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A road less traveled: Journalism students use Magellan funds to conduct research

Posted July 21, 2014
By Kelly Goebel, public relations major. Published in Spring 2014 InterCom


Few students use the word "research" and "adventure of a lifetime" in the same sentence. However, for three outstanding students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, it's a perfectly natural combination. Austin Price, Madeline Willett and Monica Munoz share an intellectual curiosity like no other – a curiosity that only the Magellan Scholar program can satisfy.

Price, a senior visual communications major, earned the Magellan Scholar award in Fall 2013. He traveled through South Carolina with his mentor, Associate Professor Ernest Wiggins, to discover the 315 miles of paths known as the Palmetto Trail. They analyzed the impact that the trail has had on the communities it passes through by examining its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

"I've always really enjoyed the outdoors and the idea of the crossstate trail intrigued me, and so I jumped at the chance to spend the semester studying it," said Price.

The Magellan grant is a high honor and comes with a certain degree of responsibility. Students enter the university-wide competition by submitting detailed proposals with their faculty mentors. Of the 160 applicants in Spring 2014, 75 were accepted. Only the students who clearly demonstrate the exceptional ability to explore their respective interests outside the classroom are awarded funds for their research. If granted the scholarship, students receive up to $3,000 and are expected to present their findings on Discovery Day. They are also encouraged to use other creative platforms to display their work. For example, students may publish in the Caravel, USC's undergraduate academic journal.

Price is preparing a magazine-style book to convey the SWOT analysis and a short documentary featuring interviews with people associated with the Palmetto Trail.

Munoz, a senior public relations student, was named a Magellan Scholar in Spring 2014. She is studying how climate change affects national parks with David Weintraub, an SJMC instructor.

"My mission is to convey the information on parks more visually with a website so people have access and can easily interpret what's out there. I am synthesizing different books and news articles into one place," said Munoz.

During a two-month cross-country summer road trip, Munoz will visit five national parks to collect her data. As a former Capstone Scholar and Magellan Apprentice, Munoz is no stranger to getting her hands dirty and going the extra mile (or maybe a few thousand).

Willett, a sophomore Spanish major, was awarded the Magellan in Spring 2013, when she was majoring in visual communications. Her research determined how U.S. study abroad students' identities were influenced by international education immersion.

Willett's mentors were Dr. Andrea Tanner, an SJMC associate professor, and Dr. Jennifer Engel, director of USC's Study Abroad office. Both helped her design a case study for her study abroad semester in South Africa.

She studied nine students throughout their journeys. Her observations, field notes and interviews led her to categorize the influence of study abroad into four main levels — social, personal, national and global.

Regardless of her change in major, Willett said that the tools she was given as a J-school student contributed greatly to her research.

"My journalism classes gave me the confidence I needed for interviewing," said Willett. "I knew what kinds of questions to ask out in the field and how to be concise."

The Magellan Program has distributed more than $2 million to fund undergraduate research at the University of South Carolina. The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies boasts 10 Magellan scholars since the program was established in 2005.