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Olivia Tusinski '04 Researches Awards Given for Creativity

March 25, 2004

EASTON, Pa. ( -From poetry to pole vaulting, Olivia Tusinski '04 of Leydon likes to approach most aspects of her life creatively. And so, when it came time for her to choose a topic for a yearlong honors research project, she took a creative approach.

"She's doing a creative thesis about creativity," says her thesis adviser, David Shulman, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology.

Tusinski, an anthropology and sociology major, began by reading the writings of a variety of social theorists on creativity, then looking for a way in which elite institutions of higher education reward their students' creative pursuits.

"I'm analyzing all the awards that are offered to undergraduates at seven institutions," says Tusinski, who spent her junior year studying abroad at St. Catherine's College at the University of Oxford. "I'm trying to see how many of them can be fit into the category of rewarding creativity."

Tusinski gathered data on awards given in the humanities and social sciences at Lafayette and six Ivy League schools - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Brown universities and the University of Pennsylvania. She has discovered that awards are rarely given for creative pursuits - and almost never for creative activities involving more than one student.

"There's a really small percentage of awards for creativity," she says. "And I've actually found only three so far out of hundreds that award any sort of collaborative activities involving creativity."

Shulman describes Tusinski as "very, very good student" with a wide variety of interests, both academic and extra-curricular. She has been accepted to serve with the Peace Corps in Africa following graduation.

"She's doing challenging reading on very complicated social theories," he says. "What she's doing involves trying to dig out her own insights and seeing how the social theorists' ideas resonate with elite institutions of higher learning. There really is a lot of originality and a lot of work involved in this project."

Shulman is coauthor of Talking Sociology, a textbook in its fifth edition, and is completing revisions on a second book-length manuscript, Clothing Naked Emperors: The Role of Deception in Workplace Culture. He has published his research in numerous academic journals and has articles forthcoming in The American Sociologist and Encyclopedia of Social Theory.

Tusinski, who spent her junior year studying abroad at St. Catherine's College at the University of Oxford, says Shulman has offered her a great deal of help and encouragement in her research and has helped her see the work from a sociological standpoint.

"He's very analytical, critical, and full of suggestions and interesting angles," she says. "He's also very qualified and extremely supportive and enthusiastic."

Tusinski adds that William Bissell, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, has helped her analyze her work from an anthropological standpoint.

"Lafayette is a solid environment to be working on a thesis in," she says. "It has a wide variety of gifted professors and great resources."

Tusinski is a former member of Lafayette's varsity women's track and field team and was 2001 Patriot League indoor champion in the pole vault. In 2002, as a sophomore, Tusinski set Lafayette's outdoor pole vault record with a vault of 11' 6".

A graduate of Pioneer Valley Regional High School, Northfield, Tusinski is a member of the Emile Durkheim Society for sociologists, and writes poetry. She also organized an event for Americans for Democracy held on Lafayette's campus, featuring music producer Nile Rodgers as a guest speaker.

Honors thesis projects are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Over the past decade, an average of 34 Lafayette students have been invited to present results from research with faculty mentors, or under their guidance, at the conference. Forty-two students have been accepted to present their work at the next annual conference in April.