On Purpose: Portrait of the Freshman Research Program

To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

A student leans against a window that overlooks the Mississippi river.

Lew Blank, a first-year student in CLA, was a participant in the Dean’s Freshman Research & Creative Scholars Program (DFRACS). This CLA signature program has offered high-achieving first-year students a scholarship to work alongside a faculty mentor in a research setting. Students are expected to devote 6 to 10 hours per week throughout the spring semester, gaining insights into a new body of knowledge and experiencing firsthand the value and excitement of scholarly and creative discovery at a research university. Since the program began in 2008, DFRACS students have been involved in a wide range of disciplines with opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary research.

In spring 2018, Blank joined political science associate professor Tanisha Fazal’s research team. Fazal is interested in how improvements in military medicine, alongside the expansion of veterans benefits, have increased the long-term, downstream costs of war for the United States. This research examines the long-term societal costs of addressing the host of issues accompanying the returned wounded.

“Throughout the course of the semester, I assisted Professor Fazal with compiling even more data and information, specifically to draw the connection between [her] research and the realm of veterans benefits,” Blank says.

In addition to analyzing the historical elements of veterans’ issues, Blank compiled data to illustrate the history of veterans’ expenditures in relation to wounded-to-killed ratios. “Although correlation does not imply causation, this does seem to indicate that military medicine may have a sizeable role in America’s increase in spending on veterans,” Blank says. This research opportunity and others available in the program allow students to think critically and ask questions, to be curious and go beyond what’s required. The Dean’s Freshman Research and Creative Scholars Program not only provides research skills; it develops the confidence of first-year students by allowing them to contribute to something innovative and meaningful.

“Overall, this experience has provided me with invaluable research skills, a direct look into the history of war and veterans benefits, and vital skills in data compilation,” says Blank. “As someone who is interested in both politics and journalism, the ability to analyze politics-related data from official records and turn it into something that is meaningful and important is integral for such a field.”

By working alongside CLA faculty, outstanding students like Blank gain skills, knowledge, and the ability to recognize how to connect their competencies developed through DFRACS to the diverse opportunities available to them in CLA, the University, and the wider community.

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