Research Highlight: Stephanie Zemba

by arowsey on February 20, 2021

I had the opportunity to speak with Stephanie Zemba concerning her research experience with Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Mehrotra on examining interfaith dating relationships.

Can you describe what your research project is about?

Our research project examined interfaith dating relationships among college students, including students’ experiences, attitudes or views, expectations, and apprehensions. Drs. Kristi Hoffman and Meeta Mehrotra were the primary investigators, and they conducted five focus groups, which fell into two categories depending on whether students had interfaith experience (personally or through family/friends). Interfaith relationships were broadly defined to include faith-no faith and interdenominational relationships as well as a relationship between two individuals from different faith traditions.

I joined this project as a Research Fellow after the data was already collected, so I was primarily involved with analysis and helping to write up the results. Our article, called “Students’ Attitudes Towards Interfaith Relationships: The Impact of Parents, Religiosity, and Christian Privilege,” will be published in the Journal of College and Character this month. It discusses three main themes that arose from an analysis of the focus group data: the continued relevance of parents’ opinions about dating partners, the importance of religiosity in a religiously mixed relationship, and the role of Christian privilege in shaping attitudes towards potential dating partners who do not follow a Christian faith tradition.

What made you decide to pursue your topic?

I was interested in joining Drs. Hoffman and Mehrotra’s research team because my parents are in an interdenominational marriage. Several difficulties arose from these relatively minor religious differences in their relationship, most notably the negative reactions of my dad’s side of the family. Listening to my parents discuss their experiences sparked my interest in learning more about how religion shapes partner choice, relationships, and family life.

Why did you decide to do research?

My career goal is to become a professor of sociology and gaining research experience is very helpful as a prelude to a Ph.D. program. In addition to the practical benefits of learning the basics of research as an undergraduate, I enjoy the process of discovery that comes along with conducting a research project. Sociologists examine the social world, and I think that the best way to understand the multiple facets of a topic or issue is to ask people about it directly!

How has your experience with your research advisor been?

Drs. Hoffman and Mehrotra have both been wonderful advisors and mentors! I have enjoyed collaborating with them on several research projects, which has given me experience in all stages of the research process, from the design/planning phase to writing up results. Like all great mentors, they always see the potential in me and provide me with encouragement and support. Many of the opportunities that they encouraged me to apply for have really helped me develop as a person and as a scholar, including conference presentations, RC’s Summer Scholars, and the American Sociological Association’s Honors Program.

What has been your favorite or most interesting part of your research project so far?

My favorite part of this research project was the critical analysis we did when developing the Christian privilege theme. This was one of the major contributions of our paper, as few researchers examining interfaith relationships in the U.S. have considered the structural dominance of Christianity and how power inequalities between religious groups can influence openness towards interfaith relationships. In this section, we also discuss the need to encourage the development of religious literacy among college students, and the steps that higher education institutions can take to broaden students’ understanding of diverse religious groups.

What would you say to current and incoming students interested in doing research?

The first step to doing research is simply asking a professor about their interests and any research projects they are involved in or considering! While this may seem intimidating, it can lead to you becoming involved with a professor’s research project or developing an independent study with them. There are a lot of ways to do research, including as a volunteer, for course credit, or for pay. For current students, I would stress that it’s never too late to become involved in research!

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Research Highlight: Ryan Denholm

by arowsey on February 4, 2021

I had the opportunity to speak with Ryan Denholm concerning his experience participating in an independent study with Dr. Bañuelos Montes which focused on actions committed by the Guatemalan military during the Cold War.

Can you describe what your research project is about?

My research project is about atrocities committed by the Guatemalan military during the latter part of the Cold War. I set out to use testimonial literature (that told through the eyes of individual witnesses) in order to document and analyze the nature of the human rights abuses committed. Additionally, I analyzed the relation of these crimes to the broader geopolitical landscape at the time, which is why I entitled my research “El costo humano de geopolítica” (the human cost of geopolitics). Grave human rights abuses were committed with assistance from U.S. tax dollars, under the pretext of “fighting communism.” 

I read and wrote about two works of testimonial literature: “Death of a Guatemalan Village” by Victor Montejo and “After the Bombs” by Arturo Arias. The former is a work of nonfiction written by a schoolteacher in the indigenous village of Tzalalá who witnessed the military execute civilians. The latter is fiction written through the eyes of an imagined boy, named Máximo, describing the Guatemala that he would have grown up in, marred by violence and destruction. Especially damning is the way that Arias follows Máximo’s growth and development; whereas in the United States many of us take for granted life milestones like falling in love for the first time, in Máximo’s case his first date is interrupted by military men violating his girlfriend. While again, this is a work of fiction, many of these types of crimes (and much worse) occurred within the context of Cold War geopolitics. My completed research becomes, in essence, a rebuke of U.S. Cold War foreign policy in Guatemala for the way in which it aided and abetted some of the 20th century’s most horrific atrocities.

What made you decide to pursue your topic?

