Vast majority of WSP 99s approved

This month, the Winter Study Committee has approved 137 Winter Study Program (WSP) “99” Projects for the 2010 January term. This year saw an increase in the number of approved projects – only 111 proposals received approval last year. The number of rejected proposals also fell from 15 to eight.

The WSP 99 projects provide students with the opportunity to design their own Winter Study courses, which can take place on or off campus. Projects range from research ventures into subjects not covered by the College’s course offerings to creative endeavors in the arts to travel projects involving international field research. Students are allowed to submit group projects, which the Committee considers on an equal basis with individual projects. According to Ollie Beaver, professor of mathematics and Winter Study Committee chair, groups just have to demonstrate that each member will pull “equal weight” in the project.

The cost of 99s is largely covered by the Office of Financial Aid for financial aid students.

Beaver attributed this year’s higher approval rate to the quality of the proposals and cited higher attendance at the Committee’s fall and spring proposal-writing workshops as contributing to the merit of the submissions. Over 50 students attended each of the 2009 sessions, according to Beaver.

Allie Gardner ’10, student chair of the Committee, agreed that this year’s “99” proposals were of a particularly high standard. She said that this round of proposals was “intellectually creative and inspiring.” According to Gardner, she was “consistently impressed by the thought process, research, and thorough attention to detail that goes into the planning and execution of each independent project.”

To submit a proposal, students must fill out an application that includes detailed descriptions of the project’s goals and intellectual content as well as a bibliography. All projects must also receive sponsorship from a faculty member. According to Beaver, there is no appeal process for students whose projects are deemed to have weak intellectual content. But if a proposal’s concept appears strong while details such as the bibliography require improvement, the Committee will approve the project conditionally with the stipulation that the students make the appropriate adjustments. Beaver estimated that in a typical year, one group will go through this revision process.

For most students, however, the process is successful and worth the effort. Elleree Erdos ’12, whose project on the history and development of fashion in London was approved this year, described the procedure as “very reasonable.” Erdos will travel to London with Maya Harakawa ’12 in January to examine, in Erdos’s words, “[how] the tailored conservatism of imperial London made way for later extremist styles, like punk, and how the portrayal of fashion in art affected its development in London.”

Gonpo Lama ’12 will also take the opportunity to travel as part of his WSP 99 experience. He will be working at a leprosy colony in central India to explore how theodicy and faith intersect with environments of affliction. In addition to conducting his religion research, Lama will volunteer at a local elementary school and health center.

Madura Watanagase ’12 will travel to Asia for field experience as well. Her project consists of an internship at the Fiscal Policy Office of the Ministry of Finance in Bangkok, Thailand, and her studies will focus on the impact of ongoing stimulus packages. Watanagase said that she hopes to learn more about the policy-making process, and cited the currency and relevance of her topic as motivating her interest.

Self-designed WSP 99 projects have been hallmarks of the Winter Study program since its inception. According to Gardner, the WSP 99 program is “experiential education at its best,” She said.

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