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~Students Produce Hundreds of Research Projects for Wellesley College's 8th Annual Ruhlman Conference~

For immediate release:
April 15, 2004

Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- The 2004 Ruhlman Conference, representing the work of nearly 300 Wellesley College students, will be held all day Wednesday, April 28. The conference, now in its eighth year, helps to foster collaboration among students and faculty across academic disciplines while enhancing the intellectual life of the College.

Student researchers present their work in a variety of formats: papers, panels, posters, exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances, interactive teaching presentations and readings of original work. The day is organized around four major themes: Literature and the Arts, Multicultural Research, Science and Technology, and Social Analysis. Under the theme of Social Analysis, for example, 18 presentations are planned on topics ranging from “Free Trade Goes to Broadway” to “The Marriage Debates.” Under Literature and the Arts, students will present 15 topics including a performance of “Gods, Awful Aunts and Working Stiffs.”

Student researchers study subjects that are close to their hearts and often their experience. For example, senior Kristen Soderberg's project, "Peer Effects of Roommates at Wellesley," studied the peer effects -- or influence -- that college roommates have on one another's success. Her faculty advisor for the project was Wellesley College economist Patrick J. McEwan.

"Education economists are interested in studying the peer effects of students on their classmates as a means of explaining a component of student achievement and behavior," Soderberg, an economics major, explained. "Under normal circumstances, however, peer effects studies are plagued by selection bias. We choose with whom we associate, and to some extent, which neighborhoods we live in and which schools our children attend. In this sense, Wellesley College presents a unique opportunity to study peer effects. Incoming first year (students) are randomly assigned roommates based on their responses to a housing preference survey form. Thus, the problem of selection bias is removed."

Soderberg combined information from the housing surveys for the classes of 2003 through 2006 with other data from admission and the students' grade point average (GPA) files.

"By using such measures as SAT score and cumulative GPA, I am able to define the role that peer effects play in the achievement of Wellesley students," said Soderberg, whose research was supported by the National Science Foundation's Awards for the Integration of Research and Education (NSF-AIRE) summer research program.

Another Wellesley senior, Sarah Reeves, working with Wellesley psychology professor Beth Hennessey, studied how students see themselves academically and the effect this has on how they apply to college.

"I chose this topic because of an interesting result found last year in a study conducted for a psychology research methods class," said Reeves, who is majoring in psychology and French. It seems students who had more negative feelings about their academic abilities were more likely to apply to college under the early decision program rather than the regular admission process.

The conference is made possible by the Barbara Peterson Ruhlman Fund for Interdisciplinary Study. From 9:30 am-6 pm, presentations will take place in Collins Cinema, Davis Museum, Jewett, Library Book Arts Room, Pendleton, and the Science Center. The conference includes a community wide lunch on the Academic Quad and refreshments before and after sessions. For more information and a schedule of events, go to

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal-arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries. For more information, go to


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  • Date Modified: April 14, 2004
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