by Jessica Slentz
previous post in this series: Introductions
At the end of my first year, when I got the email announcing the creation of and call for proposals for the Dean’s Fellowship program, I was excited, not only for the opportunity to apply for the fellowship, but also to embark on the process of exploring University Circle institutions in a deeper way than I previously had. The call asked applicants to identify inter-institutional projects that would be based at a Cleveland area institution. As I hail from New York, my familiarity with the University Circle area had, at that point, been brief and cursory, consisting of short visits to many of the museums in the midst of moving and the hecticness of beginning a new graduate program. I was not entirely sure what I would find, but I was eager to begin the search.
At the same time, while I began the Ph.D. program here at Case with a general idea of the disciplinary questions and conversations I was interested in, a year of coursework had given me a better vocabulary and familiarity with the literature of my field, experience that would prove invaluable in identifying potential research problems in the institutions I explored. It did not take me long to pinpoint what I wanted to study; something unique and interesting was taking place with the technology in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One, and I wanted to further identify what that was.
Putting together my Dean’s Fellowship proposal required a time of intense research, familiarizing myself with larger background conversations, and targeting where my questions would fit in this conversation. That said, at the time of my initial proposal my thoughts were still broad and the questions I was beginning to identify very open-ended. The process of focusing these questions would take place over subsequent semesters, several seminar papers, exams, my dissertation prospectus, and eventually my dissertation itself.
This sustained focus is one of the things I think is most valuable about the Dean’s Fellows program. Proposals, due at the end of a student’s first year, require us to identify a potential research problem early on in our academic career. Because I did this, I was able to use my work in subsequent semesters of coursework to explore the issue further and productively work towards a cohesive body of work. For example, I have recently revised and submitted for publication a seminar paper I wrote for Professor T. Kenny Fountain’s Visual Rhetoric course, a portion of which will also come into play in one of my dissertation chapters. I then further honed the focus of my Dean’s Fellowship proposal during my qualifying exams. By that time, thanks both to the proposal process and following coursework, I had many months of preliminary research under my belt. As a result, I was able to enter the exam phase with greater focus and speed that I would otherwise have been able to do. Lastly, when I transitioned from exams into the prospectus writing stage, I was finally ready to clearly articulate my contribution to the field I had been familiarizing myself with for some time.
Looking back on my initial fellowship proposal now, I can see the exciting trajectory my project has taken from initial idea to honed research questions, and I cannot wait to build upon this work during the process of writing my dissertation, work that I am doing now in Washington D.C.
Finding the National Archives here in D.C., my second site of study, was another process, involving outside grants, travel, and quite a bit of trial and error, all of which I will discuss in more detail in the next post. Until then!