6/1/2009 - Engaging Her Mind: History professor's encouragement opens up new doors for student
History professor's encouragement opens up
When Mary Amelia Taylor first decided on a topic for her senior history thesis paper, it had nothing to do with the two historical Alabama towns she eventually decided to write about.
Indeed, when she first began her research, she never thought she would end up having such a personal connection to her topic.
Or that her History professor would be so impressed with her final draft that he would do everything in his power to help her get to present the paper at a regional conference.
A soft-spoken, rather shy student who always had a smile on her face, Taylor had never thought about presenting her paper before. Nevertheless, Taylor, keeping her nerves in check, took the stage and presented her research to a diverse crowd of undergraduates, graduate students, professors and other professionals at the annual Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference (History Honor Society) in Livingston this past Spring.
"I presented my paper during the second session of the conference but I got to sit in on the first session," Taylor said. "All of those students were graduate students so you can imagine how scary that was! But then, in my session, there were a few other undergraduates so I felt adequately prepared. I had a great time!"
Taylor's thesis paper, entitled "The Rise and Fall of the ‘Dead Towns' of Claiborne and Manistee," focuses on the history of the two ghost towns, which were once located just a few miles from Taylor's own hometown of Frisco City. Though the towns did not exist during Taylor's lifetime, actually having phased out in the late 1800s, she had grown up hearing stories about them from both her father and grandmother.
Her research began the summer before her senior year of college and included frequent visits to the Monroe County Courthouse and library to review old records and newspaper clippings, interviews with locals and plenty of stories from her family.
Taylor's History advisor - Mr. Joe Frazer, Jr. - read her final draft, helped her make edits where needed and suggested she enter her paper in the conference. Taylor was hesitant at first but finally decided she would do it. Unfortunately, by that time the deadline for entry to the conference had already passed!
"I wanted Mary to have that chance, to present her paper," Frazer said. "So I contacted the host for the conference and persuaded him to accept her paper. Mary then had the daunting task of editing her 20 page paper down to seven pages so that it could fit into a 15 minute speaking spot at the conference."
Taylor, a double major in History and English, did so well at the conference that the professional commentator for her session praised her writing and speaking ability.
"This speaking, presenting process is something that an undergraduate student planning on going to graduate school needs to learn," said Frazer, who also Chaired at the conference and got to hear Taylor speak. "A student needs to learn how to present an academic paper in front of a strange crowd. It was good practice for her."
Taylor was the only woman in her session, the Alabama History session, to present an academic paper. Taylor said attending the conference has "helped open her eyes to the world of possibilities for historical and literary research."
Professor Joe Frazer
"I learned a lot about what kind of research graduate students are doing," said Taylor, who graduated Judson in June and recently accepted a prestigious fellowship to the University of Mississippi for a graduate program in Southern Studies. "Mr. Frazer wants to make sure students take advantage of these types of opportunities. He pushed me to believe that I could do it, though I may have felt slightly inadequate at first."
Taylor calls Frazer a very "hands-on" type of professor who is constantly coming up with ideas to get his students into a learning environment outside of the classroom, such as museum field trips and visits to history exhibits.
"I love the cooperative spirit of this campus, a spirit geared towards serving the students - something I think a lot of other colleges have lost track of," Frazer said. "I like to think I'm a good mentor to my students and that I've prepared them for whatever it may be they are going into after Judson."
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