URAP project brings a close bond for staff and students
Twenty years ago, Roanoke College staff was accustomed to tossing away presidential records, faculty minutes and annual reports; however, now that Linda Miller, the college's first archivist, controls the books, Roanoke College's history will never be a mystery.
Miller is mentoring Megan Chapman '11, a scholar in the Undergraduate Research Assistants Program. The URAP program is unique to Roanoke College, offering only eight spots a year to incoming students. Each student works closely with a faculty member on an original research project of interest both to the URAP scholar and to the faculty member. Generally, research leads students to publication in a professional journal or a presentation at a professional conference. The program also offers students many advantages when it comes time to apply to graduate school. Chapman shadows Miller in the archives in hopes to gain a better understanding about organization and the importance of how the past shapes the future.
"She's doing a lot of technical processing," Miller said. "Part of her job is arrangement, identifying holes and trying to get a finding aid, or a descriptive document that helps the archivist fill in missing information. She is responsible for knowing what is important and understanding the history of the College. The one thing she does not do is determine what is thrown away."
Typically, the archives staff receives old documents and records when faculty, alumni or staff members send things they do not need or for which they no longer have room. Miller said that "holes," or missing pieces of information, are created because people only send documents once they cannot store them; however, this is when Chapman steps in to help solve the mystery. "I have learned how to categorize books according to the Congressional Library's standards," Chapman said.
"I have also learned how to preserve things in an archival fashion, so they will last longer as we store them."
Working on this project may seem tedious, but Miller and Chapman are finding that their bond is growing closer than the traditional mentor/scholar relationship. Chapman said that Miller creates an atmosphere that is open and inviting.
"My favorite part of working with Linda is her personality," Chapman said. "She is always upbeat and kind of fancy-free, making her a lot of fun to work with. When you get a project done, she is always right there with something else for you to do. There is never a dull moment in the archives!"
Miller also has gained a better perspective on students at Roanoke College through her experiences with Chapman and is looking forward to four more years of working with her.
"She is an interesting young woman," Miller said. "I am looking forward to having her here for four years. She is very bright and picks things up quickly."
Chapman, a psychology and criminal justice double major and a history fan, knew that working in the archives would be the perfect URAP project for her. She said that being in an area where she could learn about the school and its past would be interesting and eye-opening.
"I'm the only non-history major working in the archives, so I'm the odd ball out," Chapman said with a laugh. "I like doing different things…and working in the archives surely is different from anything I have done before."
Miller said that by the time Chapman graduates, her URAP project will teach her responsibility and organizational skills through hand-on experience with documents that could date back hundreds of years.
"This will help develop her as a person," Miller said. "She will learn how to think ahead. There is a big maturity difference between a freshman and a senior, and I can't wait to see her grow as a person. This project goes beyond the teacher/scholar relationship. URAP projects give faculty a better understanding of students and bring a broader perspective for everyone."