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    April 29, 2002

Undergraduates Display Research
Results During Poster Session
By Brent C. Evans

"If birds don't have a developed sense of smell, why do some Alaskan birds smell like tangerines during mating season?" "What can I learn from the filmmaking techniques of Hong Kong?" "How has the Internet affected hip-hop?"

These questions and others are being posed - and answered - by undergraduate researchers around the University. Some of the researchers presented their work April 19 and 20, during the fourth annual poster session, "Frontiers in Undergraduate Research: Arts, Sciences and Humanities," held at the Student Union.

Katherine Launer, a fourth-semester biology major, and Jeanette Yeh, a fourth-semester pharmacy major, presented their findings on birds' ability to smell. With Julie C. Hagelin, an associate research scientist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Launer and Yeh studied the auklet, a bird native to Alaska.

They dissected specimens of the birds' brains and found that auklets have the neural machinery necessary for a sense of smell. This implies that, contrary to popular belief, the birds do have a sense of smell.

Launer and Yeh both plan to go to medical school, and neither plans to pursue a career in research. They both find, however, that research enriches their classroom experience. "Research really keeps your interest going," says Yeh.

Blake Harjes, a University Scholar and an individualized fine arts major in filmmaking, presented work of a different kind at the poster session. Harjes, whose advisor is Dean David Woods of the School of Fine Arts, showed a film he made, Hero. The short film, which tells the story of a boy's encounter with a superhero, is the second film Harjes has directed and is his latest contribution to filmmaking at UConn.

During his sophomore year, Harjes founded the UConn Student Film Organization. The organization held its second annual festival of student-made films earlier this month. Harjes says the festival is designed to raise awareness of the strong student interest in a filmmaking program. The University does not currently have such a program, yet the festival's participants, he says, are doing work on a par with the work of students enrolled in filmmaking programs elsewhere.

Harjes, who spent last summer in China teaching English and researching the cultural implications of Chinese cinema, plans to go to Hong Kong this summer to study filmmaking techniques there. Harjes will direct a film in the Hong Kong style for his senior project.

Kathryn Ratcliff, an assistant professor of sociology, was on the committee that reviewed Harjes' University Scholar application. She was impressed by the initiative he had taken to promote filmmaking at UConn. "What Blake has done goes beyond what you'd expect from an undergraduate," she says. "It's more like what you'd expect from a faculty member - seeing we have a need and trying to make changes."

Another undergraduate researcher has applied his skills to a popular topic: hip-hop. Mark Beasley-Murray, a fifth-semester Latin-American studies and cultural theory major, presented his investigations on "Community, Subculture, Cyberspace, and the Displacement of Underground Hip-Hop."

Beasley-Murray wanted to apply cultural theory to hip-hop music. His advisor is Jeffrey Ogbar, an assistant professor of history, who teaches a class on hip-hop history. But Beasley-Murray wanted to go beyond the history and examine the cultural forces that have shaped the music. "I'm describing the ideologies behind tastes in hip-hop," he says.

Beasley-Murray traced the development of underground hip-hop since 1992. He found that in 1992, hip-hop artists tended to have a local urban following that was mostly black. Then the Internet came along. This, he says, allowed mainstream hip-hop to reach an audience beyond a particular city and underground hip-hop, which reacted against mainstream hip-hop, to find fan support around the country.

The difference, Beasley-Murray says, is that audiences for both are now white. And that has implications for the future of this popular form of music. "If underground and mainstream hip-hop are dominated by white kids, where do the traditional kids go?" he asks. "My own opinion is that hip-hop is going to die pretty soon, and something new will take its place."

Beasley-Murray says his research on hip-hop has uncovered a parallel to the way previous forms of modern music have bifurcated and fallen from the height of their popularity. "It's a textbook case," he says, "just like jazz and rock and roll."

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