Researching with Professors

One of the unique benefits of attending a school without a graduate program is the numerous research opportunities available for undergraduate students. Whether over the summer or throughout the academic school year, Swarthmore professors from a variety of disciplines invite interested students to participate in their research projects.

I’m a sophomore double majoring in art history and sociology-anthropology and I’m currently assisting Professor Brian Goldstein in his architectural research. Professor Goldstein explores the topics of architectural history, modern architecture and planning, and the intersections between race and the American built environment in the art history courses he teaches. He is currently researching for his second book, “Bond: Race and the Modern City,” which explores the life and work of famed African-American architect, J. Max Bond, Jr. (1935-2009), in relation to the larger crossover between race and the built environment.

A photo of Professor Goldstein

Professor Goldstein conducted an extensive amount of research for the project this summer; in particular, he visited the archives at Columbia University to access personal and professional papers regarding Max Bond, like letters he wrote to his parents throughout college.

I was drawn to Professor Goldstein’s research because of its discussion of the bridge between sociology and architecture. Professor Goldstein’s summer research sparks an important question that is often ignored: how can an industry that defines and dictates the American built environment be comprised of a mere two percent of African-American architects? Questions like these remind researchers, educators, and designers alike in the field that the social history of a space — the history of a building through the lens of how it is used and by whom – is just as significant as the architectural history of a space. Questions like these are what draw me to the field.

This year, I have been researching the intersection between race and Ivy League graduate architecture and design programs. I’ve mainly been conducting online research through archives like JSTOR, but I’d soon like to visit an architectural library or archive site.

While I’ve only been researching for one month, I feel fairly prepared to delve into this sort of work because of the strong research foundation I’ve developed throughout my humanities and social science courses at Swarthmore. Philadelphia Architecture, an art history course that I took with Professor Goldstein, prepared me perfectly for this field. In the course, each student chose a famous Philadelphia architectural landmark and spent the semester researching it – I chose Venturi Scott Brown’s Franklin Court in Philadelphia. We visited archives to find primary documents and photographs of the site, visited the site itself to observe how participants utilized it, conducted research on the history of the site, and finally, wrote an analytical paper combining all of the above information.

Philadelphia Architecture is not unique in preparing Swarthmore students for research opportunities. Numerous courses across all disciplines from religion to biology prep students to partake in advanced, nuanced research with professors.

While I’m conducting research in the humanities department, research opportunities exist in the STEM fields as well. One of my friends, Mikey Kourakos ’21, spent this past summer researching and making an endogamous pedigree reconstruction algorithm which could be used to produce genetic haplotypes of ancestors of sequenced individuals with Professor Sara Mathieson from the Computer Science department.

Swarthmore students gathering to discuss summer research in computer science

Research opportunities like these speak to the close knit relationships between professors and students at Swarthmore. Professors are truly invested in the learning opportunities for their students – whether that means encouraging students to visit office hours or offering research opportunities!



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