Undergrad Research Recognized at National Conference

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

In the last week of January, four Rochester undergraduates traveled to Harvard University to give a presentation at the National College Research Conference. The four participants created posters of their research and presented to panels of judges. Student Anaise Williams ’13 took home an Award of Excellence, the second place prize awarded to five out of 250 student presenters and is the top prize for the social sciences.

“I examined how rural low-income pregnant women in Northeastern Thailand negotiate traditional beliefs of prenatal precaution and biomedical prenatal recommendation. I really wanted to figure out how pregnancy is culturally scripted. How do people decide between listening to their moms and doctors?” says Williams, winner of the Award of Excellence.

This is a natural topic for someone who majors in anthropology with a focus on public health and has an interest in Asian culture. Williams conducted her research as she studied abroad in Thailand last spring. By taking part in the CIEE Development and Globalization Program arranged through Rochester’s Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs, Williams conducted interviews with Thai women to determine how they reconciled traditional and modern views of pregnancy.

“This is an interesting way to investigate how global forms of information are understood at the local level,” Williams explains. “The project adds to the anthropological discussion of how to make biomedical globalization more culturally conscious.” She concludes that the women have a Western and traditional hybrid view of pregnancy in which they have autonomy over their bodies and incorporate traditional Thai views of pregnancy. Her extensive fieldwork interviewing pregnant women through translators gave her a nuanced view of the topic.

Alisa-Johnson-'14-and-URMC-Research-Mentor-Dr.-S-VijayakumarAlong with fellow undergraduates Alisa Johnson ‘14, Siddhi Shah ‘14, and Shilpa Topudurti ‘14, Williams attended the three-day conference with 250 students from around the country. Through funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research and various academic departments, the students were able to present their research to peers and students. They also were able to listen to professors discuss their own work; lecturers this year included development economist Jeffrey Sachs and psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker.

“I learned a lot from the keynote speakers and was exposed to a variety of topics from fellow presenters from all over the country,” says Alisa Johnson. “It was a great opportunity to connect and network with other students who share a similar interest in research at the undergraduate level.”

Johnson, Shah, and Topudurti are biology majors who presented on topics ranging from kidney disease to melanoma progression.

Shilpa-Topudurti-'14These four participants condensed their findings into 15-minute presentations and a poster board. Each gave a presentation to panels of judges that included professors and their fellow peers. A second, more formal presentation determined the prizes.

The Award of Excellence prize comes as a capstone for an already accomplished academic career. Outside of her major in anthropology Williams is president of the Undergraduate Anthropology Council; a coordinator at GlobeMed; and a tutor for 5th grade students at School 29, an elementary school in the 19th Ward. And she sees her project going still further; Williams is working on fellowships that will allow her to study maternal health in Asia next year.

NCRC-2013-participants

In the Photos: First: Anaise Williams ’13 and Siddhi Shah ’14 at the National College Research Conference.  Second: Alisa Johnson ’14 and URMC Research Mentor Dr. S. Vijayakumar discuss Johnson’s research with conference participants. Third: Shilpa Topudurti ’14 presents her research during the conference. Fourth: Held at Harvard, nearly 250 students from around the country attended the National College Research Conference.  All photos courtesy of Alisa Johnson.

Fellowship Prepares Rochester Student for Career in International Affairs

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

University of Rochester undergraduate Jonathan Johnson ’14 has been selected as a 2013 Public Policy & International Affairs Fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s Junior Summer Institute. He is the second Rochester student to be named a PPIA Fellow in the last two years and is among the 20 recipients selected from a national pool of candidates to participate in the program at Carnegie Mellon.

As a PPIA Fellow, Johnson will spend seven weeks at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College—their graduate school focusing on public policy—in this highly selective summer program designed to prepare students from diverse social and economic backgrounds for graduate study and careers in public policy and international affairs. As a political science and anthropology major, Johnson has studied refugee populations and policy effects on war and genocide. His interest in the intersection of identity and policy, specifically how disadvantaged populations overcome obstacles, led him to apply for the PPIA Fellowship, which will help hone the skills required to conduct policy analysis.

