Repository for Research
Students launch Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal
By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS
Research paper: two words that have been known to induce panic attacks in many an undergraduate student.
It’s an assignment that can create anxiety for even the most disciplined of students. Some turn the project into a lifestyle, spending weeks or even months gathering resources, collecting index cards, mapping outlines, and revising sentences. Others pack the process into a single night, spurred on by Red Bull, coffee, junk food, or pure last-minute adrenalin. Regardless of the path chosen, completion of a research paper is a cause for celebration.
But what happens to the final result of all that knowledge accumulated and time spent? After being marked with a grade, most are relegated to a life of darkness in a storage box or file cabinet—or worse, a waste basket at the end of the semester. It’s an unfortunate destiny that led two Rollins students to ponder the question, “What can we do to preserve our research papers?”
Fay Pappas '09. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.
For Fay Pappas ’09, who majored in political science and minored in creative writing, the concern surfaced during her first year at Rollins when she attempted to track down a research journal her brother, Goldwater Scholar Peter Pappas ’97, had written more than a decade earlier as an undergraduate student. Much to her consternation, she explained, “When I asked people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about.”
Around the same time, biology and environmental studies major Clayton Ferrara ’09 was completing an exhaustive student faculty collaborative research project on starfish hybridization with Assistant Professor of Biology Fiona Harper. Proud of the accomplishment, Ferrara wondered what would become of their research findings.
Pappas and Ferrara met while working on Brushing literary and arts journal, and it didn’t take long for them to realize their mutual concern. The two hit on the idea of a venue that would allow Rollins undergraduate students to publish and share their work—something that would elevate the level of academic discourse at Rollins. A year later, their idea materialized in the form of the Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal (RURJ).
Bringing the journal to life, however, proved to be a more daunting task than either had anticipated. “My initial thinking was that this is something the school should be doing,” Pappas said. “I figured that if we approached the faculty with the idea, they would jump and say, ‘Of course, we should do this!’ and they’d take it from there.” While the faculty and administration were very supportive, it soon became clear that if Pappas and Ferrara wanted an undergraduate research journal to come to fruition, they would have to do the legwork. So they took on the challenge and began laying the foundation for the Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal.
They quickly encountered a major hurdle they hadn’t thoroughly considered: how would this journal be funded? There was no student funding available for such a project. With their usual determination, Pappas and Ferrara wasted no time and went straight to the top, making their case to President Lewis Duncan. As luck would have it, their conversation with him revealed a pleasant coincidence: “Little did we know that President Duncan had himself spearheaded Dartmouth’s undergraduate research journal and was more than eager to support the same endeavor at Rollins,” Pappas said. They left the meeting with a $5,000 startup commitment and renewed optimism for accomplishing their goal.
Pappas and Ferrara rolled up their sleeves and went to work—finding editors and soliciting submissions. However, they soon began to realize that publishing a journal with in-depth theses—some more than 150 pages long—would be difficult if not impossible on a one-time allotment of $5,000. Their original vision of a printed journal “was quelled due to financial problems of our just not having enough money to print some kind of 800-page beast to send out to the whole world,” Ferrara said.
Clay Ferrara '09. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.
So the pair regrouped and realized the most practical way to go was to create an online journal. Knowing this format would have unique copyright implications for which they would need guidance, they recruited as their adviser Jonathan Miller, director of the Olin Library and an expert in copyright law.
Miller helped them set up RURJ as an “open access” journal—one that is freely accessible, yet copyrighted. “Open access journals tend to have higher readerships and are cited more often than similar journals that are in print or are offered through subscription,” Miller said. “It seems a good way to build readership for the journal, to introduce the students to new ideas about how scholarly information is communicated, and to raise their awareness of the trends in the economics of journal publishing and their negative impact upon library budgets in higher education.” He also had RURJ added to WorldCat, a listing of national journals.
In that first year, a group of RURJ editors composed entirely of students reviewed around 35 journal submissions. While the journal is completely peer reviewed, Ferrara and Pappas didn’t want their classmates to know that. “From the outset, our goal was to make this look like students had nothing to do with it,” Pappas said. “We wanted students to think faculty and administrators were reviewing their papers so they’d know being accepted into the journal was something prestigious.” In the end, 12 papers were selected for inclusion in the inaugural issue of RURJ, which was launched in April 2007 at rurj.org.
Pappas and Ferrara graduated in May and passed the torch to this year’s editor, Shannon Brown ’10, who is hard at work with her editorial staff preparing for the launch of the sixth issue of RURJ later this fall. “Fay and Clayton envisioned a journal fully connected to the broader undergraduate research community and with the same reputation for excellence as the long-established journals of any leading university,” Brown said. “That vision guided their decisions and laid the foundations on which the new leadership continues to build.”
Fay Pappas is currently attending law school at the University of Florida and Clayton Ferrara is director of education at the Oakland Nature Preserve and owns Terra Firma tutoring company.