Trevecca senior Kelsey Raymond remembers being in the Tennessee State Archives at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, wide awake and digging for evidence about Adelicia Acklen, a 19th century Nashville business woman and owner of Belmont Mansion.
“It was a really cold day, and I was exhausted from all the papers I had in my other classes,” Raymond recalled. “But I was still really excited to be in the archives.”
Raymond says it was while searching for evidence on Acklen—all part of a Faculty-Led Academic Research Experience (FLARE) project led by Dr. Erica Hayden, assistant professor of history, last year—that she gained clarity about what she wanted to do with her life.
“It was the moment when I actually was able to be brought to the back area [of the archives] and put on gloves and touch documents that were over a 100 years old,” Raymond said. “Very old paper—hardly legible in some cases—but that I felt like if I breathed wrong, history would crumble. It was a very surreal moment being able to touch history in that way and being able to be a part of history that way.
“So that was the moment I knew I was in trouble because I didn’t want to teach history anymore,” Raymond remembered. “I actually want to go out and be a part of history.”
That moment changed Raymond’s focus, she said. Discovering her love of research also encouraged Raymond to look for more opportunities to do so.
Last fall, Raymond became the first Trevecca student to take part in a student-driven research course, commonly called “499” because of its course number in the academic catalog.
According to Dr. Sam Green, Trevecca’s director of undergraduate research, the class has been available to students for two years. It allows student researchers to be completely in charge of the research they’re conducting. While a faculty member must oversee the research project or creative, participants determine the pace and scope of their work as outlined in the course descriptions for 499 A, B and C in the academic catalog.
Students who participate in the “499” courses are evaluated on their “adherence to approved methodology, logical development of the project, and time management, as well as their project progress,” according to the University’s academic catalog.
Green says the class provides an opportunity for students to dig into a topic they’re passionate about, even if a specific course isn’t offered on that subject.
“This way, students can do a self-directed project, and it gives them an opportunity to explore more deeply into a subject matter that they are passionate about,” Green said.
The course also provides students a way to hone skills needed for graduate school as an undergraduate, he says.
“In others words, students like Raymond go beyond the classroom and seek out real-world experience that prepares them to excel in their future endeavors,” Green said.
To participate in the course, students must complete an application, submit a 200-word abstract that outlines the research project or creative endeavor they want to undertake and plan a budget. Approval of a supervising faculty member and department dean or chair is required before students can register for the course.
For Raymond, whose project centers on asylums in the 19th century, the project proved challenging in ways she hadn’t really expected.
“I’ve never been challenged as much as I was on this project,” she said. “I had to be a self-starter. I didn’t have someone over my shoulder telling me when I had deadlines. I had to be my own professor in that sense. I had to become self-motivated in times when I was really exhausted. It was great experience because it taught me that confidence and to strive to keep on going.”
Raymond’s mentor, Dr. Erica Hayden, was impressed by her student’s work and encouraged by Raymond’s obvious passion for her research.
“Just the way she talks about it and the fact that she is digging through all of these books and articles and finding resources—she’s just so excited about it,” Hayden said. “That’s what’s so exciting to me: to see her light up when she talks about her research project.”
Raymond, a history major, is excited to make history as the first student to participate in the independent study course, but says it’s an opportunity more Trevecca students should consider.
“I feel like I’m so much more prepared for my field in the future, not just as a historian,” she said. “I think any student can benefit no matter what their major is.”
Green’s hope is that Raymond’s experience will encourage a new wave of students to take advantage of the class and pursue their own passions in independent research or creative endeavor projects.
“My biggest hope is that we will have every student participate in 499,” Green said. “I feel so excited about the possibilities for our students and the discoveries that will be made. Student learning will become so much more accelerated as students dive more deeply into topics that interest them personally.
“That is what my hope is, that is what excites me,” he continued. “If students can catch a glimpse of what Kelsey is doing and personalize it for themselves, then I think we will have more student participants in this class.”
Contact Dr. Sam Green at SGreen@trevecca.edu to learn more about “499” and other undergraduate research opportunities available at Trevecca.