Gabby Romaines

Close to home: Romines examines identity, belonging at Centre College for John C. Young research

by Amy Wise

Centre College News

This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2022 John C. Young (JCY) Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 32nd year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.

It was through personal reflection that Gabby Romines ’22 found her John C. Young study topic: “The Relationship Between Identity and Belonging: A Case Study of Centre College.”

“My initial interest in this project emerged from personal reflection on my own experience developing a sense of belonging at Centre,” she said in her paper. “I simultaneously recognized that this experience was only my own—often considering how each student faces differing circumstances that influence the way they perceive and navigate college settings.”

Romines, who was recently awarded the Max P. Cavnes Prize at the Class of 2022 graduation as the best-loved and most-respected senior woman in the class, said that she looked at how aspects of personal and social identity affect the development of “belonging” at Centre.

“I reflected on the personal advantages (such as my familial background, economic status, shared interests with those around me, education history, etc.) that allowed me these opportunities, acknowledging that they were not universal,” she said. “As an individual committed to educational justice, I ruminated often on how students’ college experiences might vary based on personal context and sought to illuminate the way that identity impacted people’s opportunities, perspectives, and sense of belonging in college.”

It was research that Romines was invested in as a Centre student—and now, a Centre graduate. Through her JCY project, she learned more about the College and her own abilities as a student.

“I definitely learned a lot about self-directed projects and how to stay motivated when the main source of accountability is yourself,” she said. “It was a long process, and I had many moments of doubt about my ability to complete it. Yet, when I look back over everything I’ve done and consider the breadth of meaningful data that emerged, I’m really proud of this project. I certainly owe much of my success to the people that supported and mentored me along the way, especially Dr. Ellen Prusinski.”

Prusinski, assistant professor of education at Centre, was Romines’ advisor through the JCY program. She said that it was “a pleasure” watching Romines craft and explore her topic.

“She started with a very broad question about how students’ experiences at Centre are influenced and shaped by their identities, and refined this idea into a carefully crafted, thoughtful, and meaningful research project,” Prusinski said. “Her methods were sound and I was continually impressed by her work ethic and intellectual curiosity. When she encountered hurdles to completing her project, such as not being able to distribute her survey in the way she had originally hoped, she persevered and maintained a positive, inquisitive attitude.”

Romines said her project allowed her to delve deep into relationships with students at Centre, for which she was grateful.

“Ultimately, my project investigated Centre student experiences, and my very favorite part was all the conversations and insights that my peers shared with me along the way,” Romines said. “I owe so much to my fellow classmates and friends who have helped me to develop my own sense of belonging over the past few years.”

Prusinski said Romines’ JCY research is beneficial both to Centre and other colleges.

“I think her findings about the experiences of Centre students are valuable for our specific context, but could also help inform decisions at other colleges that are actively working to create inclusive learning spaces,” she said. “In general, I think JCY is an amazing opportunity for highly motivated, independent students to follow a question through from a kernel of an idea all the way to a conclusion.”

Romines learned through her introspection and experiences with other Centre students the value of the JCY program.

“Being a John C. Young scholar was challenging yet rewarding. Developing such a strong relationship with my faculty mentor was a unique, helpful and fulfilling experience—one that is rare in undergrad,” Romines said. “I’m committed to a Ph.D. program for school psychology next year, and I think JCY most closely resembles what I will be doing in the future. I will definitely carry lessons from this project with me.”