Wheeling, West Virginia, native London Orzolek will present her research on first-generation college students at the 117th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association on Thursday, Nov. 15 in San Jose, California. Orzolek is a West Virginia University senior studying anthropology and women’s and gender studies with a minor in development studies. She is also the president and founder of the WVU Anthropology Club and a member of the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity, the honors society Order of Omega, anthropology honors society Lambda Alpha and the Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology Association, a WVU student organization. In celebration of National First-Generation College Student Day, she sat down with us to discuss her research and plans for the future.
What are you researching?
I am researching the concept of college-going culture, which is basically understood to be what you need to know to enroll in and succeed in college, with regard to social skills and cultural capital.
Why is this research important?
I am looking at what struggles first-generation students are facing, including what problems they run into before getting to college with applications, finances or other issues. Then, I look at what struggles they’ve had in college in their first semester. I focus on what actual challenges exist and how student support services have helped them overcome those challenges.
Why did you choose your majors and minors?
Originally, I came to WVU to study forensic anthropology. Then, I fell in love with anthropology and along the way was taking women’s and gender studies classes for the anthropology major and really enjoyed those as well. I realized that I am interested in these differences in inequality and development, and that’s how I got into the development studies minor. That all connects back to my research because I am looking at first-generation college students and student support services at WVU.
How has the McNair Scholars Program helped you?
The entire program is designed to allow each of us to develop a research study, and the advisers encouraged us to go to graduate school. It is a six-week summer program where we met daily from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., where they helped us prepare for the GRE, interviews and applications. The research project helps support our applications to get in to graduate school.
What research will you present at the 117th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association?
The session I am in is called “Breaking New Ground in Educational Ethnography in School Culture.” Everyone presenting in my group is education-based. There are six speakers hosted by the Council on Anthropology and Education. There are several professors in my group, and they will present their research as well. My presentation is “You Keep Using That Word: Defining College-Going Culture and Student Success.”
What do you plan to do after graduating?
I want to earn a Ph.D. in applied anthropology, and I plan to continue the research I am doing now. I want to do applied, real-world research, and I hope to influence policy and reach a target audience either in a charity or nonprofit organization.
How has your time here at WVU prepared you for your future goals?
Participating in all of these extracurricular activities, the McNair Scholars Program and the fact that the anthropology program is small have all given me one-on-one interactions with mentors and all the experience that I really need.
Why do you want to work with nonprofits?
I hate to say, ‘my goal is to change the world,’ but I’m doing inequality research. I want to work with people who are actually working with individuals who experience the pressure of inequality in their lives. The ultimate goal really is to change the world and help people. That’s what I want to do.
What is your favorite memory so far at WVU?
We did a final presentation on our research for the McNair Scholars Program. That was a really cool moment because everyone got to talk to each other about their projects, and we were able to see what each person had been working on the whole time. Everyone studied these incredibly different and interesting topics. We all also traveled to Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University together to talk to experts there. I would definitely say the McNair Scholars Program has been one of my best experiences at WVU.