Community Engagement: Choral-Orchestral Practice and Performance through the music of J.S. Bach

This summer, I worked with Professor Christine Howlett to study community engagement through choral practice. For the first half of this research program, I helped run BachFest, a choral and orchestral festival with community singers. This included helping to organize rehearsals and materials, as well as having an administrative role in the festival’s planning and execution. I also got to participate in the choir. In addition, I wrote researched program notes about the background and history of the pieces that were performed.

A color image of the BachFest community choir performing at the Skinner Hall of Music at Vassar College. In the front are four soloists and the conductor. Behind them is a small orchestra, and behind the orchestra is a large mixed choir.

A snapshot from the BachFest performance on June 26, 2022. Photo courtesy of Kevin T McEneany and The Millbrook Examiner.

After BachFest, I had the pleasure of interviewing members of Cappella Festiva, a community choir which Professor Howlett directs, as well as members of community choirs in my hometown of Fairfax, Virginia. These interviews were conducted via Zoom and then transcribed. Though the participants came from various backgrounds and had a variety of musical appreciation, education, and experience, all of the interviewees noted the profound impact that choral singing (and music in general) has had on their well-being, with many also pointing to its positive social effects.

In tandem with these two projects, I read many scientific studies pertaining to the effects of choral singing on mental health, well-being, and community engagement. These studies echoed what we found in our interviews, namely the power of singing as a stress relief, an escape, a social vehicle, and a labor of love. As a singer myself, I can corroborate these points from personal experience, but seeing the positive effect of community singing in real, concrete terms, from observation, research, and hearing others’ personal experiences, reminded me of its importance.

Professor Howlett and I have decided to continue this project into the 2022-2023 academic year, during which we will conduct more interviews and more research in other fields to find a holistic picture of the power of community singing on well-being.

Climate Solutions and Climate Careers: Mapping the Terrain

From students to working professionals, many people want to address climate change with their career, but do not know where to begin. To help these people understand how they can help, our team – Cherrie Chang, Melisa Calderon and Professor Seidman – constructed the website, Climate Solutions and Climate Careers. Our website consists of two major sections, Climate Solutions and Climate Careers, each presenting an engaging roadmap surveying a part of the current climate change landscape. Climate Solutions overviews a range of practical solutions to climate change, from installing heat pumps in buildings to practicing regenerative agriculture; and Climate Careers details how any working professional can use their existing career to address climate change, and how a student can choose a career that will have an impact on climate. Over this summer, we worked together to design and construct the website so that it is visually inviting, accessible and informative. In addition, we developed a database that organizes climate tech startups by sector, such as renewable energy, transportation, and waste. The database helps people explore what is already being done to combat climate change.

 

By the end of the project, we developed a beta version of the website and the database. In both its content and its construction, our website was a great opportunity for us to learn about the intersection of technology and environmentalism. In creating it, we ourselves learned how to use our respective skill sets to contribute to the fight against climate change, and we hope our website shows how you can as well. You can visit our website at: https://climatesolutions-careers.org/

Philosophies of Pedagogy

This summer, I (Christine Kerrol Chung ’24) worked with Professor Osman Nemli in the Philosophy Department on a project called “Philosophies of Pedagogy”. The purpose of this project was to critically understand the nature of education, including its purpose and execution, before moving on to adapting theory into practice by shaping Professor Nemli’s pedagogy in future classes. 

We began by reading some key writing in the field of pedagogy. Particular attention was given to bell hooks’ “Teaching to Transgress”, Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, and Bettina Love’s “We Want to Do More Than Survive” on engaged pedagogy and abolitionist teaching. We also explored the philosophical origins of education through Plato’s “Laches”, and “Meno”, as well as Jacques Ranciere’s “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”. Through biweekly discussions, Professor Nemli and I became heavily inspired by hooks, Freire, and Love’s abolitionist teaching approach.

I then analyzed Professor Nemli’s past CEQs to look for trends in his pedagogy that can be shaped by our readings. A current finding is that although students become inspired by the material, there is a desire for key concepts to be further fleshed out instead of focusing on individuals.

Applying theory to practice, Professor Nemli and I developed two draft syllabi that considered this feedback and engaged pedagogy. We decentered the cult of the individual from syllabi by structuring the content based on key concepts rather than a canonical figure. This was inspired by Ella Baker’s abolitionist approach to protests. We then created assignments that encouraged students to critically engage with the pedagogy of the class; for example, a peer editing assignment where students can have the space to write about the merits/drawbacks of peer editing. 

Going forward, Professor Nemli and I will co-write a paper on Credentialism in the USA, which is currently in the research stage.

