'From students to scholars’: John C. Young research program prepares students for postgraduate opportunities

by Matt Overing

John C. Young committee chair Thomas Allen opens the 2023 symposium.

Centre College’s premier research challenge is nearing its summit.


The John C. Young program at Centre is a prestigious challenge for high-achieving seniors looking to tackle a project in their final year at the College.  


As committee chair Azita Osanloo notes, the John C. Young (JCY) program takes dedication, ambition and resilience from its scholars.


It’s remarkable and impressive how these young students go from being students to scholars — not only because of what they accomplish at the end of their senior years but the tenacity it takes to steep yourself into the world of your scholarly preoccupations and ambitions for a whole year,” Osanloo said. 


Osanloo is an associate professor of English at Centre and also The Writing Center director. She has mentored three separate John C. Young scholars and said the year-long projects are a commitment for faculty as well — something that makes Centre College special.


“It’s rare in academia, particularly at the undergraduate level, to work this closely with your professors,” she said. “But especially at Centre, professors try to do that in every classroom opportunity. That’s where these relationships begin.”   


Six students were selected last year to embark on year-long research projects in the 2023-24 academic year. Those students are tasked with asking a faculty member to be their mentor and share their proposal.


“Most John C. Young scholars come to their mentors with fully formed or nearly formed proposals,” Osanloo said. “They have very clear and ambitious goals for what they would like to accomplish throughout the year. Much of the time they’re overly ambitious — they have an idea of what they want to study but need help articulating the end product.


“I’ve found that the challenge is not getting to a place where they have something to share, but it’s actually rather difficult to distill everything about what they have learned and done for a year-plus into a 20- to 25-minute presentation. I think for many students, that presentation is an invitation to share their work.”


Osanloo added that, every year, there are more worthy applications than JCY Scholar opportunities. 


I hope the John C. Young symposium shines a light on the other undergraduate research opportunities at Centre,” she said. “There are students who are doing so many things that they can’t or just don’t want to spend the entirety of their senior year working on a John C. Young project — like the RICE Symposium or working with a professor on their research. John C. Young is just one opportunity. I hope it helps and motivates students to think about ways to present their work and to take their work beyond the classroom through other programs.” 


So many opportunities for students to research and explore creative pursuits is just one reason why Osanloo appreciates Centre's enriching academic environment. The College guarantees all students a research opportunity or internship during their four years at Centre.


I’m so proud that we work at a school that supports this kind of ambition,” she said. “I’m always proud at the audacity of the students who dare to dream in this regard. It’s not an easy thing to undertake, to walk into the unknown as courageously as some of these students do with these projects. You don’t know how the journey will end in a year’s time. We’re instilling that kind of courageousness, that’s what our job is — it’s to prepare them to believe that they can do it, no matter what happens.”


JCY students will present their year-long research projects during a symposium in Centre’s Vahlkamp Theater on Saturday, April 13, beginning at 8:40 a.m.



Follow @CentreCollege on social media to see project highlights and student perspectives on the John C. Young scholars program. As projects are shared, this webpage will be updated with links.



John C. Young scholars and mentors, 2023-24


Mason Boone. Faculty adviser: Stodghill Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience Melissa Burns-Cusato


Joseph Falcon. Faculty adviser: Grissom Professor of Anthropology Robyn Cutright


Temi Haastrup. Faculty adviser: Assistant Professor of Chemistry Erin Wachter


Anya Hartman. Faculty advisers: Associate Professor of Art History Amy Frederick and Associate Professor of Religion Shana Sippy


Drew Perkins. Faculty adviser: Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Peter S.K. Lynch


Annalise Weedman. Faculty adviser: Pottinger Associate Professor of History Sara Egge and Professor of International Studies Lori Hartmann