“The fellowship looks at how policy affects individuals, states, and countries in nuanced ways—both on micro and macro levels,” Johnson said, “and understanding these complex relationships will help me gain the intellectual background needed to further my goals in affecting real-world change in the future.”

At Rochester, Johnson has been an active member of the campus community. He has served as a resident advisor for three years and as a Meridian, an ambassador for the Admissions Office. A perennial member of the Dean’s List, he participated in the Compass to Personal Success and Urban Fellows programs, two leadership and civic engagement initiatives through the University’s Rochester Center for Community Leadership. Johnson also is president of the men’s volleyball club.

While in Pennsylvania, Johnson will study economics, statistics, policy analysis and management, writing, and public speaking. The Junior Summer Institute is a blend of classroom coursework and workshops that address a variety of domestic and international issues. Carnegie Mellon’s program provides career-planning workshops that include GRE prep and one-on-one meetings with admissions and program staff members from graduate school. Fellows also will have opportunities to meet with public affairs practitioners and take a networking trip to Washington, D.C.

Johnson, a native of Crystal River, Fla., is a graduate of Lecanto High School in Lecanto, Fla. After graduation, he hopes to spend a year teaching English as a second language in Malaysia before pursuing both a juris doctorate and master’s degree in public policy.

The Carnegie Mellon Junior Summer Institute is part of the 30-year-old Public Policy & International Affairs Fellowship Program. A national consortium of top public policy and international affairs graduate schools, PPIA seeks to prepare college juniors for advanced degrees and careers serving the public good. In addition to Carnegie Mellon, there are four other schools that host a summer institute, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and Princeton University. For additional information, visit PPIA Program’s website.

Tongue Twisters Topic of Students’ Studies

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Former University of Rochester students Catie Hilliard ’10  and Katrina Furth ’10 recently saw two research papers written during their undergraduate studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and Frontiers in Psychology. Working with Florian Jaeger, Wilmot Assistant Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Furth and Hilliard examined how word choice is affected by phonological overlap, or how the sounds of words affect how we choose them in everyday conversation.

Furth became interested in the field of brain and cognitive sciences because she wanted to research psychiatric disorders and how the brain creates perceptions and thoughts. “I was inspired by a family member who dealt with episodes of mental illness to understand how normal brains work and develop in the hopes that we may be able to prevent serious mental illness someday,” she explained.  

As an undergraduate student working part time at Tim Horton’s, Furth sought out undergraduate research opportunities in the hopes of doing something with her summer that was more meaningful and relevant to her studies. She was referred to Michael Tanenhaus, who hired her to create videos that would be used in psycholinguistics experiments.

For one of her projects, Furth worked with Susan Cook to study people’s gestures as they described videos to their friends. “As we were making the videos, I noticed that people were using the verbs ‘hand’ and ’give’ at different frequencies to describe videos in which one character passes a gift or a hat to another character.”

This is where the idea for their project was born. “Dr. Jaeger had just joined the University and I started discussing my idea with him. He offered to continue paying me to figure out what was going on,” she said. “I was particularly curious to know if people avoided repeating the same initial syllables if they had the choice. No one knew whether people naturally avoided tongue twisters, though.”

The initial goal of the project was to examine if people avoid phonological overlaps (“hand hammer,” for example) when planning sentences. The project quickly expanded to include word order, speech rate, and fluency to see if people “strategically” avoid sentence constructions that may make them less fluent. “One idea that always really excited me was that we could make these choices without consciously thinking them through – people speak at about 3 syllables per second and so we certainly were not stopping to choose the best words,” she explains. “I was also really excited by the idea that information about how words will be produced can affect things that we think of as getting planned early – you choose your words and the sentence structure before you retrieve all of the sounds, right? Well, the whole premise of this work was that the sounds of words are getting accessed so early that they are affecting which words even get chosen, and in which order you produce those words.”

