By Hannah Mason, Assistant Editor
Senior English Education major Rachel Wurster is one of two national recipients of this year’s Robert W. Sledge Fellowship, through the national honor fraternity Alpha Chi. Wurster was selected based on her submission of an academic paper, entitled “Her World, Her Way?: An Exploration of Racial Depictions and Stereotypes in Seventeen Magazine.” The fellowship includes a $3,500 award to go toward a graduate degree program.
Any senior undergraduate of any discipline who is a member of Alpha Chi and are enrolled in graduate school the following academic year is eligible for the Sledge Fellowship. According to Dr. Melinda Kreisburg, Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning, “The winners of the national scholarship and fellowship competitions are decided by volunteer judges (faculty) from other universities with Alpha Chi chapters. The composition of judges varies each year.” She added that though they do not know the exact number of other applicants, “the competition is usually substantial,” and only two winners nationwide are selected for the award.
Wurster, who is from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., plans to attend Virginia Tech next year to pursue an M.A. in English. Her goal is to someday teach at a non-traditional school such as a charter or magnet school in the Washington, D.C. area.
Her research paper studies the racial depictions and stereotypes present in Seventeen magazine in issues from 2012 to 2015, analyzing the covers, inside images, and articles in the beauty, fashion, and life sections of the magazine. Some of her conclusions were that minority women are unfairly represented in Seventeen compared to white women, and that when minority women were shown, they tended to be shown in stereotyped roles. She hopes to continue research into Seventeen during her graduate studies at Virginia Tech.
Wurster said that she is both excited and surprised about being selected for the fellowship. “I didn’t think there was any chance that I was going to win,” she said, but since the paper was already finished, she figured, “I might as well put my hat in the race.” She added, “The best part is just feeling like I actually was awarded for the insane amount of work that went into that paper.”
“We are exceptionally fortunate to have a talented pool of students at West Liberty,” Kreisburg said. “I am exceedingly proud of all of our students and their performance at this and previous conventions. The abilities of our students definitely stand out among other students of equal commitment to excellence.”
Wurster offers advice for students looking to do their own research or to enter research competitions like the annual Alpha Chi convention. “I think that more people should look outside the box for research topics,” she said, “because it makes you stand out at these kind of events, and also a lot of them are directly real-world applicable. So I think if you have a question about something going on today, regardless of what it’s about, then you should go for it. Because any kind of current topic paper is a good thing to have and there aren’t that many out there. If I hadn’t asked ‘I wonder what’s going on in Seventeen magazine,” none of this would’ve ever happened.”