Roanoke College’s Fowler Student Paper Program, which ran from 1985 to 2018, was recently reimagined and restarted as the Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program, continuing the tradition of showcasing and rewarding excellent student policy research. This year’s Fowler Scholar, Katherine Charbonneau '23, is combining mathematics and international relations to learn more about how machine learning can help predict future international political conflicts.
The Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program allows students of any major to pursue policy research in an immersive, eight-week summer research experience on campus. Through the generosity of the Henry H. Fowler Program, Fowler Scholars benefit from faculty mentorship, a stipend, a summer course credit and free campus housing.
In the past, through the Fowler Student Paper Program, students could submit research papers on policy topics at the end of every school year, competing for one of three monetary prizes. However, the new Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program accepts submissions that utilize various mediums, including written, visual and multimedia proposals, allowing students to engage with policy research and expression in innovative and cross-disciplinary ways.
Andreea Mihalache-O’Keef, coordinator of the Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program and associate professor of political science, said prospective Fowler Scholars should “think outside the box” when submitting program proposals, as policy matters are “interdisciplinary and multidimensional, requiring students to become conversant with material outside their own discipline.”
“I look for risk-taking, creative projects that reflect the multidimensionality of the policy world,” said Michalache-O’Keef. “Policy matters involve not just politics, but also communication, economics, sociology, history and natural sciences. The next Fowler Scholar may have an idea for a documentary, a public art project or a community engagement initiative. Projects that acknowledge this interdisciplinarity and are designed to account for it rise to the top for me.”
Dr. Roland Minton and Katherine Charbonneau in Fintel Library
Charbonneau, a mathematics and international relations double major, did just that. Charbonneau proposed designing and creating a software application that combines her love of math and her interest in international relations to predict future political uprisings and conflicts.
“I’ve been looking for an intersection between my majors for quite a while,” said Charbonneau. “Machine learning has been interesting to me recently, so I wanted to take it a step further in learning the equations and then understanding how those equations can translate into answers that could hypothetically be very useful.”
Not only has Charbonneau thrived in her independent studies this summer, but she has also gained valuable learning experience through her Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program mentor, Roland Minton, chairperson and professor of mathematics. Charbonneau collaborates weekly with Minton on exploring additional research sources, translating mathematical equations and finding solutions to academic roadblocks.
“Katie has a diverse set of interests and a desire to continue learning more about the world,” said Minton. “She has a great combination of logical precision and curiosity backed with a solid work ethic that turns her skills into results, and she is comfortable with rigorous mathematics and imprecise human affairs.”
While the Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program is a summer-focused endeavor, Charbonneau and Minton will continue this work throughout the coming school year as part of the Honors Distinction Project, an extended service-learning project required in the Honors Program.
For Minton, the Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program is “necessary for Roanoke to flourish in the future,” embracing the importance of faculty and student collaboration.
“The Fowler Scholar Program is a big step in making such research visible and attractive for students and faculty,” said Minton. “Some of the most important research being done today is interdisciplinary, and a small school like Roanoke is ideally structured to facilitate projects that cross boundaries.”
Looking forward, Charbonneau plans to take the learning from the Fowler Student Policy Scholar Program and use it as she finishes her senior year at Roanoke, looking toward either starting graduate school or her career. Overall, the Fowler experience has taught her unexpected lessons that will only benefit her future.
“It’s been a great test in will power and routine,” said Charbonneau. “I decide my schedule, and it’s up to me to fulfill it. This has been one of my best experiences while at Roanoke.”