A class of one: The pursuit of passion through independent studies

Bates is known for nurturing student initiative. If you can make a case for your idea, the college will do its best to help you give it life. The Bates independent study program epitomizes that ideal.

An independent study may allow a student to dig deeply into a topic central to his or her major, or to explore a related side road. For others, independent studies afford the opportunity to unravel a question that has always tantalized them, but that they’ve never had time to go after.

Short Term, with its single-topic focus, is prime time for independent studies. Forty Bates students conducted such projects in 2013, with topics as diverse as the classification of whale songs, coaching college basketball and the history of an Irish battalion that fought the U.S. in the Mexican-American War.

Meet three of those 40 students.

Angeleque Hartt ’14, Bronx, N.Y.

Native to Japan, ashitaba is a food plant long credited with substantial health benefits. In 2010, researchers discovered ashitabaol A, a compound in ashitaba whose antioxidant properties could be effective against such diseases as diabetes and some cancers. Hartt is working with chemistry professor Koviach-Côté to find a way to synthesize the compound, a process with great pharmaceutical potential. Hartt is building “the foundation of the molecule,” on which other structures will be built, says Koviach-Côté. “Honestly, it’s trial and error,” Hartt adds. “You find what works, you stick with that and you try something else to move you to the next step.”


Blake Shafer ’13, Haverford, Pa.

  • Project: Independent Study in Business Chinese
  • Majors: Chinese and economics
  • Resource: Business Chinese For Success: Real Cases from Real Companies (Peking University Press, 2005)
  • Faculty adviser: Li-Ping Miao, Chinese

Shafer learned his first Chinese from an aunt who worked for the State Department. But his interest in Chinese languages and culture really ignited through a Fall Semester Abroad program in China. For the independent study, he and classmate Tyler White worked with Business Chinese For Success, based on case studies of international companies active in the Chinese market and Chinese companies successful globally. “I’m a huge proponent of independent studies,” says Shafer. “It’s all about interest in the topic. Everyone who’s in it is wholly invested.”

Alexandra Desjardin ’14, Auburn, Maine

  • Project: Hegemony Cricket: A Feminist Exploration
  • Major: Women and gender studies
  • URL: hegemonycrick8.tumblr.com
  • Faculty adviser: Rebecca Herzig, women and gender studies

Publishing on tumblr, Desjardin runs a social media clearinghouse designed to show the relevance of feminism, gender and justice to all people. She reposts and comments on news or cultural items on topics ranging from drug use at college to the thoughts of a gay Boy Scouts of America employee to the film Bully — topics, she says, “that are not necessarily stereotypical feminist issues. I put justice into the definition of feminism. I think a feminist is a person who seeks justice.”

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