MTSU’s annual “Scholars Week” wrapped up with a showcase of student research and creative activity, demonstrating that student passion and imagination were the only limits to the work the university supported while celebrating its students in producing beyond the confines of the more typical science- and math-related projects.
Senior theatre major Gavin Strawn collaborated on the technical design of a new theater production about an assisted living facility during the pandemic for his project. Department of Theatre and Dance faculty used grant funds to commission a playwright to create the original script.
“We (student collaborators) then wrote sub-grants to design on it and to work on that (design) process,” Strawn said. “In theater, the way plays are built from the ground up is a whole sub-genre of the work we do. That’s a process that we’ve never really had access to in student spaces (before).”
The final day of the 16th annual exposition took place March 25 in the Student Union’s second-floor ballroom and featured almost 250 student projects presented to other students and faculty and judged by faculty. Student-created musical and dramatic performances also entertained students and faculty during a free lunch.
Jamie Burriss, a program manager for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs who is integral to executing the event, said it is an incredible opportunity for MTSU students.
“When you step into the ballroom, the energy is overwhelming,” Burriss said. “MTSU has some really exceptional students, and this event is their opportunity to shine — to share their commitments and investment of time beyond the classroom with the campus community.”
For Strawn, his “The Willows” drama project culminated in a staged reading in summer 2021 complete with a set, costumes, lights and cues, while actors performed in front of an audience with scripts in hand.
Strawn said he hopes this unique MTSU research opportunity will form the foundation of his graduate thesis when he starts at the University of Texas at Austin this fall.
“I was able to experience a new side of theater in a more academic, structural setting,” he said. “I (even) talked about working on this process in my interview with the theater program there (in Austin).”
MTSU junior theater major Anna Grace Gragg was one of Strawn’s project collaborators on the production’s set design.
“It was really great having this opportunity; especially learning how to write a grant was really exciting,” Gragg said. “Through the school letting me do that, it definitely grew my skills as a writer, as a theater person. It helped my technical (theater) skills as well.”
She said she wants to pursue more research work at MTSU next year.
“Research definitely helps me get more into the (set design) process,” she said. “It’s definitely helped make my design stronger and being able to articulate it more has been super helpful. Future opportunities would be awesome to learn more.”
This year was made even more special when Scholars Week closed with a historic announcement for the university — its new classification as a “High Research Activity,” or R2, institution by the Carnegie Classification.
“This news raises the profile of the university, but importantly, it also enhances the value of this university for students who are provided opportunities to work alongside our faculty researchers on important projects that hold tremendous transformational potential,” said University President Sidney A. McPhee.
To learn more about the student research opportunities available at the university, visit the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs website at www.mtsu.edu/research.
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)