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History major Rachel Korpanty ’04 (Summerville, S.C.) is studying comets, astronomy, and divination in the seventeenth century to assist a professor with a new book during a summer-long research project.

Korpanty is working with Andrew Fix, professor and head of history, as part of Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program. In EXCEL, students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend.

“We’re trying to determine why comets in the 17th century suddenly went from being viewed as portents of evil to regular celestial bodies,” says Korpanty. “My responsibility is to examine the English primary sources, which consist of books and articles written in the seventeenth century about comets and their meaning.”

Korpanty is interested in the pre-modern stages of history, so this research has enabled her to augment her knowledge of people and events from this time.

“I’ve always loved the physics of the heavens and have taken every class Lafayette has offered on the subject,” she says. “It’s really fascinating to be able to study the history of astronomy and astrology.”

Korpanty says she’s thrilled to have the opportunity to work first-hand on research for a book.

“Normally, I wouldn’t have the chance to see and understand the stages of book-writing, which is very important to a history major,” Korpanty says. “I will eventually write a book in the historical field of my choosing, and this project prepares me for such an endeavor.

“I really like and admire Professor Fix as a teacher, so when he offered me the position as his EXCEL researcher, I jumped at the chance. I really think that this is an amazing project. I’ve never done anything like it before.”

Korpanty says she’s worked on research projects dealing with the people and history of early astronomy, but has never done anything as elaborate as her current research, which draws from many fields and languages.

“Only in an environment like Lafayette could such a project exist,” she says. “Only at a school so focused on the students could a professor choose someone whom they knew could do the work and someone they knew was interested in the project. Professor Fix is my mentor, and I could only find someone like him at a small, student-centered college.”

A graduate of Governor’s High School, Korpanty is a Marquis Scholar and McKelvy Scholar. She will graduate after only three years at Lafayette, so she must schedule her extracurricular activities around an intense schedule. She has been involved in pep band and was a technician and set builder for theater productions at the Williams Center. She has worked with the Marquis Players, a student group that produces and performs an annual musical to raise money for hunger and homelessness causes. Korpanty will serve as director of the organization next year.

“I’ve been a key member of our national-level forensics team here on campus,” she adds. “We’ve done really well. In the two years my class has helped shape the team, we’ve gone from virtually non-existent to a fourth-place state ranking. We have also taken large teams to national competitions. It’s really something to be proud of.”

Categorized in: Academic News