Undergraduate Researchers Shine at Annual Symposium

University Libraries fellowship program supports academic excellence

Tonneiqua Shade, Rose McCandless, Whitney Kneffler and Jake Ferrell presented their research at the 2019 URLF symposium.
From left to right: Tonneiqua Shade, Rose McCandless, Whitney Kneffler and Jake Ferrell presented their research at the 2019 URLF symposium.

by Rachel Stewart
Research Services Assistant and English Literature Major
President, English Undergraduate Student Organization


In October, four undergraduate student researchers gathered to present findings from research conducted over the summer term to peers, family and faculty.

The Undergraduate Research Library Fellowship Symposium (URLF), held on October 1, 2019 in Thompson Library, celebrated and showcased the students who participated in the 2019 URLF program. Each participant in the program, sponsored by University Libraries and the Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry, was paired with a mentor in the Libraries who helped them to develop an independent research project.

The fellowship experience gives undergraduate students the opportunity to use primary resources and artifacts available through University Libraries in order to generate unique scholarship and research. The projects have varied widely across disciplines throughout the years, with research in literature, history, information science, manuscript analysis, business and social sciences all having been conducted through this fellowship.

The four undergraduate researchers in the 2019 program were selected from a pool of qualified applicants. Working with English Librarian Jennifer Schnabel, Whitney Kneffler studied how women accused of murder were portrayed during two historical periods using sources from University Libraries’ Rare Books & Manuscripts Library (RBML) and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Tonneiqua Shade, mentored by African American and African Studies Librarian Leta Hendricks, worked on an enhancement of the bio-bibliographical “Literary Map of Africa,” which functions as a resource for the study of African fantasy works, by preparing annotated entries for this digital map. Rose McCandless worked with RBML curator Eric Johnson to investigate a 13th-century Bible held by the RBML to trace the eventual fragmentation of the manuscript. Jake Ferrell, working with Latin American Studies Librarian Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros, conducted economic history research in Belize based on data collection from archival resources and interviews with political figures and journalists, then created a website showing the results.

“I felt like just another student writing a paper at the beginning,” said Kneffler. While she still feels that way to some extent, Kneffler now realizes that it’s not necessarily a bad thing; she can simultaneously be both a student and a researcher contributing to a scholarly conversation. 

When asked how her view of herself as a researcher changed as a result of the fellowship, Shade said that she now feels much more comfortable accessing resources and her own ability to use them. 

Ferrell, speaking to his biggest challenge during the process, said he “assumed [he] was going to have clean quantitative data ready to go straight into the database” after he returned from Belize, which wasn’t the case. Ferrell also encountered issues involving copyright upon his return. These roadblocks culminated in a final product far different than what he initially intended, but helped him gain a deeper respect for the research process.

McCandless shared that her biggest fear going into the fellowship was that she would have to do a complete 180 on her project—which ended up being true. That shift, however, led to a project that truly showcased her passions. While she was concerned about the amount of unknown information present in her field, that information gap only pushed her to branch out into more experimental forms of thinking in order to adapt to these hurdles.

The success of these student researchers continued after the URLF symposium. Shade recently spoke about her research at the “50 Years of African American and African Studies” alumni social event in Thompson Library. Kneffler and Ferrell are both expanding on their summer research by writing an undergraduate thesis and plan to attend graduate school. McCandless is set to speak on a panel at the May 2020 International Congress on Medieval Studies and is currently in the midst of preparing an article to be published in a major peer-reviewed manuscript studies journal.

The URLF program is set to continue this year, and a new cohort of undergraduate student researchers will be welcomed. Applications for the Summer 2020 URLF applications are now open and are due by 5 p.m. on February 27.  For more information on this program and how to apply, please visit http://u.osu.edu/urlf.