Cyber Attacks and US Banks

Cyberattacks are becoming a larger part of what all industries, not just financial firms, have to deal with. Cyber risk exposure has an economically and statistically significant negative effect on the stock market performance of affected firms. Additionally, there is evidence of contagion effects: idiosyncratic firm-level cyber risk has the potential of spreading through interconnected financial markets (same country and industry). In 2011, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) released its initial cybersecurity guidance after a spike in cyber attacks, encouraging companies to pay more attention to cyber risks. Together with Professor Savaser, we are working on a project that aims to document and examine the US bank holding companies’ governance strategies to mitigate cyberattacks. The goal is to construct a measure that captures banks’ cybersecurity proactiveness and examine the type of governance structures that are most effective in dealing with a cyber attack.

We approach the question in multiple stages. First, using text analysis, we document how often cyber terms are mentioned in banks’ annual reports and proxy statements. Second, we analyze the context in which the cyber terms were used. Third, we identify which banks mention cyber risk factors in their disclosures before they or their peers experience an attack or before the SEC published its first guidance of the matter, and which banks act retroactively. Lastly, we merge the dataset with the publicly available data on cyber attacks to examine the relationship between the type of governance mechanisms utilized by banks and the frequency of cyberattacks they experience. In the future, we aim to further investigate the topic in the context of non-financial firms.

Economic Consequences of Childhood Exposure to Lead

Over the summer, I worked alongside Professors Frye and Kagy and Jade Wilkinson to explore the long-term effects of exposure to lead in childhood. We primarily focused on evaluating whether early exposure to lead would cause differences in intergenerational mobility, occupational rank, and total years of schooling.

The project involved creating a large comprehensive data set that pulled together information on people and towns in the northeast, where the integration of central water systems was prevalent around the turn of the twentieth century and the use of lead and non-lead materials for the municipal pipes varied from place to place. After hand-collecting data on cities’ pipes, we were able to identify populations that were exposed to lead and track their individual characteristics over time using full count census and probabilistic matches that link people across census years.

Due to the structure and size of the data sets, much of our work relied on the use of Amazon Web Services, which enabled us to manipulate the data more efficiently and manage very large files. A majority of our coding was done in R and then executed on Amazon’s servers.

The image above shows excerpts from two books that supplied data on towns’ pipe materials and the surrounding area’s water chemistry.

Assisting Professors Frye and Kagy with their research has been an incredibly rewarding experience, which allowed me to participate directly in a long-term academic research project and hone both my research and coding skills. Learning how to troubleshoot coding problems and account for larger abstract concerns related to the way we engage with our data was also a useful and valuable aspect of this summer’s work.  I hope to gain more experience in economic research, further develop these skills, explore other approaches that help us better understand past and present policies and decisions, and then apply the knowledge and experience to other research projects in the near future.

Building the Museum—Structuring Understanding

Building the Museum: Collecting and Displaying Art from the Renaissance to the Present

Bart Thurber, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center & Art Department and Am Chunnananda, Class of 2023

I worked with Professor Bart Thurber this summer to prepare for his spring seminar. The seminar will explore how museums have come to be as they are conceptually and materially—how renovation, reinvention, and, in some cases, demolition, have played a role in their evolutions.

Our first and primary task was to get to know the eleven museums that would be used as case studies throughout the course. Ranging in geography, history, architecture, and design strategies, our list included the State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, est. 1764), the Guggenheim (New York City, est. 1937), and the Louvre Abu Dhabi (est. 2017). I located as many digital resources as possible for each institution and immersed myself in them; I navigated museum websites, examined original floor plans, viewed 360 photographs, and read widely to get a detailed sense of each space in context.

This immersion segued into the second objective of our project: to develop materials for the course and flesh out its structure. From my digital explorations, I wrote introductions and curated “resource libraries” for each museum. The latter included webpages, journal articles, photographs, virtual tours, maps, archival documentation, and journalistic accounts. Some of these references will serve as core readings while others will be tools for independent study.

While producing these materials, Professor Thurber and I worked towards distilling a list of shared features of museum institutions, to be used as a framework for comparison throughout the class sessions. We also compiled general issues concerning museums and brainstormed ways in which the Loeb could find its place in the course as a “laboratory” for thinking.

I was glad to have spent time gathering resources, refining ideas, and architecting a learning journey. In many ways, those are the very processes out of which museums come to be.

First draft of a museum profile, one of the course materials Prof. Thurber and I worked on, which combines the introduction and ‘resource library’ of a particular institution. Images used belong to sources cited in the file.

Public Sentiment of Canceled Celebrities

This summer, Professor Ho and I worked on a behavioral economics project examining the effectiveness of various apology types on the ability of celebrities and public figures to return to society after being “canceled.”