VIDEO: See a video clip used in the research study

Furth was tasked with designing the experiment, creating the videos that would be used to test the subjects, recruiting and testing subjects, and instructing other undergraduates on how to annotate the collected utterances. Once the data was collected, Furth sought Jaeger’s help to calculate statistics on word frequency. “I learned a great deal about experiment design and data analysis by working on this project. Since I had never designed an experiment before, I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but the biggest piece that I learned about experiments is that one extra hour of planning before you start can save 40 hours of careful analysis at the end of the experiment.” Jaeger, Furth, and Hilliard found that speakers are less likely to choose words that result in phonological overlap, and that this tendency is based on early effects on lexical selection rather than later corrective processes.

About a year and a half into the project, Hilliard joined the team as they began to design more experiments looking at word order and fluency when the words shared similar endings instead of similar onsets. “That was the most fun/weird part of it — having an idea in your head and trying to come up with a way to test it,” Hilliard said.

BCS-Research-2Hilliard had been on track to complete a major in linguistics, but after a family member experienced a stroke which resulted in a loss of nearly all language abilities, she became increasingly interested in brain and cognitive sciences. “Suddenly, all of these cognitive processes that I had taken for granted seemed so complex and laborious. I wanted to learn more about cognition, how it develops, and the neural structure underlying these abilities.”

Hilliard combined her interests to pursue a concentration in psycholinguistics within the BCS department. After taking a psycholinguistics class with Jaeger, she worked as an assistant in his lab for the summer. This experience with the research process led her to join Furth and Jaeger’s project for the following year.

Both Furth and Hilliard refer to their research with Jaeger as one of the most valuable experiences of their undergraduate career. “I was particularly blessed to have an opportunity to pursue my own research idea as an undergraduate, present the work at international conferences, and be an author on multiple manuscripts,” Furth says. “My mentor, Florian, also sent me to the Yucatan peninsula to help collect data working with native Mayan speakers. These were once-in-a-lifetime experiences as I navigated the world in Spanish and attempted to do basic research in rare languages.”

Furth said the research experiences were pivotal in the graduate school admission process. “I believe that these experiences, and the letters of recommendations that came from them, were the major reason that I was accepted by 12 of 14 graduate schools to which I applied.”

Hilliard has similarly positive things to say about her experience. “Before I had even realized I wanted to continue doing research in graduate school, working in a lab gave me a sense of responsibility and independence that I didn’t always feel for my classwork,” she said. “I became really invested in the projects I was working on. I thought about them a lot, and learned how to communicate my research ideas to other people.”

Like Furth, Hilliard said that conducting research as an undergraduate prepared her for graduate school. “I felt confident in my abilities, and continued to feel supported by Florian, Katrina, and other members of the lab. When I applied for admission, several lab members shared their own experiences and advice, and I ended up in the best program for my research interests.”

Jaeger also emphasized the importance of having Furth and Hilliard in his lab. “Katrina was the first RA I hired six years ago. It was wonderful having Caitie and Katrina in the lab, I got lucky,” he says. “I hope that the University will continue to expand their support for undergraduate research and that we can strike a balance between providing research opportunities for undergraduates and all the other responsibilities of faculty. I think it’s one of the most appealing properties of a place like Rochester that you can actually get your feet wet and get involved in research.”

Katrina Furth (Pictured top right with Professor Florian Jaeger) is now enrolled in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University, and is working at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Andres Buonanno. She is examining the role of the dopamine D4 receptor in modulating cognitive ability and neural network oscillations called gamma rhythms. “Children with an allelic variant of the D4 receptor are more likely to have ADHD and many antipsychotic medications target this receptor as well as others. I am recording from individual neurons using patch-clamp electrophysiology.”

Caitie Hilliard (pictured bottom left) received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for her work with Dr. Susan Cook, a full scholarship for three years of graduate study in the University of Iowa Psychology department under Dr. Cook, a former Post-Doc at the University of Rochester. Hilliard is studying the role of hand gesture in communication, focusing on how speakers modulate their gestures based on the shared information they have with their listeners. She has run two studies examining how speakers’ gestures change when they know that their listener lacks task-relevant information, and is currently investigating how the listeners’ perception of these gestures affects their own cognition.

