Class of '09, Major: European Studies, Linguistics
Prof. Jacqueline Reich, Comparative Literary & Cultural Studies, European Languages, Literatures & Cultures;
Prof. Lori Repetti, Linguistics;
Prof. Francisco Ordóñez, Hispanic Languages & Literature
" Because sometimes you can have this train of thought from documents that your ideas are following along a specific track. And then, you’ll find a clipping or newspaper advertisement that totally throws a monkey wrench in what you’re trying to find, that conflicts with what you’re trying to prove… …
Interview: read more >>
Researcher of the Month
. . . from Merriam Webster dictionary (online)
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin commutare to change, exchange, from com- + mutare to change
A commuter student faces certain extra demands – requiring an ability to adapt, face unexpected challenges, and maintain good olde values of fortitudo and sapientia to boot! Our Researcher of the Month, Emily Fedele — one of over 6,300 commuter students at Stony Brook — has become a pro at juggling train schedules, academics, and extracurricular activities. In addition to traveling to and fro, “commutare” also means to change or transform. When Emily began those daily LIRR travels as a freshman newly arrived from Oyster Bay High School, she intended to study to be a doctor. But a chance DEC choice in Italian literature, as well as an opportune encounter with Linguistics, would lead her to another disciplinary focus entirely—and a new professional trajectory. “I looked at the bulletin and the subject intrigued me, so I started taking linguistics classes and I just fell in love with it. “
Currently double majoring in European Studies and Linguistics, Emily Fedele will graduate with honors this coming May. For over two years, she has worked under the mentorship of Prof. Jacqueline Reich, of European Languages and Literatures & Cultures / Comparative Literary & Cultural Studies (CLCS) conducting research on early silent Italian film: the iconicity of actors and their role in the formation of nationalistic identity. For the past year, she's also been working on her honors thesis project in Linguistics — supervised by Profs. Lori Repetti of Linguistics, and Francisco Ordóñez of Hispanic Languages & Literature, entitled: "Syntactic Variation: A Linguistic Study of Italian and Italian Dialects." In half a year's time, Emily will embark on post graduate studies abroad, very likely in Cambridge University, England where she will pursue a master’s degree in Italian linguistics; she also is a finalist for the Fulbright Scholarship that would support linguistics studies in Venice, Italy. Wherever she decides to go next year, Emily is sure she will pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics upon her return to the States. And Emily is deeply indebted to all her Stony Brook mentors, including Profs. Jacqueline Reich, Lori Repetti, Francisco Ordóñez and others. The transformation at Stony Brook that went hand in hand with an engagement in undergraduate research has been momentous: “This is the most memorable experience that I’ve had.”
N.B. Emily Fedele's research projects have already involved significant commutes! In summer 2007, she ventured to the Biblioteca Nazionale, in Rome, Italy to obtain a copy of an important article, “Il Sud di Cesare Lom roso fra scienza e politca” (conveniently, she was participating in a Study Abroad program in Rome!) She has also spent extended time periods becoming acquainted with the books, articles and microform machines(!) in the New York Public Library system. In fall 2007, Emily also did an independent study analyzing Shakespeare and Dostoevsky on Film, working with mentor Prof. Robert Harvey of Philosophy & CLCS. In addition, Emily Fedele has served as an editorial assistant for the cultural and scholarly journal, Men and Masculinities. She has also served regularly on the Academic Judiciary hearing board, tutors with the SB athletic Department as well as the Commuter Assistant Mentor program, and was Vice President (06-07) of the Commuter Student Association.
Be sure to make the trip over to SAC Ballroom A on April 29th to talk to Emily about her diverse research project(s) at the upcoming URECA Celebration of undergraduate research. Below are some excerpts of her interview with URECA Director, Karen Kernan.
Karen: Tell me about your research project(s), and how you got started/involved.
