Meadows Students Pursue Research Projects with Engaged Learning Fellowship Grants

Discover what meaningful research projects Meadows students across four different majors are pursuing with their Engaged Learning grants.

A photographic component from Jenna Davis' project, "Fabric," featuring a performer stretching a shirt over her face.
A photographic still from Jenna Davis' multi-medium performance “maybe it’s in the lining of my jacket?" that explores dancers' sensibility to fabric.

Engaged Learning Fellowship (ELF) grants allow undergraduate SMU students to design and pursue capstone-level projects in research, service and creative activity. Students who receive ELF grants are provided up to $2500 to fund their project, multiple opportunities to share their work with the public, as well as coaching and support from faculty mentors and Office of Engaged Learning staff. These grants allow students to fully embody the SMU mantra of “World Changers Shaped Here.”


Read on to discover what ELF research projects four Meadows students are working on this year.



Engaged Learning Fellow and Meadows student Ella Dabney poses for a photo.


Project: Voice Disorders and Care

Mentor: Dr. Carolyn Smith-Morris


Ella Dabney is double majoring in Vocal Performance (B.M.) at Meadows and Health and Society (B.S.), two studies in which maintaining both her physical and mental health is crucial. In 2022, Dabney contracted a severe cold and lost her speaking and singing voice for three weeks, resulting in the loss of an operatic role in her university’s production and leading her to seek care at UT Southwestern’s Voice Center in order to regain her singing voice through treatment.


“This experience inspired a desire to study the relationships between voice disorders, singers, and personality,” says Dabney, who was shocked by the quality of care provided specifically for singers at the treatment center. “What seemed like a devastating experience at the time enabled me to pursue the research I’m working on today.”


Dabney’s ethnographic research project examines the attitudes, behaviors, and treatments of patients seeking vocal care at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in juxtaposition with personality and performance identity in relation to voice disorders. Her target research population for her project is UT Southwestern patients in vocal therapy practices experiencing specialized care in the Otolaryngology Wing of the Voice Care Center. Since vocal treatment involves individualized care, it requires a greater understanding in study due to the significance towards professional voice-users.


At this point in her research, Dabney has completed all interviews and written code summaries based on recurrent themes and is finalizing the manuscript to submit to anthropology journals for publication. 



Engaged Learning Fellow and Meadows student Jenna Davis poses for a photo.


Project: Fabric

Mentor: Christopher Ham


Though Jenna Davis is majoring in Dance Performance (B.F.A.) and considers her artistry to be mainly housed in movement through dance and choreography, she also works in mediums like photography and filmmaking. This connection to a variety of artistic mediums is what inspired her to engage in a long-term, independent compositional process with her ELF grant. Davis’ project, a multi-medium performance titled “maybe it’s in the lining of my jacket?,” features photography, film and live choreography all presented in the same space.


“I wanted to carve out space to bring all of these dimensions of my artistry together,” Davis explains. “This performance was the culmination of a process exploring identity through tactile and emotional relationships between ourselves and the fabric we drape our bodies in every day.”


The featured dancers, who are some of Davis’ closest friends in the Division of Dance, were given dozens of movement directives to research their own sensibility to fabric they were familiar and comfortable with. These discoveries were characterized and put in conversation with each other in the final work. Davis’ mentor, director of dance production Christopher Ham, also lent his expertise to the collaborative process for the project. He gave Davis space for this to be a time of navigation and experiencing important failures, while also keeping her intentionality alive in each practical or creative decision she needed to make.


“I applied for ELF twice, and I was granted the fellowship the second time,” says Davis, who praises her mentors for helping her see her project through. “I have an immense amount of gratitude for these experiences that would not have been possible without ELF.”


For more information about Davis’ project and to view footage of the performance, click here.



Engaged Learning Fellow and Meadows student Princess Igwe-Icho poses for a photo.


Project: Gendered Rhetoric and F-3 Family Sponsorship: Unveiling Narratives, Influencing Policies

Mentor: Zoe Carney


Princess Igwe-Icho is a Meadows student who wears many hats in her day-to-day life. She is currently balancing four majors – Corporate Communication and Public Affairs, Philosophy, Political Science, and Human Rights – as well as three minors, and though she is from Dallas, she was born in Nigeria. It is because of her Nigerian background that Igwe-Icho has seen gender issues in the immigration process firsthand, and it inspired her to dig deeper and hopefully push for some changes in how things are done.


Her project, “Gendered Rhetoric and F-3 Family Sponsorship: Unveiling Narratives, Influencing Policies,” is all about looking into how gender roles and cultural expectations affect people applying for family sponsorship in the U.S. through the F-3 visa. The idea for the project came from her own observations about how the impact of gender on immigration isn’t talked about enough.


“I was really into the idea because it was a chance to dive deep into something I care about, with the resources to make a real impact,” explains Igwe-Icho. “Through my project and being a Fellow, I’ve learned how important it is to mix different fields like gender studies, immigration law, and narrative analysis, because it shows that looking at problems from various angles can help find better solutions.”


The support the Engaged Learning Fellowship program provides can help make a difference in turning a concept into a reality for students like Igwe-Icho. Both the Engaged Learning team and her project mentor, CCPA professor Zoe Carney, have provided help and guidance throughout the process, ensuring that she can tackle any challenges that come up and plan the next steps of her project with ease. This Fellowship experience has even allowed Igwe-Icho to travel to a conference to present her work, learn from others, and get into new spaces.


“The chance to work closely with mentors and connect with other researchers is invaluable,” she says. “It’s been a fantastic journey for me, full of learning and growth.”



Engaged Learning Fellow and Meadows student Theo Morris poses for a photo.


Project: SMU Guildhall Capstone Recording Sessions: Year Two

Mentor: Rob Frank


Music composition student Theo Morris is no stranger to the impact of ELF grants, having participated in his first ELF project back in the fall of 2022 led by fellow student Ayden Machajewski. Over the years, composers from the Meadows music composition department, including Morris, have had the opportunity to collaborate with the talented students and faculty at SMU Guildhall, providing original soundtracks for seven game projects in the past two years alone.


Morris’ own project set out with the goal to organize multiple instrumental and vocal recording sessions where live recordings of the two original, student-composed scores for SMU Guildhall's 2023 Capstone Game Projects, Asurya's Embers and Kneedle Knight, would be created.


“The inspiration for this project was, first and foremost, wanting to make the best possible soundtrack we could, but another significant motivator was a desire to outdo and build on our previous work,” explains Morris. “We not only repeated the resounding success of those recording sessions this past fall but were able to use the lessons learned from that experience to optimize our workflow, refine our approach to hybrid live/electronic scoring techniques, and, of course, deliver a quality final product."


To make this happen, Morris and his team of fellow composers spent many hours working with musicians both at SMU and outside the school to record, mix and master the music they had written using the recording equipment and facilities available at Meadows. For young artists like Morris, the funding that the Engaged Learning program provides can be invaluable for making students’ more ambitious ideas a reality.


He hopes the legacy of not only his project, but also previous projects, can provide inspiration for future generations: “It is my hope that the student-composers who follow in my footsteps will continue to outdo and build on what those of us who came before accomplished.”