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Honors Community sends seniors abroad to conduct research, present thesis

Colton Gebben visits the Irish countryside during his research trip to Ireland.
Colton Gebben visits the Irish countryside during his research trip to Ireland.

JACKSON, Tenn.Sept. 20, 2013 – Two Union University seniors recently made significant academic achievements during research and presentation trips funded by the institution’s Honors Community.

Colton Gebben, a history and biblical languages double major, and Trey Weise, a philosophy major, traveled to Europe this summer to learn more about their fields of study and progress in their theses projects.

Gebben and Weise are members of the Discipline-Specific Honors program, which provides juniors and seniors with more robust research experiences than they typically would get in their majors, said Scott Huelin, an associate professor of English and the director of the Honors Community. Discipline-Specific Honors students also have more time to complete their theses, as honors students typically spend multiple semesters conducting extensive research on a topic of their choice.

Raised in a family with a deep love for history, Gebben said he is fascinated with European history and chose to write his thesis about the Irish Reformation.

“The Reformation is a very good time period – religiously and politically,” Gebben said. The only problem with his topic, he added, was that the best sources for Irish history are located in Ireland.

But after encouraging Gebben to submit a trip proposal, Huelin said travel funds were provided through the Honors Community to send Gebben to Dublin, Ireland, Aug. 3-10 to access Trinity College’s library archives.

During his research, Gebben discovered a collection of centuries-old letters about the Irish Reformation, many of which were written by George Browne, an archbishop of Dublin who was unknown to Gebben before the trip. After finding another book in the archives about the archbishop, Gebben tweaked his thesis to focus on Browne’s involvement in the Irish Reformation.

“Had Colton not gone to these archives, he would not have stumbled across this archbishop, and he wouldn’t have had access to his papers,” Huelin said. “Colton is going to make an original contribution to scholarship on the Irish Reformation, because nobody has written on these papers as far as we know.”

Huelin said the Honors Community supports more than research projects, as Weise also was awarded travel funds to present part of his thesis June 27-29 in the Netherlands at the University of Groningen’s international philosophy conference.

Knowing Weise was writing his thesis on the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, Huelin encouraged Weise to submit an abstract of his thesis draft to the philosophy conference “Paul Ricoeur and the Future of the Humanities.” When Weise received confirmation that he was selected to present at the conference, Weise thought the email was a joke, since he received the message on April Fools’ Day.

But perhaps no one was as surprised as the 60 conference presenters and attendees when they learned Weise was an undergraduate student – the only undergraduate to present at the conference. Most of the presenters already had earned their doctoral degrees, Weise said, adding that having one’s paper accepted at a conference is an honor in the world of academia.

“There’s no way I would have had the opportunity to go to the conference had the Honors Community not have encouraged and funded the trip,” Weise said. “It’s an incredible thing for the Honors Community to enable Union students to pursue academia out in the world.”

Huelin said students often fail to dream big about their senior theses. As a result, he encouraged students to consider taking advantage of the Honors Community opportunities – including the financial support that could send students around the world to research and present the fruit of their work in academic venues.

“We in the Honors Community are trying to fire up the imaginations of students,” Huelin said.

For more information about the Honors Community, contact Huelin at shuelin@uu.edu.

By Beth Byrd

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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