Senior fellows begin their work at College

by Tara Kyle | 10/19/00 5:00am

Ever wanted to write a book, direct a short film, or conduct an orchestra? Each year a program at Dartmouth provides a small group of seniors with the opportunity to bypass classes and take on projects such as these.

The Senior Fellowship Program, instituted in 1929, allows its participants to complete their Dartmouth education by focusing intensely on their specific interests, rather than fulfilling a major. Students spend their days independently researching, writing and eventually creating a final product.

This year's Senior Fellows are Linda Romano '01, Lisa LeFlore '01, Bob Mirakian '01, Corrie Francis '01, Ari Rosenblum '01, Sope Ogunyemi '01 and John Phinney '00.

Ogunyemi is writing a novella about interracial friendships between women, while Francis is created a five to seven minute animated short film.

Mirakian is study conducting, Phinney is writing a book on father/son relationships in Hemingway's life and works and Romano is studying the bereavement process in American society.

LeFlore is creating contemporary jewelry inspired by the history and imagery of her Apache tribe, and Rosenblum is writing a screenplay "loosely based on a Columbine sort of situation."

The culmination of the projects will take a variety of forms. Mirakian plans to conduct a free concert at Spaulding auditorium in May and a second concert with the Dartmouth Symphony in June, LeFlore will show an exhibition of her completed jewelry, and Romano will write a "very large paper."

The students elected to substitute a major with the fellowship because they found they could not accomplish what they wanted to within the traditional curriculum.

Romano, previously a psychology major, began considering the Senior Fellows program her Sophomore Summer. "I wasn't getting much out of going to class. It wasn't satisfying to me, and I felt bad about that. I had always thought education was synonymous with going to class. When a dean told me about this option, I felt very validated."

LeFlore discovered she could not concentrate closely on the Apache Tribe and jewelry within the Native American Studies and Art departments. "The College is really supportive in making sure you have the opportunity to fulfill what you want to study," LeFlore said.

Although they cautioned that this program is only the right choice for a certain kind of student, many of the Senior Fellows encourage younger students to explore this and other under-publicized options within their departments.

"I tell people I'm a Senior Fellow, and they say 'Oh, cool.' Then there's that obligatory confused pause, and they say 'What is that?' When I tell them, they say 'Wow, I wish I could have done that,'" Phinney said.

"It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done, and it's related to everything I've ever done. It's teaching me about people, and preparing me for whatever I want to do," said Romano.

While the daily schedules of the Fellows varies greatly (Phinney commutes to Boston several days a week for research), the lack of classes hardly provides them with an excess of free time. "I was going to take one class, and I ended up dropping it, it was too much work," Mirakian said. "I get up at 8 a.m. and work until midnight."

Students interested in the fellowship option must submit a proposal outlining what they want to do, how they will spend their time, and why their project cannot be accomplished within a traditional major. They are also required to present their idea to a committee of approximately 10 professors.

Although the process of getting approval for a fellowship is competitive (last year approximately 20 students applied), Assistant Dean of Faculty Sandra Gregg described it as "fairly self-selective" due to the lengthy application and challenge of finding an appropriate advisor. "Sometimes students want to do a fellowship, but can't because they are unable to find a faculty member with expertise in a particular area," Gregg said.

Selected fellows can generally expect financial support for their projects. "If expenses are reasonable, we try to meet the cost," Gregg said. She added that the amount of support does depend on the type of project, "There are also alternate sources of funding for some of the projects, such as through the Hopkins Center."

The deadline for a proposal is typically Junior Spring, however, this year's fellows advice that any interested students begin researching long before that. "Get started as soon as possible, it should be something you've been thinking about for a long time," Phinney said.

Gregg also stressed the importance of planning ahead, "Start early, start talking to people about it early, sophomore year really."