Article written by Blake Silberberg, an intern with University Communications and a member of the Piggies. He is a senior majoring in political science.

Meet Samantha Whalen: Meliora Leader

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Though only a sophomore, Samantha Whalen ’15 has managed to effectively find a  real-world application for her majors in anthropology and health, behavior & society and complement her interests in peer health advocacy and community outreach. As a participant in the Meliora Leaders Program, Whalen was given the opportunity to volunteer at the Sojourner House, a transitional housing program for homeless women and children located in the 19th ward community. There, she helps residents plan and cook healthy, nutritious meals.

For the 2012-2013 academic year, five Rochester students, including Whalen, were selected as inaugural participants in the Meliora Leaders program. Designed to support and incentivize community-based leadership among Rochester students, the new initiative is a part of the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL).

In addition to serving as publicity chair of the Refugee Student Alliance on campus and volunteering as a part of community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, Whalen will spend the year running a local community service project, embodying the University motto by “seeking to ameliorate the Rochester community.”

In exchange for 300 hours of service throughout the academic year, leaders receive supplemental funding through AmeriCorps, which is matched by the University of Rochester. Participants undergo leadership training, keep in contact with a member of the host organization where the service is performed, and receive regular advisement by faculty or staff at the College.

“The program benefits organizations and individuals in need in Rochester, but also provides a substantive learning experience for our students,” says Glenn Cerosaletti, director of Rochester Center for Community Leadership. “Students stand to gain a keener understanding of the Rochester community—both its needs and assets—and make lasting connections with particular individuals in the community. At the same time, I hope they will gain an understanding of project management and how to enact social change.”

Whalen’s host organization, the Sojourner House, provides shelter for roughly 16 women at a time and any children they may have. The women living in the house must complete assigned chores, attend life skills programs that help them find jobs, and sometimes undergo counseling and therapy for issues like drug and alcohol addiction. Women and their families usually stay around six months, which is preferred to secure living arrangements, although stays vary from one month to more than a year.

At the house, Whalen noticed that women usually pooled their food stamps and resources to prepare ‘comfort’ foods, which were often unhealthy. She has been working with the life skills coordinator at the house to plan healthy meals, make shopping lists, organize the kitchen so the women have better access to adequate cooking supplies, and provide advice on healthy portion sizes. She also suggests simple recipes with varied and interesting ingredients and tries to make them as healthy and nutritious as possible while staying within budget.

“The women go back to the same things that they grew up making, which is fine every once in awhile, but it’s about teaching them and their children how to live a healthier lifestyle,” Whalen explains.

Examples of healthy meals that Whalen helped plan include chicken pasta primavera, chicken stir fry, smoked pork chops with corn and okra, chicken asparagus crepes, turkey meatloaf, and chicken quesadillas.

Whalen especially appreciates her interactions with the children who live in the Sojourner House. In addition to biweekly visits to the house to help plan meals and improve overall nutrition, Whalen hosts a “study buddy” program on Tuesday nights, where she provides homework help to the kids who live there. The kids also participate in “Dream Seeds,” an arts enrichment program that has activities, including drumming and tap dancing. She says that talking and interacting with the children has given her a new perspective on Rochester outside of the microcosm of the River Campus.

“It’s eye-opening to interact with a different socioeconomic group. It helps me to understand Rochester more as a community,” Whalen explains. “There are two little girls that told me they aren’t allowed to play outside because there’s a criminal who lives on their street. Sojourner House is a place to go to feel safe and to do fun activities.”

A native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Whalen pursued this opportunity after hearing about it through Alpha Phi Omega and was in charge of finding her own project and contacts. Whalen posts monthly reflections on Blackboard so that RCCL staff can monitor her progress and make sure she stays on track.  She remains focused on maintaining a nutrition program and committed to helping the residents of the Sojourner House in any way that she can.

This article is part one of a series that will feature the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in Spring 2013. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.