Emily: The project that I’ve been doing the longest is with Prof. Jacqueline Reich of the Comparative Literary & Cultural Studies department. I got involved with that project two years ago when Prof. Reich was looking for an undergraduate research assistant. I applied for the position and I got it! At first, I started helping with little incidental things, and then began to take on more independent topics. Prof. Reich studies Italian cinema. The part that we were focusing on was early silent Italian cinema—and the specific actor named Maciste, and his nationalistic representation in Italy and in the United States…
The linguistics project is for my senior thesis. My two mentors for that project are Prof. Lori Repetti and Francisco Ordóñez with the Spanish Department. My project is in Italian linguistics. I’m looking at a specific grammatical construction in the language that’s of debate in linguistics at the moment. The formal name is called “clitic climbing”…studying pronouns in the language, different positions that can show up in phrases. I’m specifically studying syntax of those phrases. It’s a really great project because I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the past 2 to 2 ½ years. So with this project I’m getting a little closer and more intimate with learning Italian because I understand the grammatical constructions of the language more closely. It comes in handy for both research projects actually.
Didn't you also have a study abroad experience in Italy?
The summer of 2007 I studied abroad in Italy. That actually was before I even started doing any research. I was given the position with Prof. Reich just before I left and then she contacted me when I was in Italy to get an article from one of the libraries in Rome. It was quite an experience because the library system in Italy was …well....very, very different! You have to get special certification and ID… you’re not allowed into the library..And at the time, I couldn’t really speak Italian — so it was a bit of a challenge! But I got the article for Prof. Reich!
What skills have you learned from doing undergraduate research? How has it enhanced your education?
I've been doing the comparative literary project for 2 years now, so I’ve gained a lot of skills through that time. Just basic researching skills, knowing where to look, how to find things on the computer (through databases), researching in the New York Public library system, knowing who to contact, how to contact them, how to find specific documents— they’re all valuable skills! I’m in charge of a database system. So I now know how to keep track of all the information we find, something which I’ll be able to use in graduate school when I’m doing my own research. I’ve also networked with so many professors and different people. I know already that if I can’t find whatever I need, there are people I can contact who can help me.
Sounds like there’s a lot of collaboration involved!
Definitely. Last February, my mentor gave a talk at a symposium at SB Manhattan, and there were other professors whom I was able to speak with. We were collecting ideas, throwing ideas off each other. It’s definitely collaborative, the research process, looking at things from many different angles.
Tell me more about the writing process. What have you learned from working on more in-depth, long-term projects?
It’s very different than just writing a paper for a class. There’s so much information to include. It can be overwhelming because you don’t really know what to include, what to keep out…Sometimes you find some really interesting document you want to include but it might not be specific enough or to the point on your topic . You have to pick and choose what you use. And the project evolves over time.
What you learned from your mentors?
Patience! Definitely patience. Prof. Reich has been really great. She’s provided me with so many different opportunities. She makes sure that everything is interesting and challenging. She’s always giving me new and different tasks to do, even outside the research project at hand. She’s a senior editor for a journal. So I would assist with that, and I actually got an internship with that journal during the summer. She’s been very patient, understanding, willing to teach me anything she can about what she’s interested in. . .
And my linguistics mentor, Prof. Repetti — she’s fantastic too. She helped me with Fulbright application, and gave me suggestions for where I should go with my project She has all this knowledge she wants to give you. She’s very nice, and always willing to help you in any way that she can. That makes it a very nice experience. If I’m stuck and don’t know what to do…even in a class, or with my research project, I know I can go to her and ask her for advice. She’ll be more than willing to help.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I was accepted to Cambridge University for a master’s in linguistics, but I’m also waiting to hear about the Fulbright application that I submitted and was accepted for final review. Either way, I will be studying Italian linguistics!
Have your undergraduate research experiences prepared you well for graduate school?
Yes, because ….you learn how to be extremely independent in what you’re interested in. You have your professor to look to if you’re stuck or not sure where to turn on the project, but it really teaches you how to find direction and take the initiative on something that you’re interested in investigating, how to find information, and keep everything on track and organized. It teaches you to have your own mind, and think by yourself. More so than a class, where you could be influenced by other students or what the professor is saying. . . . Doing a senior thesis has been a valuable experience too. I feel like when I’m sitting in my linguistics classes… that it’s helped me to have a deeper background in the material. I think about the material differently.
