Robertson delved into Victorian short fiction and, in doing so, learned about the Victorian perception of young girls at the height of imperialism in the late nineteenth century. Robertson researched the 1887 periodical for girls Atalanta in order to make his claim that colonial girls acted as a cultural (even, in his reading, an ecological) bridge during the time period. Robertson said that he sees this subject as “fertile ground for a greater project to see how these same types of border crossings… might have functioned and also how they function today.”

The remaining two presenters both set their sights on different types of art forms. Maika Bahr, an art history and curatorial studies major, worked with professor Martha Peacock as she did an in-depth study of the Dutch painting Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life, 1640 by Harmen Steenwyck. Following her curiosity about a Japanese sword in the painting, Bahr’s research led her abroad to visit the Netherlands Institute of Art History. As she studied and researched the painting, she was able to develop a thesis about how Steenwyck’s painting demeans the Japanese and promotes Dutch superiority.

The final presenter, Sophie Determan, who studies interdisciplinary humanities with a media arts (film) emphasis, researched a different kind of art: film. Determan worked  with associate professor Roger MacFarlane to help revise the Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, a foundational text that currently includes classical mythology’s relationship to opera, painting, sculpture, drama, poetry, and literature, but not to film. Determan’s goal was to add film references to the guide, starting with the myth of Pygmalion. Determan had to decide how to evaluate films and how closely related they were to the myth. With a three-axis graph and a fine-toothed comb, Determan found and analyzed films from My Fair Lady (1964) to Miss Congeniality (2000) in order to document their relationship to the myth.

The symposium highlighted the diversity and creativity of students within the humanities. Equipped with different interests, passions, and skills, these students all took their projects in different directions and found incredible applications and implications for a variety of fields. One common thread between the presenters is the gratitude they expressed for the opportunity they had to pursue these projects. The students described how the grants allowed them to work closely with a teacher, practice writing a scholarly paper, produce something that would be published, and prepare for future opportunities. Smith said that his project prepared him for future programs and working in the industry “better than any class [he] could ever take.”

Emma Ebert (Editing & Publishing 2021)