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Elizabeth Satterfield: Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)

  “How was your summer?” This ambiguous question tends to haunt college students during the first few weeks of the semester.  They begin to wonder if they had a good summer, a great summer, a poor summer, or a summer at all.  Where did summer go?  What did I do? Soon, summer becomes a hazy memory and the worries of the semester overtake our thoughts.

  In the spring semester, I was plagued with the thought of summer. I applied for over a dozen summer positions that piqued my interest but had not heard back from any as mid-semester loomed ahead. Then Professor Jenny Boulware encouraged me to apply for the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) at WVU, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

  A few weeks later, I learned I would be the History Department’s first-ever recipient of a SURE grant. I looked ahead to the summer with great excitement: my summer would not be a forgotten hiatus but an enriching research experience.  Professor Jenny Boulware, my research mentor, and I quickly put together a plan which would contribute to the documentation of the rich cultural landscape of the Sunnyside neighborhood. Although known in recent memory as a student rental neighborhood and popular party location, prior to the mid-twentieth century, Sunnyside was home to immigrants and multi-generational families, skilled and unskilled workers, professors and students.  In the last thirty years, however, student housing demands have significantly altered Sunnyside’s historic buildings.  Although every property has not been affected, it is important to record the history of the neighborhood and its residents before little is left to record. 

  The first few weeks of SURE, I edited thirty-one Sunnyside property narratives written by graduate students in the Public History program.  Even though editing is a difficult task, I learned more from reading and rereading these essays than I can describe here.  I also reviewed Chicago footnotes and bibliography to ensure appropriate documentation; although tedious at times, I am now more prepared to document sources in my capstone this fall.

  Conducting photograph and map research was a highlight of my research. Though many of my searches through the West Virginia & Regional History Center left me without the photographs I had hoped for, I became familiar with Morgantown’s landscape and improved my research skills. I also have a newfound appreciation of the wealth of information one can acquire from Sanborn Maps [Fire Insurance Maps that show cities in great detail.]

 Further compounding my experience, I performed deed and will research at the Monongalia County Courthouse.  Already a genealogy addict, I have a new skill to add to my family research portfolio.  My best experience in the program was planning for future projects.  Now that we have created a concise compilation of many of Sunnyside’s notable properties, we are eager to further engage the community through public projects such as a walking tour, interactive technology experiences, and local exhibits.  As I discussed these possibilities with other students and faculty at the final poster symposium on August 15, their positive responses greatly encouraged me and gave additional importance to my summer research. 

  Today if you ask me about my summer, I promise to provide more detail than, “It was fine.”  I will tell you (much too quickly) how much I enjoyed working with Jenny Boulware, how the SURE program was a wonderful opportunity, how I am excited to continue research with the History Department, and far too many bits of trivia about our beautiful downtown campus and our northern historic neighborhood of Sunnyside. 

E Satterfield

 Elizabeth Satterfield is a junior history major from Independence, WV.  Her emphases are in historic preservation and West Virginia history. She was the first student in the Department of History to be granted a prestigious SURE grant.