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Seniors in The Research Lab


Written by Dr. Darcey Powell

I have two seniors in my research lab: Riker Lawrence & Rachel Harmon, that I’d like to highlight. 

Riker has been a research fellow in my lab since the first day of her freshman year at Roanoke. That spring, she and several more senior lab-mates were going to join me at a conference in Austin, Texas. This would have been her first disciplinary conference! I had to fly out a day early for a pre-conference and all of my research students were flying out the following day together. Unfortunately, this happened to coincide with the Spring 2017 Delta Airlines debacle, during which there was a mass cancellation of Delta flights. The students were rerouted to Detroit, with the expectation of flying out later that day to meet me in Texas. However, Delta’s flight situation worsened and I spent the evening negotiating with Delta to fly the students back to the east coast. Unfortunately, no flights were scheduled to go into the NC airport they flew out of, but there was a flight heading to another NC airport the next morning. So, Riker and my other research assistants ended up staying the night in the Detroit airport, followed by flying back to NC the next morning, and then taking a 2-hour Uber trip to the airport they had originally flown out of. Riker may not have been able to attend her first disciplinary conference that weekend, but she certainly formed a lasting bond with her lab-mates and gained a fantastic story. 

Rachel has been a research assistant in my lab since her Sophomore year. She approached me about the possibility of conducting a cross-cultural research project on families who have a child with a disability. That year, Rachel proposed her honors project and was set to spend a summer in Nicaragua interning at a non-profit that works with children who have disabilities, as well as a semester interning at a non-profit that provides similar services in the Roanoke Valley. Unfortunately, a political situation developed in Nicaragua that prohibited her from being able to travel there. Rather than giving up that part of her project, she worked with Jesse Griffin and me to consider an alternative location. Ultimately, we determined that the Yucatan of Mexico could serve as her second project location. What could have been a major set-back, propelled her to have a fulfilling summer of working with various families, interning at two organizations in the Yucatan, and making lasting memories. Rachel’s project was adapted from her initial plans, but she demonstrated great perseverance and still had the opportunity to recognize her ability to live independently in another country. 

So, while an early departure from campus and the continuation of courses via remote learning is not what Riker, Rachel, or any of our other seniors envisioned for their final semester at Roanoke College, I have been inspired in the ways that they have all adapted and persevered. In this time of social distancing, students at Roanoke College are continuing to find ways to virtually connect with each other, and seniors are making memories that no other cohort before them can claim. Although they are rightfully worried about the spread of Coronavirus, may have frustrations about various class assignments, and are missing the end-of-semester festivities, I am confident that these moments – both the laughter-inducing, heart-wrenching, and everything in between, will be reflected upon and shared with others as they age.