UR Freshman Brings Tiananmen Protest Leader to Campus

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Two years ago Se Hoon Kim ’16 was sitting in a Barnes and Noble when an employee dropped a book. Curious about the title, My Two Chinas, Kim began to read and felt an immediate connection with the author, Chinese pro-democracy activist Baiqiao Tang.

The book chronicles Tang’s efforts as a student leader organizing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hunan Province in 1989, his arrest and imprisonment during the nationwide crackdown against “counterrevolutionaries” that ensued in China after the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, and his eventual escape to the United States in 1992.

Intrigued, Kim scoured the Internet for information about Tang, and eventually became friends with him on Facebook.  After some online exchanges, Kim, now a freshman at the University of Rochester, invited Tang visit campus to talk about recent developments in China.

“I feel that one should have a general idea of what’s going on in the international community,” said Kim, who plans to major in international relations and is interested in a career in diplomacy or education. “Tang has been criticizing what’s been happening in the [Chinese] government with facts that are globally known because he believes the Chinese people should be taking control of their own country.”

In an impressive feat for a first-year undergraduate, Kim’s wish was granted when associate professor of economics Michael Rizzo agreed to fund Tang’s Rochester appearance through the Alexander Hamilton Institute of Rochester. The lecture, which has held on Thursday, Nov. 15, attracted a sizeable audience.

Tang, who is a regular contributor for Radio Free Asia and New Dynasty TV, discussed many issues he feels affect the freedom of the Chinese people, citing the size of the government, the “internet police” and the government’s control of the nation’s media, rampant corruption, a biased education system, and an oversized police force.

As the founder of the China Peace and Democracy Federation, an organization dedicated to keeping the Chinese people informed about their government, Tang also made the case for a Chinese democracy. While some question the functionality of democratic institutions in China due to its size; Tang pointed out that India still strives for democracy despite the country’s similarly massive size. He also emphasized that any democratic system put in place in China would not be an exact copy of America’s democratic system, but would instead reflect the interests and values of the Chinese people.

“The people want the Chinese government to change. But if the people’s power is too powerful, the government has a problem,” said Tang.

Tang acknowledged that some Chinese students would disagree with his critique of China and its governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but he gave justification for his stance by stating, “If anyone in this world is not free, I am not free.  So I will fight for freedom.”

Kim believes that the seminar was particularly meaningful for the Chinese students in attendance, especially those who “come from the mainland and don’t learn about this stuff in school.”

“I think this seminar was revolutionary because it opened doors for different opinions. Many students told me it was a success because it helped them to clarify some of the problems they knew existed and that it enabled them to think more deeply,” said Kim, who hopes his career path may lead him to teach international affairs, specifically East Asian studies.

Kim also noted that he welcomed the negative feedback he received as well. “It’s great because it gives me the opportunity to hold a better seminar next time,” he said. “It’s been a huge learning opportunity and I hope to host more events like this in the future.”

In the Photos: Top Right: Baiqioa Tang discusses China at the University of Rochester. Bottom right: Mixed Martial Artist Bruce Kivo, Activist Baiqioa Tang, and Rochester student Se Hoon Kim ’16. Photos courtesy of Caitlin Mack.

Rochester Joins Nine Other Universities to Explore For-Credit Online Education

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

The University of Rochester has partnered with nine peer institutions to establish a consortium to explore a new, for-credit, online course program called Semester Online. The consortium is working with the company 2U (formerly known as 2tor), which was created in 2008 to develop for-credit online courses.

“As a leading research university, Rochester has a responsibility to shape and define the use of technology to enrich the academic experience for our students,” said Robert Clark, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and interim senior vice president for research. “This partnership allows us to explore the creation of online learning initiatives with peer institutions that share our mission of delivering education of the highest quality.”

VIDEO: Prof. John Covach Talks Semester Online with Marketplace

VIDEO: Undergrads Share Reaction with 13WHAM-TV

The other consortium members are Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The program is intended to offer academically qualified students an expanded selection of course offerings from some of the country’s most prestigious institutions while giving them the freedom to work, travel, participate in off-campus research programs, or manage personal commitments as they pursue their academic goals. More information about Semester Online courses and the application process will likely be available in early 2013.

