Summer Scholar Research Inspires Further Investigation

Julie Bass ’09 was so intrigued by her findings that her research will carry on to a new semester

Every summer, dedicated, curious and talented Roanoke students work alongside and under the watchful and expert eyes of faculty members as they participate in the College’s Summer Scholars Program. The grant program enables qualified students to conduct intensive research over the course of several months, culminating in a series of presentations in which they can showcase their hard work.

Since declaring her major in sociology three years ago, Julie Bass ’09 was strongly encouraged by her academic advisor, Dr. Kristi Hoffman, to participate in one of the many research programs available at the College. The idea of conducting such extensive research was daunting, but near the end of her junior year, Bass found the courage and inspiration to take on such a challenge. She applied to participate in the Summer Scholars Program after recognizing the great opportunity it could provide for enhancing her educational experience. The free housing and monthly stipend provided by the program also were strong selling points. Her topic was accepted, marking the first time a social science would be represented in the program.

The largest hurdle Bass faced was determining her research topic, a decision that took her several weeks to make. She wanted to choose a topic that interested her completely and would sustain her motivation, since she knew being involved in the program required working on her project from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Bass has always been interested in “people who don’t make traditional choices,” and once she happened upon the growing phenomenon of fathers as primary caregivers, she knew she wanted to research this unique and increasingly popular subject.

The majority of her project being a literature review, Bass’s research focused mainly on acquiring and analyzing numerous written sources. Bass discovered, however, that information on stay-at-home fathers is scarce and often outdated, making research very challenging. This inspired her even more. In order to find the large number of sources needed for her project, Bass enlisted the help of reference librarian Rebecca Heller. Heller was “so helpful” and assisted in helping Bass secure numerous sources, even when desperation was about to set in. Bass also used the library’s interlibrary loan, which she says was “incredibly helpful” in promptly delivering books from libraries in various cities and states.

In addition to a literature review, Bass also created a survey with the help of Hoffman and Dr. Marit Berntson. Having the help of these two professors was extremely valuable to Bass. The amount of support and guidance she received from Hoffman was “incredible.” It assured Bass that, despite having never done such extensive research herself, she was working alongside someone who had and was willing to help her every step of the way.

Her survey eventually was posted on two popular blogs for stay-at-home fathers. These blogs, despite being constantly inundated with posting requests, published her survey due to the unique research she presented. Bass was dedicated to finding more resources available to stay-at-home fathers and wanted her project to help men find playgroups and support groups in their communities. She also aimed to disprove the myths associated with stay-at-home fathers, such as they are lazy, have no education or refuse to work.

Sixty-one fathers took Bass’s survey and gave her insights into their daily struggles and triumphs as primary caregivers. Bass discovered that most stay-at-home fathers are often ostracized from playgroups because mothers are suspicious of them. Additionally, fathers generally do not have resources or classes geared specifically towards them whereas women can partake in the popular “Mommy and Me” courses. They also are often ridiculed by society as a whole, which Bass claims is a complete contradiction when considering that our culture also complains about the lack of male influence in children’s lives.

Bass also discovered that advertising for baby products is geared primarily toward women. In fact, the messaging of some advertisements literally works against fathers by showing them as incompetent or in need of assistance, when in fact the opposite is true. The influence of a father is actually incredibly beneficial to a child in more ways than one. A father is less likely to use baby talk when speaking to his child, thereby increasing vocabulary and comprehension skills. Also, a father allows his children more time to figure out a problem before intervening, which promotes independence and problem solving.

After completing her summer research, Bass is insistent that having a father as a primary caregiver is the perfect solution for some families. She hopes that more families will consider the option, despite the reaction they may get from others. Bass, however, is not finished with this topic. This semester, she is doing an additional honors project with the help of Dr. Jeremiah Wills, and she plans to continue her research. She already has received a request from a Web site to post her survey and hopes that her new project will expand her previous findings.

Her extensive research has prepared Bass for life after graduation. She is planning on attending graduate school and earning her master’s in either social work or family studies. Her ultimate goal is to earn her doctorate in sociology or social work and return to college to “teach others what I have been so passionate about these four years.”