Honors in the Major project: Angilmarie Rivera Sanchez on “The Role of Gender in Commemorating the White Rose”
My name is Angilmarie Rivera Sanchez, and I am a senior at the university double majoring in Political Science and History, certified in U.S. Intelligence Services and TESOL. I am currently the president of the Puerto Rican Student Association, programming coordinator for the Hispanic/Latinx Student Union, and delegate for Dance Marathon at FSU. I am also involved in the honor’s program, the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society, and am a Tyler Global Scholar. I was recently chosen as an FSU Student Star, which allowed me to share my mission in terms of diversity on campus with a larger audience at the university.
What is your project about?
My project is titled “The Role of Gender in Commemorating the White Rose”. The White Rose was a student-led resistance group that condemned Hitler's Germany, calling for an end to the war and the government's war crimes by publishing anonymous leaflets. The founder was Hans Scholl, medical student who saw firsthand the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. He was later joined by other like-minded individuals, including his younger sister Sophie Scholl. The group was ultimately caught and executed for treason. As the 1980s came around, a shift began. Instead of talking about the White Rose as a whole, people began to have conversations about Sophie. Then again, in the early 2000s, she became the face of the movement. My study's aim was to understand why this occurred, and the impact it has had on the White Rose's message. I looked at the data through a political lens, identifying trends that could explain the change of commemoration through the years and conducting interviews with scholars in the field. In short, the shift occurred between the 1980s and the 2000s through a complex play of politics. Though the message was not altered, the portrayal of the group is biased, putting into question whether they should be the representation of German resistance as a whole.
Can you describe some of the initial steps involved in deciding to pursue an Honors in the Major project?
In my case, the first step was to declare History as a major. I had to speak to the liaison for my specific department, Jonathan Grant, who met with me and explained everything I would have to do to officially begin my project. One of the requirements was to enroll in a 3-credit course under my director. This involved communicating with my advisor, who then created the course number for me. Once I did that, I had to assemble a supervisory committee, all of whom had been professors I had in the past who I felt impacted my education in a positive way. After that, I had them sign a form provided by the university where they agreed to be part of my committee. At that point, it was about writing the prospectus and applying for funding.
How did you decide on your research topic?
I actually developed this research topic through my work during the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program my freshman year. My mentor was accepting research assistants for his project about commemoration of German resistance, with his focus at the time being Hitler’s assassination attempt. He gave me options of resistance groups to look at, and I chose the White Rose; I was drawn to their story from the beginning, perhaps because I admired how brave they were at such a young age. As I looked at commemoration efforts and learned more about their story, I realized that a lot of people referred to Sophie Scholl as the face of the resistance, even though it was her brother and his colleagues who had actually started the group. I wondered why that was, and as I looked for answers, I realized that English language literature on the topic was very limited. Thus, I spoke to my mentor about it, and he encouraged me to develop my own thesis on it.
How did you choose your advisor? Did you know them previously?
My advisor was my mentor, Nathan Stoltzfus! He was very encouraging from the beginning, always helping me push myself beyond limits, and playing a big role in obtaining funding for my research. I met him through the UROP program and worked with him every week, so I had a good idea of how we worked together. He was also the person who pushed for me to do the thesis and officially declare history as a major, which meant it was a no brainer that he would be my thesis director as well. He helped me pick my supervisory committee and guided me through this journey.
Did your conversations with your advisor lead to any changes or revisions to your research topic?
Certainly. I initially developed three different research questions, each of which would have taken me in a different direction. My advisor and I worked together for a long time to mold my research topic fully, keeping me focused while also opening my mind up to various perspectives. I would say he acted as a catalyst, actively working with me so that I would develop my topic fully. Our conversations also led to revisions on the research itself; he would keep asking questions so that I would find more answers – dig deeper.
What sources are you using for your project?
This project required extensive research, and my references sections ended up being over three pages long. I looked at scholarly journals, exhibitions, newspapers, books, personal diary entries, letter correspondence, interviews, and dissertations. I looked at these in four languages: English, German, French, and Italian. A lot of sources I found through FSU’s off-campus library access, as well as the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Germany.
Were you nervous to take “the leap” on such a big project?
I was a bit nervous, but I think I was more excited than anything. I had a lot of support from my director, my supervisory committee, my family, and my friends. There were definitely times where my confidence faltered, but I had such a good support system – especially my mom – that I kept pushing through until the end. It is quiet daunting, but I also think the way the department divides the work up helps with slowly building your project up. Not to mention, the history department as a whole has some of the most supportive faculty members I have ever come across.
What would you say a day in the life of an Honors in the Major student looks like?