 

For our work, we looked first to well publicized celebrity apologies. We collected a sample of celebrity apologies based on two online databases: a New York Times dataset of celebrities who were publicly reprimanded during the #metoo movement and a dataset compiled by the online apology blog SorryWatch who noted and analyzed a number of celebrity apologies in the recent decades, culminating in over 200 apologies. We then used Amazon Mturk to categorize and assess the effectiveness of these apologies through a survey we constructed.

 

We additionally worked with academic access from Twitter to download databases of tweets referencing the celebrities within our dataset. These databases of tweets consist of a sample of tweets from six distinct periods of interest: 

  1.  Random collection of tweets from the year prior to the cancellation
  2. A database of tweets directly before the news of the cancellable event was published
  3. A database of tweets directly after the news of the cancellable event was published
  4. A database of tweets directly before the celebrity apologized
  5. A database of tweets directly after the celebrity apologized
  6. Random collection of tweets from the year following the issuing of the apology

A screenshot of some of the code used to create our tweet databases.

We then used the open source program VADERsentiment to analyze the overall sentiment of the tweets contained in our databases to quantify how public sentiment towards the celebrity changed over time. Our initial results are promising and in line with some of our initial hypotheses, and I hope that our continued collaboration on this project will yield interesting results. 

 

This image depicts an example output of our sentiment analysis of the tweet dataset for Kevin Spacey.

Resilience Stories: Investigating Science-Based Strategies to Effectively Manage Stress and Adversity

This summer, we worked with Professor Michele Tugade to research evidence-based strategies for managing stress and strengthening resilience. Through exploring the current literature, participating in workshops, and hearing personal experiences, we were able to identify key markers of resilience and start brainstorming ways that we could teach it effectively. 

Our first task was to investigate the current literature on resilience and develop summaries of their theories and findings. This work was the foundation for our entire project as we began creating infographics, interview questions, and eventually a website. We used platforms such as The Greater Good and Character Lab to identify approaches to common themes of resilience such as self-compassion, gratitude, growth mindset, and goal agility.

We created infographics on the Self-Compassion Cycle, Tender & Fierce Self-Compassion (Dr. Kristin Neff), and Emotional Nuance. We also developed interview questions for future work, highlighting the different perspectives/narratives of resilience and the power of storytelling.

Self-Compassion Infographics and Series

Next, we decided to develop a website where the research and resources could be shared. When designing the website, we wanted to identify both the strengths and limitations of what was currently offered. First, we noticed that a majority of the resources were inaccessible due to their high prices and time-consuming workshops. Additionally, we found that current research related to resilience and PTG lacked consideration of its theoretical applications in different cultural, social, and individual contexts. With this in mind, our goals were to address these limitations, make resources more accessible, and account for different perspectives.

Resilience Stories Website Homepage

Resilience Stories Website — Podcasts

This project has shown us the power of individual resilience and the importance of implementing these strategies whenever possible in our daily lives. The future directions of this project include creating a focus group for the website, conducting interviews, and submitting a research proposal to the APA.

Judicial Research: The Identities and Experiences of State Court Judges

This summer, we worked with Professor Taneisha Means researching the pre-bench lives of state court judges across the United States. We received a valuable introduction to concepts of law and judicial politics. 

For our first collective project, we researched background characteristics such as political, educational, and socio-economic background to determine how the pre-bench lives of state court judges differ across racial lines. Our work entailed analyzing transcriptions from 96 interviews with state court judges and survey data among approximately 600 judges to understand judicial diversity in state courts.

Ben Fikhman ’23 and Simon LaClair ’24 organizing data gathered from interviews with judges

We each then worked on a different paper co-authored with Professor Means. Ben researched judges’ experiences with and perceptions of race-based, gender-based, and sexuality-based disqualification requests from litigants who sometimes question the impartiality of minority judges. Simon worked on evaluating the mental health support, stress, career satisfaction, and general well-being of state court judges. We developed our data analysis skills, our understanding of how to craft scholarly articles, and our knowledge of the topics we studied.

Our experience with this project emphasizes the scholarly importance of state court judges, who hold tremendous influence over citizens’ lives. Despite this reality, we have come to realize research on state court judges is limited and more is needed. We are thrilled to be a part of Professor Means’ exploration into the politics of state judges and courts.

A spreadsheet keeping track of progress with interviewing and transcribing

By enhancing our knowledge of judicial terminology, discovering new ways to organize data, and learning about general research methodology, we dipped our feet into the world of law in a more substantive way than we first anticipated. Beyond the systematic analysis of judges, this project helped us understand the human perspective behind the state judiciary – the personal stories among hundreds of judges that underlie the complexity of judicial politics and the justice system.