Who can access higher education? Why is that access unequal across lines of race, class, and legacy status (to name just a few)? How do we ensure those who have been historically left out get to college and receive the same experience once they’re there? How do the experiences of first-generation students differ from those of other students, and what support do they need to make the most out of their education?
Over the course of this short project, I’ve had the chance to work through these questions with a group from disciplines as varied as Neuroscience, Business, and English Writing. I’m grateful to have worked with them because they brought an approach to research that I usually wouldn’t have taken– I’ll always argue against the perception that art history doesn’t have real-world applications, but when I develop a research idea I’m usually not thinking of a new program I can build from that research.
Our idea revolved around developing a mentorship program to help first-generation students navigate college. I found that thinking about a tangible goal that our research would bring about helped us focus our efforts and avoid closing ourselves off to any one discipline. We were all able to discuss the aspects of higher education that we wanted to see changed– these were much of the same, although we did have to work through different research ideologies, including some of us wanting to develop an algorithm and others thinking a more humanistic approach was necessary. Because we all held the same end goal in mind, we were able to not only reconcile these differences, but think of the problem from new perspectives. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from looking at paintings, it’s that there are multitudes of ways to represent the same thing. A simple line drawing of a bull is no more or less representative of the animal than a detailed oil painting– each artist is thinking of the same thing in different ways.