In 2010, a student asked professor Rubén Dupertuis about Trinity University’s research opportunities in the humanities. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much available yet.
So, over the past decade, Dupertuis devoted his time to pioneering undergraduate humanities here at Trinity. He’s now been honored by the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) as a 2020 Arts and Humanities Faculty Mentor Awardee. He is one of only two professors in the country to win the award this year.
“Of all the work I’ve been fortunate enough to do, the opportunity to collaborate with and mentor students in my own research areas remains among the highlights,” Dupertuis says.
Along with other committed faculty, Dupertuis helped launch a successful proposal to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, resulting in a $600,000 grant award in 2012 that enabled the creation of the Trinity University Mellon Initiative for Undergraduate Research in the Arts and Humanities.
The Mellon Initiative has since been successful by any metric and remains wildly popular among Trinity’s student researchers. During the program’s first year, eight arts and humanities faculty worked with eight students on a range of projects, including digital mapping of the remains of an ancient Greek shipwreck and the study of rape culture in India. By the fourth year—Dupertuis’ last at the helm—17 faculty carried out summer research or creative activity with 21 students. In total since 2012, Trinity has awarded summer research fellowships to 124 students working with more than one-third of arts and humanities faculty. Many of the student researchers have, with the support of the Mellon Initiative, gone on to present their work at undergraduate research conferences, including CUR, and to publish the results of their research.
In 2016, Dupertuis stepped away from the Mellon Initiative to engage with undergraduate research projects in a new way. Along with classical studies professor Timothy O’Sullivan, Dupertuis co-founded the Roman World Lab, which aims to prepare students for long-term research projects that require experience with ancient languages. The lab offers students research opportunities relating to Latin literature and Roman culture, with two main points of focus: ancient Roman religious culture and Latin literature.
The Roman World Lab has already yielded some interesting projects, including an ongoing look into Roman religion, specifically the non-canonical Gospel of Peter. Students and professors have also co-written a commentary on a portion of Apuleius's Golden Ass, a second-century CE novel about a man who turns into a donkey. In a final project, a team has been creating a database of metaphors used in the political speeches of the first-century BCE orator Cicero.
In addition to the Roman World Lab, Dupertuis has also supported undergraduate research as a CUR Councilor for the Arts and Humanities and as a facilitator for the CUR Humanities Institute, which helps other institutions develop undergraduate research programs.
Across these various mentorship roles, Dupertuis has made his own discoveries thanks to his work with undergraduates.
“It has been the case that in every project, students have added questions and insights that I would not have had working on my own,” Dupertuis says of his mentorship. “I could list many similar examples of students whose work has pushed me into new knowledge, new ideas, and new understandings.”
While the events of this past year have presented new challenges, Dupertuis says Trinity will continue to provide strong opportunities for student researchers.
“I think on one level [undergraduate research] won't change at all. I don't think the fundamental questions that serve as the starting point for humanities research will change,” Dupertuis says. “But some of the ways in which we go about answering those questions can change. Digital databases can let us ‘see’ and ‘read’ lots of texts at a time and give us access to materials that would be hard to get to in person. I also think we’ll see more collaboration in humanities research going forward, which, judging from the great experiences I’ve had working with students on projects, is a good thing.”
Regardless of future challenges for this collaboration, Dupertuis says the presence of these opportunities is still a marked change from a decade ago.
“I often think back to that conversation, sometime in 2010, in which a student asked if there were any opportunities to do research with faculty in the humanities. I still regret that I had to say no, but I’m truly grateful to her for the question, for the journey that has followed, and I’m proud that my answer today would be very different.” Dupertuis says. “The evidence for the transformative impact of undergraduate research experiences on students is significant and growing.”