Celebrating Undergraduate Research and Creativity: Elena Zinski ’15

Springtime on the Dartmouth campus marks the annual celebration of undergraduate research, scholarship, and creativity. Undergraduates work closely with faculty on projects relevant to the students’ chosen fields, challenge their abilities, and contribute to the scholarly enterprise. The projects are designed to encourage critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, self-confidence, and intellectual independence.

Dartmouth Now highlights the work of six undergraduate researchers in a weeklong series.

Elena Zinski ’15 chose Dartmouth because of its small class sizes and the chance to work closely with professors. “Dartmouth’s commitment to undergraduate teaching has certainly been a big part of my college experience,” says the Wheaton, Ill. native.

“His expertise on Morocco has proven invaluable as I searched for sources and tried to understand the political and historical contexts of the text,” says Elena Zinski ’15 of her adviser, Jonathan Smolin, an associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Zinski also places a premium on faculty research. “This research propels their fields forward by challenging the boundaries of knowledge and what we assume to be true,” she says. “These advancements influence students in the classroom but also affect a range of arenas—from public policy to medicine to international affairs.”

Studying in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures (DAMELL), Zinski is specifically interested in contemporary Arabic literature and the construction of national identity, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. She is completing a senior honors thesis on Arabic literature.

A series of events highlight undergraduate research, scholarship, and creativity this week:

President's Undergraduate Research Symposium

  • Wednesday, May 27, 4-5:30 p.m. in Baker-Berry Library, Main Corridor
  • Presentations and posters highlighting honors theses from across the College

Karen E. Wetterhahn Science Symposium

  • Keynote address at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, at Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center: “From Drought to Flood: Engineering for Climate Change” by Kathleen White of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Undergraduate Poster Session, 5:30–7 p.m.

Arts at Dartmouth Awards Ceremony

  • Tuesday, June 2, 4:30 p.m., Moore Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
  • A celebration of student achievement in the arts with live performances and short film screenings. With guest of honor Michael Rafter ‘82, Emmy award-winning television director and Broadway music director.

“For my thesis, I compared two Arabic Moroccan novels: Abd al-Karim Ghallab’s Dafanna al-Madi and Layla Abu Zayd’s Am al-Fil,” she says. “Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, and I studied how these novels use narratives of the independence movement to critique the social and political environment that emerged in the post-independence period. Dafanna al-Madi has not been translated into English, and so it was rewarding for me to apply four years of language study to understanding this complex text.

“My senior thesis has felt like a culmination of my academic experiences. Within my Arabic language project, I relied on the range of my past coursework, from engineering to photography to government, to enrich my analysis of the texts. This process of pulling on a variety of academic experiences embodies, to me, the value of my liberal arts education.”

Zinski pursued her fascination with Morocco in spending terms abroad in Tangier and Rabat. “I took a Moroccan dialect class my sophomore summer and completed a smaller research paper on the Amazigh (Berber) community in Morocco,” she says. “I wanted these academic experiences, along with my study of Arabic, to culminate in my thesis.”

Her adviser has been Jonathan Smolin, an associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures. “His expertise on Morocco has proven invaluable as I searched for sources and tried to understand the political and historical contexts of the text,” Zinski says. “I appreciate the encouragement he has given me to take ownership of my project. He has improved not only the quality of my thesis but also my skills as a researcher and writer.”

Read more:

Zinski is looking forward to working this summer as the director’s assistant on Dartmouth’s new Arabic Advanced Language Study Abroad program in Rabat. “After teaching many of the students as a ‘drill instructor,’ I am thrilled to share in their abroad experience.”