The Graduate School is please to announce the winners of the first annual Graduate Student Paper Competition. All students were encouraged to submit papers reflecting original work in their field. They were judged on the basis of quality of writing, originality of the work, and overall contribution to the knowledge base of their field. Winners were chosen at the masters and doctoral level, and the winners will present their research as keynotes prior to the Poster and Digital Display Exhibition as part of the Research Symposium. 

Doctoral Paper Award: Matthew Closter, Public Affairs

Master’s Paper Award: Scott Flovin, History



Matthew Closter
Title of Project: The Emergence of University–School Partnerships as Strategies for Community Development in Small, Distressed Cities:  Lessons from a Comparative Case Study of Rutgers University–Camden and Clark University
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago
Conference Travel or Research Grant Recipient

Using a qualitative case study, I examine the emergence, formation, implementation, and sustainability of two university–school partnerships as strategies to rebuild communities and build an educational college access pipeline.  Both cases—Rutgers University–Camden and LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, NJ, and Clark University and the University Park Campus School in Worcester, MA—influenced policy outcomes to create new public school categories that transformed educational landscapes in their communities.  The research question is: How did two small-city universities develop and sustain an educational pipeline as a community development strategy to provide access to college for students and families and to revitalize distressed neighborhoods?

I use Herbert Blumer’s sociological theory of collective definition for solving social problems and Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as frameworks to contribute to growing attention to university–school partnerships as a community development concept when planning and designing new urban schools in small cities while focusing on marginalized families and children.  I interviewed senior university officials, school officials, and parents who were active during the emergence of the partnerships, analyzed census data of socioeconomic indicators, analyzed historical documents of strategic plans and newspaper archives, and observed students, teachers, and physical school facilities and their neighborhood conditions. 

Results suggest university partnerships emerge when committed faculty and community leaders cooperate in inclusive planning that is driven by collective participation in building solidarity, shared meaning, and common purpose with a community such that the community builds the agency and capacity to sustain the partnership for an extended period. 

Scott Flovin
Title of Project: Native Americans, Swamps, and Inferiority Complexes: Hugh Williamson’s Fearful Response to European Naturalism
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Andrew Shankman
Conference Travel or Research Grant Recipient 

After white Americans gained their independence, they had to prove to themselves and the world that they would not only survive, but thrive. Many European naturalists thought that America was inferior to Europe due to its environment. Hugh Williamson, an American naturalist historian, spent much time and energy refuting these claims. This essay examines Williamson’s participation in the environmental debate in the United States. It will show how his work attempted to “prove” the greatness of the United States by examining its environmental strengths and giving practical solutions to its environmental weaknesses. Williamson wrote multiple books describing the climate of the North American continent in order to show its equality and, in some ways, superiority to Europe. However, there was one weakness in the American climate: North Carolinian swamps. Swamps, Williamson feared, would prove the European naturalists right and undermine his work as swamps were unusable land that caused people’s health to degenerate. He dedicated a significant section of his History of North Carolina creating a plan to drain North Carolinian swamps and helped with the Dismal Swamp Company and Lebanon Company in order to put his plan into practice. This essay analyzes Williamson’s use of naturalism to combat European detractors by comparing Native Americans and white Americans, his fear of a failing America personified through the swamplands of North Carolina, and his hope that his volumes and philanthropic work would make America prosperous.