William O'Brien First-Year Research Prizes

Will O’Brien was a member of the Class of 2006 who was tragically killed in the summer after his first year here at St. Lawrence.  Will loved his year at SLU, and thanks to the generosity of his family and their friends, we are able to fund a series of prizes for research done in spring First-Year Seminar courses.
Each year, we select three students whose research in their FYS best reflects exemplary achievement of the goals of the FYS.  Those three students will receive cash awards and typically will have the opportunity to present their research to the campus community at the Honors Reception during Laurentian Weekend in the fall of their sophomore year. View this year's schedule. This year, we have also selected four honorable mentions.

Congratulations to the William O'Brien FYS Research Prize winners from the Class of 2026:

First Place: Meara McClusky
    "Dominance and Celebration: Taxidermy Culture in the Adirondacks"
     FYS - “Adirondack Arts and Archives” "
              with Mark Sturges

Second Place: William McCarthy
     "An Examination of Lo-fi Music: Studying and the Mind"
     FYS - “Understanding Music From the Inside Out"
              with Paul Siskind

Third Place: Liz Anderson
The Effect of Trap, Neuter, Return on Free-Roaming Cat Populations"
     FYS – “
From Pets to Factory Farms: Our Evolving Relationship with Animals w/CBL
              with Karen Gibson

Honorable Mention: Charlotte Hobbs
How Light Dark Tourism Attractions Use History and Myth to Appeal to Tourists"
     FYS – “
Consumer Culture and Everyday Life
              with Ashley Rife

Honorable Mention: Aidan Fauth
Plato and Climate Change: How Can We Fight Willful Ignorance and Misinformation?"
     FYS – “
Urgent Wisdom: Philosophy in the Age of Climate Change
              with Katie Wolfe

Honorable Mention: Katie Hallett
Ethical Adoption Between Cultures"
     FYS – “
The Good Place and The Good Life
              with Jeff Maynes

Honorable Mention: Mahmoud Ali
Representation of Gender and Sexuality in Egyptian Cinema"
     FYS – “Is the hijab dangerous? Thinking about Islam, Gender, and Sexuality in the Modern Middle East
              with Howard Eissenstat

Meara McClusky

First Place: Meara McClusky “Dominance and Celebration: Taxidermy Culture in the Adirondacks”

"My research was on taxidermy culture in the Adirondacks from the 19th century to the present day. In my FYS, “Adirondack Arts and Archives,” we explored different perspectives of the North Country through art and literature. I wanted to explore human connections to wildlife through art, so I decided to research the history of taxidermy in the region. By examining historical photographs of taxidermy and comparing them to modern examples, I concluded that while 19th century taxidermy represented a culture of dominance over wildlife, modern taxidermy uplifts and celebrates nature." 

Profile image of Will McCarthy

Second Place: Will McCarthy "An Examination of Lo-fi Music: Studying and the Mind”

“My First-Year Seminar put a large focus on music, and it's influence on culture, as well as people. It challenged students to think about music in a unique way, and so I decided to examine music in relation to the brain for my research paper. My goal was to study Lo-fi music to see if it had any positive effects on the brain when it came to reading comprehension as well as memorization and recall, two key factors in the studying process. Because the possible correlation between Lo-fi music and improved studying is so recent, there wasn't any peer-reviewed sources about it, so I was very excited to be part of the contribution to this study. I was able to conclude from this research project that generally, it is completely possible that Lo-fi music can improve certain studying habits, and although it isn't a guaranteed solution for everyone, I found that in many scenarios, it can substitute as a working alternative."

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Third Place: Liz Anderson "The Effect of Trap, Neuter, Return on Free-Roaming Cat Populations”

“I chose to research the effectiveness of TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) in stray cat colonies because it is a topic that I have been following on social media. Seeing it this way provided an in-depth look at the process and individual success stories by a select few people and groups. I was interested in looking at the big picture as well, and synthesizing multiple studies to answer the question of how effective TNR is as a means of controlling and reducing stray cat populations. I was very excited to incorporate information about a local colony of cats that underwent TNR work! Through the information I learned, I was able to show how TNR is not just something that is only necessary and done in cities, but that it can be done anywhere there is an abundance of feral or stray cats. During my research I was surprised by how divided the articles’ findings seemed to be, and I found many different perspectives on the topic. I concluded that when done vigorously and with additional measures such as adoption included in the process, TNR can reduce feral and stray populations over time while improving the quality of life of the cats involved."


Profile image of Charlotte Hobbs

Honorable Mention: Charlotte Hobbs "How Light Dark Tourism Attractions Use History and Myth to Appeal to Tourists"

“In my First-Year Seminar, “Consumer Culture and Everyday Life” taught by Ashley Rife, I discovered new concepts in the world of consumerism and how they manifest in the world around me. Particularly interesting was the concept of Dark Tourism. My research paper, “How Light Dark Tourism Attractions Use History and Myth to Appeal to Tourists”, examined how dark tourism attractions in Salem, MA use tourists’ desires to learn in order to generate revenue, only to perpetuate misinformation and myth surrounding the event. In my research, at first, I was looking at potential studies and resources through too narrow a lens. As I developed my research, I found that research done on tourists’ perceptions of the authenticity of cultural events and its relation to their spending habits was an unlikely, but powerful resource in my research. In the end, expanding my scope to these studies only made my paper richer. I am most proud of my growth as a writer over the course of my First-Year Program and First-Year Seminar."

Aidan Fauth

Honorable Mention: Aidan Fauth "Plato and Climate Change: How Can We Fight Willful Ignorance and Misinformation?"

“My FYS research paper examined whether ‘ancient wisdom’ could help the populace when confronting climate change misinformation and skepticism. Using Plato’s famous “Allegory of the Cave” as a framework for analyzing climate deniers, my research described how Plato’s philosophical teachings could contribute to the solution towards eliminating climate change denial both from the perspective of the denier and those who are informed. I argued that climate change skepticism is a misnomer; instead, a lack of internal skepticism leads someone to deny the truth about climate change. My research led me to conclude that Plato’s philosophy could have a beneficial role in inoculating the public from misinformation coordinated by vested interests and creating a more informed populace that feels obligated to act on their knowledge toward progress on climate change.”

Katie Hallett

Honorable Mention: Katie Hallett "Ethical Adoption Between Cultures"

“For decades, transracial adoption has been a popular alternative for White families who are unable to have children of their own. Transracial adoption is the adoption of children by families that are racially or ethnically different from the adoptee. In my FYS “The Good Place and Good Life”, I explored and examined the ethics of transracial adoption. This was especially difficult because not much research has been done about transracial adoption and its racial implications. I concluded that transracial adoption is morally permissible only in cases in which parents are wholly devoted to providing the adoptee with opportunities to learn and feel connected to their birth culture and as well as willing to have serious discussions related to racism.”

Mahmoud Ali

Honorable Mention: Mahmoud Ali "Representation of Gender and Sexuality in Egyptian Cinema"

“The representation of gender and sexuality in Egyptian cinema has been around for many years, and it affected the society in all means possible starting from reflecting on daily habits and basic traditions, and going on until changing some laws that promoted discrimination between different sexes. I developed this topic throughout my paper by examining the development of Egyptian cinema starting at the 1950s and till today, by watching movies and analyzing characters regarding gender roles and stereotypes. One of the main challenges I faced during writing my paper was that most resources are written in Arabic, so I had to translate lots of material in order to add them to my paper and to support the arguments and the flow of events.”