It’ll look different for everyone, but I can guarantee you we all have a lot of tabs open on our laptops that we look at religiously whenever we have free time. If I finished class early, I would head to the union to do some work on my project. If I was bored at home, I would pull out my notes and look for sources. I was still able to maintain a good social life, keep my grades up, and have time for self-care. It’s about doing a little bit each day so that it is not overwhelming. Remember, you are still young and in college. It is important to succeed academically, but those other leisurely things are just as important.
How do you stay on top of things?
I have an insane number of planners around my apartment. I have a physical planner, a dry erase board, notifications on my laptop, and on my phone. I also designate people who help hold me accountable, which is very important. I pretty much worked on my project every day for a little bit, even if it was just finding one new source, which amounted to a couple of hours each week. If you spread things out well, it is easier to manage your time. I virtually met with my advisor only a couple of times, mainly when we had major things to talk about, but we were emailing constantly. Sometimes I would email him with updates about my life, or a new thought I had, because I think maintaining constant contact is an important part of succeeding in a project this large. Maintaining a good relationship with your director is incredibly important since this is the person you are trusting to guide you.
Do you find it challenging to balance your Honors in the Major project along with your other classes?
It is quite challenging, especially as I get closer to graduating. I would have to balance my HITM project along with five other classes, work, and all of my involvements. However, it is very doable. It’s all about maintaining a good schedule and planning ahead of time. It is also important to communicate with your professors and not be afraid to ask for extensions. They can identify good students, and if you work with them, I find that most of the time they are also willing to work with you.
What role did your mentor play? What your committee?
I think of it as a car – I was driving it myself, and my mentor was the 'lane departure' warning that lets you know when you are moving a little too far to the right or to the left. My committee was probably that really cool radio station that plays good music and keeps you sane during a long car ride. I never felt like I was doing anything blindly, but I still maintained a large level of independence.
Overall, would you say the process of completing your project is more fun or stressful?
I would say it’s a mix of both, but the sense of accomplishment you get in the end overshadows all of the stressful moments. I can think of many fun moments, such as traveling to Germany with the IDEA Grant to complete field research. I can also think of many stressful moments, such as my timeline getting delayed due to an unexpected hospitalization towards the end of October. To deal with those stressful moments, I first allow myself to feel the emotions. I have learned that pretending everything is fine will get me nowhere; rather, I express how I feel, then work on finding a solution to the problem. You really have to let go of your pride and ask for help because this is not a project you can do alone – if you do, it’ll probably be very hard. There are a lot of resources out there, it’s just a matter of communication to find them.
By the completion of your project, what do you hope to have gotten out of this experience?
My hope is to attend law school after I graduate, and it is my work in research that has prepared me for the journey that law school will be. The skills I have learned through this process - data collection and processing, critical thinking, and academic writing - will be crucial to my success as a lawyer. I have also had the opportunity to present my research at conferences, further developing my public speaking and presentation skills, which will also be extremely relevant when I become a lawyer. I also established a lot of professional connections, which expanded my network exponentially and will open many doors in the future.
How do you think completing an Honors in the Major project will help you in 5 or 10 years?
In 5 years, I expect that completing this HITM project will help me when I apply to law school and go through job interviews. This is a notable accomplishment and shows others that I am willing to put in the extra work that not a lot of other people are willing to do. It will certainly set me apart from other applicants. In 10 years, I expect that this project will encourage further research on the topic. Though I worked hard on it, there is always more research that can be done and expanded upon. I hope that someday, some other undergraduate student will be doing their own project, and they might be using my project as a source. That would be amazing.
What goals did you have in mind when you initially set out to complete this project? Have they changed at all during the course of your research?
I always knew I wanted to further pursue research, looking to quench my thirst for knowledge; always asking the question, "But why?" My initial goal was simply to be published, just because it is any researcher’s goal. However, I realized that I wanted more than to just write something and have people read it. I realized that I wanted to present my research, to tell people about it, with the intention of proving that research is not simply limited to STEM – that there is research to be done in various fields so long as there is passion and curiosity.
What advice would you give to students currently contemplating an Honors in the Major project?
Do it! It probably sounds scary, but it is likely going to be one of the best decisions of your life. You learn so much through it. Make sure to keep a lot of planners around, communicate constantly with your committee, and do not be afraid to ask for help. Also, apply for funding. There are a lot of financial resources at the university for researchers, and you might have some unforgettable experiences because of the money you receive. I was able to go to Germany! That’s insane. Don’t be afraid to apply. I always say - do not say no to yourself, let someone else say no to you. You lose nothing by applying and putting yourself out there. Eventually, a fish will bite the hook!
If you were to start your Honors in the Major project over today, what would you do differently?
There is not a lot that I would change about my journey, since a lot of the setbacks I experienced were things outside of my control. However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, I would have 100% taken my senior seminar a different semester than my defense. The amount of time and effort you need to put into both is quite hard and doing them at the same time was definitely a stressor I could have been fine without.