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Academic Excellence in Student Research at GCU

Russ McDonald and Lindsay Donohue

Lindsay Donohue, a senior with a dual major in English and Education K-12, poses with her mentor, Dr. Russell McDonald, assistant professor of English. Lindsay presented her literary research at Academic Excellence Night.

Student Research Presenter Lindsay Donohue Examines Victorian-Era Marriage and Masculinity

Lindsay Donohue, a Georgian Court University senior with a dual major in English and Education K-12, traveled back in time via literature and research to examine marital expectations and the masculine mindset of Victorian society for her recent undergraduate research project, “The Victorian Era: Manliness, Marriage, and the Masculine Mindset.”

Lindsay was one of 18 student research presenters featured at GCU’s 2016 Academic Excellence Night on April 7. Provost William J. Behre, Ph.D., awarded certificates to the students, who then gave presentations on their research, representing a range of academic disciplines including literature, religion, business and ethics, math, physics, and dance.

In her research, Lindsay examined the vast changes in marital expectations that left the masculine population to visualize two extremes: a perfect marriage with many children, or a professional bachelorhood fitted with wealth and travel. Lindsay researched divorce law documents and images from magazines during the Victorian era to trace the thread of confused “manliness” that runs through both Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

She discovered that the two classics “represent with perfect precision the opposing ideas of marriage and masculinity that men of this period were meant to uphold, while articulating how fundamentally incompatible these ideals really are.”

Lindsay’s mentor was Dr. Russell McDonald, assistant professor of English, who also served as co-chair of the Academic Research Committee, along with Dr. Cathleen McQuillen, assistant professor of business and chair of the GCU School of Business and Digital Media undergraduate programs.

Group of Students
GCU student research participants gathered for Academic Excellence Night on April 7 to present their research in a range of academic disciplines including literature, religion, business and ethics, math, physics, and dance.  

Curious about Lindsay’s approach to her subject? She offers an inside look at her research process:

What was the most exciting discovery of your research?
The most exciting discovery for me is the access the GCU databases gave me to Victorian-era divorce law. Picking through the documents to find excerpts that mention the couple “both suffering in silence” gave me a clearer picture of marriage at the time than any journal article could.

What did you find most challenging about your research?
The most challenging aspect about this specific kind of research is finding reputable journals and articles to rely on. Often times, I found myself reading an article only to find that they had the summary of Great Expectations all wrong. At that point, the article became unusable because I couldn’t help but question the author’s intent and knowledge.

How did your mentor, Dr. Russell McDonald, motivate and inspire you?
Dr. McDonald is one of the most dissecting professors I’ve ever had. He picks apart every paper line-by-line in an almost obsessive fashion. I mean that with all of the respect and appreciation in the world! He made me feel like my papers were worth reading with that level of scrutiny. That feeling drove me to dig deeper in my research, and it drove me to want to produce better and better pieces of writing every time. It also helps that he never limited me in my research. As long as you stick to the works studied in class, he pretty much allows everyone to develop their own creative argument (as long as you can support it).

How did your studies at GCU help you to accomplish your research project?
GCU has given me an entirely new respect for researching. The standards at this university, in both the Department of English and the School of Education, are incredibly high. I have had to amass large quantities of research for both in order to provide support for my arguments. Recently, while doing research for my senior thesis, I found one article after two hours of searching the databases, and I was positively elated. The simple fact is that the professors at GCU reward hard work. While it may take longer to write a paper with such high standards, you always know that that paper will be one of the best you’ve ever written.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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