You have a very good academic record—a high GPA. How difficult is it to be involved in research, and still maintain the level of work you do for your courses?
It is difficult, definitely. I try to think of the research projects as part of my class work because, in the middle of the semester, when you’re worrying about all those classes and grades, sometimes your research projects can get pushed aside without you knowing it. You kind of have to make it a priority outside of class work. Juggling classes is difficult too because I commute, so on the train, I do some work. With commuting, everything changes, sometimes, . . . just because the train is late!
What advice do you have for other students at SB?
Mainly, that there are opportunities outside of the sciences! Students who think that opportunities are only in sciences..well, that’s a really big misconception! The opportunities in the humanities are just as fruitful in terms of the benefits, the networking with people. Professors to me have been more than receptive, and I think it’s important for students to put themselves out there. I know it’s really daunting asking a professor: “I’m interested in this, I want to get involved …what should I do?” But I’m really happy that I applied for the position with Prof. Reich and that I was able to work with Prof. Repetti. And I think students would be so much happier having the kinds of research experiences I’ve had. Undergraduate research at Stony Brook — this is the most memorable experience that I’ve had.
Did you come to SB knowing what you wanted to major in?
Yes I did, but it changed! I came in as a Biology major and I wanted to be a doctor. I was taking chemistry, biology, & math classes but I was also taking DECs. I took an Italian literature class that really interested me. Soon after that I decided that I didn’t want to pursue medicine. . . it wasn’t for me, it wasn’t the right fit. I found European studies, and I found linguistics. In one of my literature classes, one of the students (there were 12) was a linguistics major, and I remember looking at the bulletin and being intrigued. So I started taking linguistics classes and I just fell in love with it. That’s how I found it.
A positive outcome of taking DECs! Tell me a little about your internship with a literary journal. Does that relate to your academic research project in any way?
The journal is called Men and Masculinities. The editor is in Sociology, Prof. Michael Kimmel. And Prof. Reich is a senior editor for the journal. I got an internship during the summer. I worked really as a liaison between the editorial people and the publishing houses. I would write emails to publishing houses, requesting books, asking for different material…or with other people on the executive board of the journal, sending out documents to review, collecting materials for different articles to review and make comments on. It might not have anything necessarily directly to do with what I was studying but it gave me other skills, and it gave me an outlook and a different perspective on a different area of academia that was helpful.
Do you have a favorite day connected with your research experiences?
It wasn’t a day, but a 4 week period. Last winter, Jackie and I, we went to the New York City public libraries for the intercession. We would go into the city every day and do archival research. It was really tedious, going through all the papers, microforms, and sitting at this machine, flipping through these old, old newspapers for hours and hours.. but it was a lot of fun! I got to learn how to do things I hadn't known before. You put these old documents that are laminated in this machine that blows them up. I had no idea how to work with microform before…
Did you handle the old documents yourself?
Yes, I was surprised at that. There were articles from 1912 that I was able to touch. I was afraid they would crumble in my hand…Up until that point, I was mostly doing research here, with a few interlibrary loans. It was a really different experience to go these other libraries and figure these things out. It was a lot of fun!
Sounds like a great experience! Were there ever frustrating times as well?
Phocopying was frustrating, I don’t know if that really counts….And I remember at the time that the work could be tedious and I would go cross-eyed during the day. But now that I look back, and even at the time— at the end of day, it was still a lot of fun!
That's great that, even when the work gets tedious, you can step back and appreciate the process involved.
. . . It’s an interesting process, with the archival work. Because sometimes you can have this train of thought from documents that your ideas are following along a specific track. And then, you’ll find a clipping or newspaper advertisement that totally throws a monkey wrench in what you’re trying to find, that conflicts with what you’re trying to prove… You have this idea and you’re following it along. Then you find this article from 1915—on the back of this newspaper somewhere— that totally changes what you were thinking and puts you on a different track!