My freshman year at Roanoke, I took a Latin American history course taught by Dr. Wallace Fuentes. In that class, for the first time, I began to gain a more clear picture of the region’s history and its relation to broader geopolitical discussions. Prior to college, as a middle and high school student in public Virginia schools, I was  often taught broad oversimplifications about the Cold War, like that the United States won without anyone dying. Dr. Wallace Fuentes’ course sparked in me a desire to more fully understand the politics of the region and the way that Washington’s power has shaped its development. 

As a Spanish minor, my discussions with Dr. Bañuelos Montes often involved the politics and history of Latin America, as well. Him and I both share an interest to academically explore human rights abuses that were committed in Latin America during the Cold War. Guatemala is the perfect case study of this. 

Why did you decide to do research?

I decided to do research in order to pursue a topic of academic interest more fully, and to work one on one with a faculty member. This independent study with Dr. Bañuelos was a great opportunity to do that. 

How has your experience with your research advisor been?

It has been a pleasure to work with a research advisor as engaged and as knowledgeable in his field as Dr. Bañuelos. He provided me with academic guidance that was invaluable to the completion of my research. I learned a lot from him and the readings that he provided me with.

What has been your favorite or most interesting of your research project so far?

The most intriguing part of my research has been what I have learned about U.S. Cold War policy in Guatemala. As an American who wants his country to pursue good in the world and uplift those in other countries, learning about the atrocities committed in Guatemala with U.S. financial and logistical support is disheartening, to say the least. It has been sobering to learn that while our presidents are happy to pay lip service to ideals of democracy and human rights, when it comes to tangible policy, too often these principles have been ignored. 

For example, in my research I learned that President Reagan, despite having clear evidence of the genocide and atrocities being committed by the Guatemalan military against indigenous people, praised dictator Efraín Ríos Montt as a man of great personal integrity and provided him with military equipment. As an American, this research leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a renewed desire to work towards building a country that actually practices what it preaches, politically.

What would you say to current and incoming students interested in doing research? 

Just do it! I would encourage any students interested in doing research to talk to a professor who is knowledgeable in a subject that they are interested in. By working one on one with a faculty member, I was able to pursue a subject of interest at a deeper level than can otherwise be attained.

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Research Highlight: Lauren Powell

November 9, 2020

I had the opportunity to speak with Lauren Powell concerning her experience presenting research she conducted with Dr. Bucholz at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention in New Orleans.  Can you describe what your research project is about? The most recent research Dr. Buchholz and I have conducted was a study about […]

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Research Highlight: Jamie Obremski

September 7, 2020

I had the opportunity to talk to recent RC grad Jamie Obremski about her research experience. She had the opportunity to present her research at the Southeast Decision Science Institute (February 2020). Why did you decide to do research? I am a part of the Honors Program here at RC and this research is a […]

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Research Highlight: Amber Gregory

October 12, 2020

I had the opportunity to talk to recent RC grad Amber Gregory about her research experience. She presented her research at the Southeast Decision Science Institute earlier this year (February 2020). We researched how Instagram affects one’s personal wellness, that being, anxiety, depression, tendency of eating disorders, and self-confidence. The members of our group picked […]

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Research Highlight: Savannah Faith Clark & Christian Sanchez

February 27, 2020

Savannah Faith Clark and Christian Sanchez are current juniors at Roanoke College. They had the opportunity to present their research at the Virginia Academy of Science Undergrad Meeting. I asked them questions to get an insight of their experience presenting and what conducting research at Roanoke College is like. Can you describe what your research project […]

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Research Highlight: Stephanie Zemba

February 20, 2020

I had the opportunity to talk to Stephanie Zemba a current junior at RC. Not only did she have the opportunity to conduct research in the summer, but she also presented her research at MARCUS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of Undergraduate Scholarship). I asked Stephanie a few questions to get her insight about what her experience […]

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Research Highlight: Dr. Sarisky, Caroline Hunter, Nicholas Plymale, & Kevin Smee

November 7, 2019

Some of our fellow RC Maroons were recently published in The PLOS Journal. Dr. Sarisky and 3 recent RC graduates, Caroline Hunter, Nicholas Plymale, and Kevin Smee published their paper “Experimental characterization of two archaea inosine 5′-monophosphate cyclohydrolases”. RC Research had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Sarisky and Caroline Hunter about this accomplishment and their […]

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Research Highlight: Dr. Johann, Casey Cooper, Matt Bryant, & Naomi Hogan

October 5, 2019

Some of our fellow RC Maroons were recently published in The Protein Journal. Dr. Johann and 3 students, Casey Cooper (Wojtera while at RC), Matt Bryant, and Naomi Hogan, published their paper “Investigations of Amino Acids in the 5-Formyltetrahydrofolate Binding Site of 5,10-Methenyltetrahydrofolate Synthetase from Mycoplasma pneumonia”. RC Research had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Johann […]

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Research Highlight: Erin McDonnell

September 27, 2019

Recent graduate Erin McDonnell had the opportunity to present at SDB conference with Dr. Lassiter. I had the opportunity to interview her and get her take on her conference experience. Can you describe what your research project is about? At its core, my research project centered around ideas of Behavioral Neuroscience and Toxicology. My experiment […]

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