2020 Library Research Prize Winners: Shining a Spotlight on Student Scholarship & the Research Process

On Tuesday, April 28th 2020, Marissa Bartone and Mohammed Thajudeen Syed Mustafa were awarded the 2020 Library Research Prize of $1,000. The committee also presented a honorable mention to Teresa Sauer.

True to tradition, the winners of the 11th annual Library Research Prize were honored on the first reading day of the Spring semester. This time, for the first time, it was a virtual celebration. There were no ceremonial large checks, no photo-shoot with administration and judges, no cheese and cracker reception. But despite all of this, a gathering of 56 Fairfield University community members came together on Zoom for an hour to listen and learn from our accomplished scholars. Deans, library staff, faculty, staff, the Provost, and President Mark Nemec all appeared in their individual zoom boxes but it truly felt like we were together in one space.

Marissa Bartone won the undergraduate Library Research Prize. Her paper, entitled “The Impact of Post-9/11 Conditions on the Evolution of the 9/11 Truth Movement", came out of an Honor’s History Seminar entitled Pseudo-History taught by Dr. Giovanni Ruffini. Marissa is a Senior Accounting and Finance major.

Her work tried to answer the following questions: What factors and unconscious biases have contributed to the popularity of 9/11 conspiracy theories, despite broad faults in logic and a lack of sufficient evidence? Why has the 9/11 Truth Movement, denying the official government account of 9/11, persisted over a decade after the attacks? How have 9/11 conspiracy theories evolved over time in the face of emerging evidence?

In Marissa's essay that illuminated her research process she said: "My topic of research was the evolution of the 9/11 Truth Movement and the ways in which early 9/11 conspiracy theorists differed from those discussing the event much later. This research project was highly engaging, and was original in that there is not a lot of scholarship devoted to the topic. A challenge I faced was obtaining a perspective on 9/11 conspiracy theories from a variety of academics, such as historians, psychologists, and economists."

Marissa articulated that the research librarians were a vital part of her research process to search for sources and investigate the credibility of those sources. "Obtaining sources that were objective in nature helped distinguish my research, which became fundamental as I found that this topic was clouded with opinion. On the other hand, finding works by conspiracy theorists themselves became important. It helped me contrast theories which emerged immediately after the event versus those which are still somewhat popular today."         

The judging committee was very impressed with the wide ranging sources, representing a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives. Dr. Giovanni Ruffini's support statement for Marissa's application highlighted this as well. "One thing I particularly like about Marissa's final paper is the degree to which it exemplifies the Honors Program's goal of stimulating interdisciplinary research. Her sources pull from the fields of psychology; religion; communication; intellectual history; and more. The ability to do this -- and, as far as I can tell, with relative ease -- seems to me to suggest that her research habits are a permanent habit of mind founded on a broad, multi-disciplinary sense of how to do research. "

Bartone said: "Ultimately, this research project shed light on the limitless resources available at the library, including research librarians, materials, databases, and research guides. These resources helped me produce a project I am truly proud of, and provided me with a research toolkit I can use in my graduate program and beyond."

Mohammed Thajudeen Syed Mustafa is completing his graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and has conducted extensive research for his thesis, under the guidance of Dr. Sriharsha Sundarram. Mohammed’s thesis is entitled “Open-pore network polymer foams for biomedical and structural applications via combined solid state foaming and additive manufacturing”.

Mohammed's research on PolyLactic-acid (PLA), a biodegradable polymer, is proven to be an alternate for conventional plastics in the biomedical field for artificial organ development and high throughput drug testing. "The goal of this study is to fabricate and optimize scaffold structure with a highly porous biomaterial which will aid to guide the growth of new tissue and regenerating damaged tissues, instead of replacing them by developing biological substitutes that restore, maintain or improve tissue function."

Mohammed spoke about his use of library databases and their advanced search filters saying how the big task of doing high level research can be a time-consuming activity "However, this work has been simplified by DiMenna-Nyselius library webpage." He went on to say "I was in a perception that listing down the cited books, journals and other sources would be difficult when it comes to finishing with citation, but I was totally astonished by the tool Zotero that eases the work of citation. This tool helped me in handling the flow of writing and citing diligently."

Dr. Sundarram said in his support statement: "As Mohammed worked on his masters thesis for the past year, he did need access to a variety of resources to find relevant literature. He used printed books and Science Direct primarily for his work. In addition, he utilized the Research Help desk at the library to guide him in this process."

Mohammed concluded his essay saying: "The DiMenna-Nyselius Library changed my perspective of writing a thesis report by providing diversified sources and simplifying tools."

Teresa Sauer has received an Honorable Mention and a $500 prize, for her research project: ““River inflow events of varying magnitudes affect indicators of water quality: Assessing hydrological responses to river inflow events and their drivers in a temperate reservoir.” This project is the culmination of two and half years of independent research in Dr. Jennifer Klug’s limnology research lab, Biology Research IV. Teresa is a senior majoring in Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies.

Dr. Jennifer Klug shared in her support statement for Teresa’s application: "I have worked with Teresa for 2 years and have been impressed with how she has learned to organize and synthesize vast amounts of information. She knows how to "go to the literature" to solve problems or gain perspective. Because Teresa's analysis is relatively novel, it was important that she show her underlying knowledge of the state of the field. She showed unusual depth and breadth is use of library collections. She used library collections for both primary science content knowledge and statistical analysis and data visualization methods."

Teresa also acknowledged in her essay that the library and it's resources have impacted her work over the past four years has profoundly: "From the onset of my research, the library has been an invaluable agent of my success....Not only has the library enabled me to complete my research, it has given me mechanisms and strategies for making research more fun and efficient. I am now pursuing a graduate degree in ecology, and I am confident in my ability to integrate the skills I have gained here into a career of lifelong research."

Congratulations to all the winners! For more information about the Library Research Prize criteria visit fairfield.edu/libprize

Thank you to the Library Research Prize sponsors: Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business, College of Arts & Sciences, Graduate School of Education & Allied Professions, Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing & Health Studies, and the School of Engineering for their financial support of the prizes, in addition to the Library's financial commitment.