For newly minted college students, freshman year is a time of exploration – full of interesting classes, events, and people. For students in the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience (ASURE), there is an additional sense of excitement. While deep in fall coursework along with the rest of their cohort, these students are doing something freshmen rarely do: diving into the rigors of research.
ASURE students Lucas Henson and Zoe Swayne are students in Professor Laura Foster’s course “Critical Approaches to the Arts and Humanities: Exploring Science and Humanity,” and through their classroom experience Lucas and Zoe are discovering what humanities research truly entails.
Professor Foster, an associate professor of gender studies, designed her course to teach students to see the world as a construct, and the world of science is no exception. She encourages students to interrogate how narratives are created in scientific work and to think about social problems from both scientific and humanistic perspectives.
Much of the thinking and learning in Foster’s course centers on what might seem at first to be a rather insignificant object: a small succulent plant named Hoodia gordonii, found in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. But the history of human interaction with Hoodia, from medicinal herb used by the local Sān people to profitable appetite suppressant in the Western diet industry, dramatically illustrates the legal, racial, scientific, and commercial complexities involved in the plant’s story. Foster’s recent publication, Reinventing Hoodia: Peoples, Plants, and Patents in South Africa, serves as a case study for the class.