College announces Oakley Center fellows

Last week, the Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences announced the recipients of the annual Oakley Center fellowships.

The Center provides grants for 11 faculty members and two students to research a topic in the humanities or social sciences, and provides a place away from campus where fellows can work and communicate with each other.

The two students chosen for the Ruchman Fellowships, which are awarded to seniors interested in pursuing careers in teaching, were Jonathan Kravis ’99 and Saumitra Jha ’99. Kravis’s grant money will go toward his research on his senior thesis in religion entitled “Kierkegaard’s Indirect Communication.”

The two students each receive $1000 to talk to experts in the field, travel, or buy materials. In addition, they become a part of the Oakley Center community, and participate as fellows.

Kravis said of the fellowship, “It’s really a great honor. One of the big advantages is that you get to see what academia is like on the inside; it gives you a new perspective on faculty and the work they do.”

Jha will use the grant to assist with his senior thesis in economics, which is entitled, “Looking Beyond the Battlements: The Effects of Political Upheaval and Transition on the Urban Environment.” Although his fellowship is not until the spring, Jha visited Moscow last summer to research the topic.

“The thesis centers on how economic imperatives and social structures have changed when cities went into different economic situations,” Jha said. “I am centering on Delhi, Oxford, and Moscow, which all arose under different socioeconomic and political circumstances.”

Chair of the economics department Catharine B. Hill nominated Jha.

“The Oakley Center solicits nominations from all of the department chairs in the humanities and social sciences,” Hill said. “After that, they interview the candidates, and select two seniors working on a thesis or an honors project.”

The Ruchman Fellowships each last for a semester; Kravis will use the money this fall, whereas Jha will wait until the spring.

Kravis commented, “I get a stipend for research materials, and in addition, once a week there is a sack lunch for all of the fellows, when one of us presents a chapter of the thesis or book he is working on.”

Jha added, “Since my fellowship is not until the spring, I haven’t been that involved yet, but I am very excited to work in such a setting.”

The faculty scholars working at the Oakley Center in the fall are: Darra J. Goldstein, professor of Russian language, literature and culture; Laurie Heatherington, professor of psychology; and David C. Johnson, assistant professor of physical education. The faculty fellows for the spring are: Cathy Johnson, associate professor of political science; Robert D. Kavanaugh, Hales Professor of Psychology; and Anita R. Sokolsky, professor of English. The faculty fellows for the full academic year are: Alison A. Case, associate professor of English; Scarlett Jang, associate professor of art history; George E. Marcus, professor of political science; Stephen Tifft, professor of English; and K. Scott Wong, associate professor of history.

Jang and Marcus were also named Lehman Fellows for the full year. The Lehman Fellowship supports projects of particular merit relating to political leadership, public services, and the arts.

Faculty submit applications in the spring of the preceding year, and also provide an overview of the project they will be working on.

Cathy Johnson explained that she had several motivations for applying. “I don’t think there are any disadvantages to working at the Center, and there are many benefits,” she said. “It gives me office space away from Stetson Hall, and all the distractions there. There is money available for research trips or bringing an expert in to Williamstown, and there is an intellectual community for the fellows.”

Jang said she will use her year at the Oakley Center to finish writing her book, Painting and Politics in the Early Ming Court 1368-1435. She is trying to write a history of the time in its own terms, as “a lot of things we had learnt in the past were self-relfective, and not applicable to the reality of the time period.”

She applied for a fellowship in order to concentrate more on her book, without the distractions of teaching.

“I applied because I am on sabbatical, which gives me a large block of time to work on this huge project,” she said. “When you are teaching, you are usually writing small articles, because they are more manageable. When you are working on a book, you need some kind of isolation. This place is designed for that purpose.”

The Oakley Center is situated off Denison Park Drive; it is removed, but within walking distance from campus. At the Oakley Center, fellows are removed from the distractions and interruptions of other faculty members and students. Jang remarked, “The Center has provided me with the ideal setting. When you are doing research, you are constantly on the road, but here I can be close to my family and friends, while staying separate from the college community.”

In addition to the fellowships, the Oakley Center also provides seminars for the faculty and students, and uses weekly lunches to create an intellectual community. Jha said, “We are invited to many social functions with the faculty, and the lunches are basically set up so that you get a lot of interdisciplinary ideas and views to help you on your topic.”

Although the Oakley Center is known primarily on campus for the fellowships, it also provides other opportunities for discussion and seminars for the student body. Johnson said of the center, “It has research colloquia for faculty, and it organizes debates between faculty members and speakers.”

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