Semester Online is one of many approaches Rochester is considering in terms of online education. For the last several months, a University-wide taskforce led by Clark has been assessing the current and future use of technology and digital media in the classroom from traditional, to web-facilitated, to blended courses, to full online.

“Rochester’s interest in online education rests in how it can leverage technology to build connectivity between students and faculty, and how it can develop and enhance the educational experience broadly,” Clark said.

Student Group Promotes Entrepreneurial Ventures On & Off Campus

By Caitlin Mack
Univ. Communications

UR Entrepreneurs is an undergraduate club that promotes the development of new enterprises on campus and the Greater Rochester area.

The S.A. recognized group, which started in 2005, is part of the University of Rochester’s Center for Entrepreneurship and has the support of many community leaders. The group has recently revamped their focus to provide clients with increased technical assistance, such as mobile application development, website design, and research development.

President Jonathan Gonzalez ’14 explains, “the club itself is an entrepreneurial project,” and that being involved has helped him learn how to lead projects, manage money, and think outside of the box.

UR Entrepreneurs is currently working with on-campus nonprofits UR Uganda and New Sudan Aid to increase awareness of each group’s respective social message via marketing, business and website development, and branding. They also are working with Jonny Trade, a start-up online trading company founded by a Simon School student, to help them facilitate online trading.

The group is always looking for new ventures, and would like to become more active in off-campus projects.  Gladys “Gigi” Nickerson ’14, is the group’s venture development officer. She is in charge of developing new projects and identifying entrepreneurial ventures, and acts as a “program manager” to keep track of the group’s current projects. Members are assigned to a committee representing each client to ensure that they are advised in the best way possible.

Other main tools of the group include strategy and capacity-building assistance and marketing campaigns.  Ideally, Gonzalez explains, UR Entrepreneurs will help “firms that have potential for growth and are not achieving that potential, but as a result of working with UR Entrepreneurs will achieve that potential.”

Gonzalez, who plans on a career in “responsible real estate development” for low income families, explains that being a part of UR Entrepreneurs has had real world application. For him, the important aspects have been “exposure to the reality of getting things going” and exploring what “it really takes to have entrepreneurial, leadership acumen. You need to make sure your ideas and input are valuable.”

The group recently merged with UR Consulting, a group established as a functioning consulting firm in 2009 by Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) student, Gemma Sole ’10. The merger made sense to keep UR Consulting sustainable after its founders left and to further empower UR Entrepreneurs with similar project and tools.

According to Gonzalez, UR Entrepreneurs have a wide range of academic majors; the executive board consists of economics, business, and math majors, and the business manager of the group, Phillip Sellstrom ’13, is an environmental science major. Gonzalez explains that the group has enabled students of different academic interests to “gain practical experience in the field of business and insight into how creating value is actually done.”

The group is always looking for new members and recently held a well-attended general interest meeting on Sunday, Sept. 24. In addition, the group is currently in need of an off-campus publicity manager to encourage entrepreneurial ventures in the Greater Rochester area.  The position, separate from the role of on-campus publicity manager, “allows for the best branding and marketing exposure possible,” explains Gonzalez.  Qualifications for this position include web development and web design literacy, an appreciation for media, and creativity. Those interested in the position or interested in learning more about the group should contact Jonathan Gonzalez at jonathanjamesgonzalez@rochester.edu.

In the Photo: UR Entrepreneurs Executive Board (from left to right): Philip Sellstrom ’13, Business Manager; Danny Sarmiento ’14, UR Consulting Executive Director; Daniel Wei ’15, Secretary; Jonathan Gonzalez ’15, President; Gladys Nickerson ’14, Venture Development Officer; Lin Zhang ’14, On-Campus Publicity Director.

Online Archive Provides a Window on Progressive 19th Century Movements

The University of Rochester recently launched an online archive of manuscripts from the Post family, Rochesterians who were near the center of many of the national movements of the 1800s that helped define their city as one of American’s most progressive.

