Oxford College is appreciated for many things, but its commitment to providing leadership opportunities for first year students is a benchmark achievement. One such opportunity is the Oxford Research Scholars Program where selected students conduct professional research by working directly with faculty and research librarians. This program paid off exponentially for Oxford second-year student Tiera Ndlovu of Austell!
Tiera and Holly Cordray of Grove City, Ohio, were hand-picked by Dr. Tasha Dobbin-Bennett, assistant professor of art history and studio art at Oxford College, who oversees the “Visual Narratives of Early Emory” project, a part of the Oxford Research Scholars program which is based in the Oxford library.
Dobbin-Bennett described the core of the research project as interdisciplinary, archival and curatorial. In utilizing the Oxford College Photographic Collection, she works closely with Oxford College archivist Kerry Bowden to offer students an opportunity to conduct in-depth research into the college’s photographic collection. “The students direct their own research path and we work together to create a curatorial exhibition of their research and the images on which it was based,” she said.
The collections of the Oxford College Library are cultivated and nurtured by Kerry Bowden, Coordinator of Archives and Special Collections, who was aptly praised by Dobbin-Bennett for providing unparalleled archival knowledge and guidance for the students.
“I worked closely with the students to support their research and train them in techniques for photographic image digitization and metadata creation,” explained Bowden. “I facilitated their access to the Ervin Yarbrough and Claude Culbreath Photograph Collection and portions of the Oxford College Photograph Collection, as well as relevant research sources here and elsewhere.”
Dobbin-Bennett detailed that the key aspect of the project is that the student research becomes the basis for the ongoing visual narratives to be widely read by not only members of the Oxford community, but alumni, local community members, and the general public.
“Our students are knowledge generators, and we provide a platform to disseminate that knowledge. Our Research Scholars have examined the fraternal friendships of members of the early Emory classes, the origins of the Glee Club, the relationship between the Glee Club and the Allen Memorial Church, and the way in which yearbook photographs reflect implicit societal conventions.”
Students receive academic credit for this research and those selected students who engage in research during their sophomore year have been able to compete admirably with juniors and seniors when applying for summer internships. Additionally, they may benefit from other opportunities of scholarly inquiry and research at Emory after graduating from Oxford.
On April 5th, Holly and Tiera presented their projects at the Oxford Research Scholars Symposium. This is an honor in itself, but due to Tiera’s additional research utilizing the Emory University Archives collections at the Rose Library, she became eligible for the Alan Rackoff Prize and subsequently was nominated by Dobbin-Bennett for this prestigious award. Her research project, Fraternally Yours: Examining Early Emory Social Life through the Culbreath Collection, was evaluated by Emory University faculty, librarians, and community partners who ultimately selected her as the recipient of the 2019 Alan Rackoff Prize.
“My work with the Oxford College Archives, Kerry, and Dr. Dobbin-Bennett has been especially fulfilling to me as I have been able to dive deeper into the history of the university,” Tiera said. “The photographs I analyzed were over 100 years old but many of the landmarks are still present on campus. My project allowed me to reflect on how my own college experience compared to the experiences of Early Emory College students.”
The Rackoff Prize is a $1,000 yearly award presented to an Oxford or Emory College student for the best paper, project, or honors thesis written on the basis of primary source material related to a course of study.