Grant provides opportunities for collaborative student research in the arts Posted on August 10th, 2020 by

Sara Cronk '22 (left) and Lauren Buss '23 (right) are working on summer research in theatre and music thanks to the Robert and Cindy Peterson Summer Research Fellowship.

Sara Cronk ’22 had decided on a chemistry major as a first year student at Gustavus. As part of her financial aid package, she was granted a Robert and Cindy Peterson Summer Research Fellowship. The award gave Cronk the funding for a collaborative summer research experience with a faculty member.

As a chemistry major, student research had always been part of the plan and was fairly clear-cut. But two years later as a rising junior, she had transitioned to a theatre and management major with an arts administration minor. The shift from the sciences to the arts originally had her wondering how the research grant might work, especially since only a handful past awardees had decided on fine arts majors. However, she soon found, it opened the door to a new kind of exploration.

Cronk’s research this summer with Associate Professor of Theatre Henry MacCarthy is centered around audience development for Gustavus Department of Theatre and Dance productions. She is analyzing past ticket data, marketing strategies, and current research on audience development to determine audience trends. She has also created a survey that was sent to Gustavus theatre and dance ticket holders from the past two years asking about what shows they attended and why. Cronk is currently analyzing the results of the survey.

She says the project has been extremely beneficial for her as she looks toward a career in arts administration, specifically marketing. The process of conducting audience development research provides benefits both for the Department of Theatre and Dance, but also Cronk professionally. “It is a really good hands-on experience for me to have done this,” she says. “It’s an experience where I’ve gone through the [research] process and I have a little more knowledge about how that’s going to work.”

Music education major and Spanish minor Lauren Buss ’23 is also working on research this summer with Douglas Nimmo Professor of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra James Patrick Miller. Her project focuses on supporting research for a book Miller is writing for conducting pedagogues (for the teachers who teach conductors how to conduct). 

Buss, an aspiring band director herself, says that the experience has opened up doors that would not have been possible without this research opportunity. In addition to analyzing current research on conducting and the education of conductors, she is helping write for Miller’s upcoming book. “This project has allowed me to contribute to the field in a really profound way. I want to be able to use what I do here to impact the profession as a whole,” she says.

Buss says the chance to attend conducting symposiums virtually and work one-on-one with a professor who is a leader in his field has been hugely beneficial. Miller says the benefits have gone both ways. “Every day when Lauren and I talk through her work she unveils more findings that are often surprises to me. She finds sources I did not know existed and explores ideas that are far outside of the box,” he says. “She is an amazing research assistant, and her contributions and work will make this book far more excellent than I could have imagined.”

Buss is planning to continue to work on this research into the fall. She says the deeper she digs into the field, the more she finds new questions. “It’s been a really beneficial experience to contribute to something that’s so large and impactful,” she says. “I think it’s really rewarding.”


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