“Rochester was an epicenter of progressive causes,” says Michael Jarvis, an associate professor of history. As activists during this heady period of reform, the Posts knew well and corresponded with a surprising number of national leaders, from Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Brent Jacobs, and William Cooper Nell.

“They were the Kevin Bacon of the 19th century,” says Jarvis, referring to the famously well-connected Hollywood actor so useful in playing the “six degrees of separation” game of association.

In the early 1840’s the Posts became deeply involved in the anti-slavery movement, using their house at 36 Sophia St., now N. Plymouth Ave., as a very active station on the Underground Railroad, says Lori Birrell, manuscript librarian in Rare Books and Special Collection who has served as co-project manager along with Melissa Mead, director of the Digital Projects Research Center.

“They supported Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star, Amy Post attended the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 and introduced fellow Rochesterian Susan B. Anthony to the woman’s rights movement,” says Birrell. “The Posts also participated in the controversial Spiritualist movement in the late 1840s. Begun by the Fox sisters here in Rochester, followers believed that through mediums (Isaac Post eventually believed himself to be a medium) they could communicate with the dead.”

To celebrate the launch of the online archive, scholars and students who have worked with the collection will discussed its significance to local and national history during an event on Thursday, Sept. 13.

The papers cover a full century, from 1817 to 1918, with the majority of the material falling during the nearly 50-year span from 1823 to 1872. They include extensive resources related to the Post’s activities in the abolitionist, Spiritualist, and women’s rights movements. Other topics for which there is significant material are: agriculture, the anti-tobacco movement, childbirth, Chinese immigrants, the Civil War, domestic servants, education, the Friends of Human Progress, freed slaves, Indians, medicine, Quakers, the Reconstruction Era, slavery, and the temperance movement.

The Post papers contain 2,089 letters, manuscripts, newspapers, and other material, and the initial online launch will feature a selection of more than 200 letters. Each letter has been scanned, transcribed, and annotated, a project made possible through the generosity of Randall B. Whitestone ’83 and Lisa T. Whitestone. Eventually the library plans to digitize the entire collection.

To date, students have performed all of the painstaking preparation of the transcriptions. “I had each student select a letter, transcribe it, and do research to explain who is being discussed–and what events,” says Jarvis, who uses the archive as a tool for training graduate students about primary sources. “The students have provided a reader’s guide to make the content of the letter more understandable and useful.”

Margarita Simon Guillory, an assistant professor of religion, also incorporates the collection into her class on Spiritualism. Reading and transcribing these private letters, she says, “humanized” historical figures for the undergraduates in her class. “It was amazing for them,” she says. For example, letters from the Fox sisters, reveal how the famed and widely traveled Spiritualist mediums, were also teenaged girls and sometime lonely. “[A]h how I do wish that you were here,” wrote Catherine Fox to Amy Post in this letter from 1850. “[Y]ou know we always loved you.”

But the collection’s importance extends far beyond the classroom. Guillory uses the archive in her own research on Spiritualism and scholars around the world will find these papers a rich source of social history, she says.

For example, Amy Post was one of the early influences on Susan B. Anthony, encouraging and supporting her in entering the struggle for women’s rights. An organizer of both the Seneca Falls and Rochester conventions in 1848, Post was also an editor of the convention Proceedings published in 1870. In this letter from 1861, Anthony urges Post to gather the names of prominent businessmen, lawyers, and judges for a petition, tells of her visit to their mutual friend and women’s rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and updates Post on gatherings in Auburn, Boston, and Albany.

Many of the letters are from leaders of the abolitionist movement. For example, Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and former slave, dictated in this letter sent to Amy Post her experience of being assaulted in Washington, D.C. for trying to ride on a public train. Harriet Jacobs, a former slave and author the first slave narrative to detail the sexual abuse of female slaves, discussed the difficulty of writing about such a sensitive topic in this letter to Post. “[T]here are somethings [sic] that I might have made plainer I know- woman can whisper- her cruel wrongs into the ear of a very dear friend- much easier than she can record them for the world to read.”