Across Time and Space: Empowering Undergraduate Researchers Through Virtual Community Building
Taylor Elyse Mills
My project aims to further the infrastructure and mission of the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities (UNRH), an organization founded by and for undergraduates in order to reclaim student agency and reimagine the undergraduate role in innovative humanities research by providing space for students to present, collaborate, and form community across departments, institutions, and countries. UNRH was founded by a group of undergraduates interested in exploring two central questions: what is the undergraduate role in the Digital Humanities? and How can undergraduates be empowered and equipped to navigate this emerging field? UNRH was the response to these questions with a two-pronged approach: hosting an annual conference to provide students the space to meet, present, develop professional skills, and network, and hosting a virtual community to continue to support students with ongoing projects, professional opportunities, and collaboration possibilities. UNRH’s annual conference brings together students from all across the United States and abroad; during these brief weekends, students learn from one another, collaborate, and teach each other. This conference has been incredibly successful. In fact, since its founding in 2015, UNRH has accepted 76 projects, involving 108 students from 34 institutions all across the United States, Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Ukraine. However, once the conference ends, participants lose substantive professional contact. UNRH has tried several WordPress plugin tactics to create a virtual space for post-conference and cross-cohort community building, but with little success due to technological inflexibility. UNRH has also tried platforms and applications like Facebook, Slack, and Whatsapp, but none of these encompass all of the specifications UNRH would like to incorporate as both a social and professional platform. I envision an application where students have individual profiles indicating research interests and skills such that they can search for and contact other students who may be able to assist them with projects and tools. Additionally there would be a discussion board to post updates on projects, share upcoming conference or funding opportunities, post relevant articles, and ask general questions. Ideally this platform would be browser compatible but also take the form of a phone application. The UNRH Steering Committee would be responsible for sustaining and maintaining this technology, falling under the role of the Media Coordinator position specifically. Undergraduates in the Digital Humanities often do not have this structure built in like faculty do within institutions. Hence, I see to develop or modify existing technologies, perhaps like Mastodon, to bring together a community and continue to empower undergraduate researchers in the Digital Humanities. As co-founder of UNRH, I am eager to continue to support the vision of this organization.
This project idea and its affiliates are under a Creative Commons License as intellectual property of Taylor Elyse Mills and of the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities.