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Elon students travel nation to gauge impact of Sept. 11

Three seniors at Elon University completed a one-month, 14,000-mile trip around the United States, studying the effects on people of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The students conducted their research from Dec. 27 to Jan. 28 as part of Elon's Winter Term.

Mary Taylor, a broadcast communications major from Sterling, Va., interviewed about 180 people for a video documentary project. Abby Neville, a psychology major from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., administered a post traumatic stress disorder survey to 200 volunteers. Cheryl Burckle, a business major from Centreville, Va., surveyed charitable agencies to assess the impact the 9-11 relief fund drives have had on local organizations.

"We all knew people who worked at the Pentagon or the World Trade Center," Taylor said. "We wanted to talk with others across the country to see what they were thinking and feeling."

The students began the 17-city project at Ground Zero in New York, interviewing people and experiencing the disaster site first-hand. They then drove to Chicago and on to the West Coast, stopping in each city for a night or two and spending 10-12 hours a day meeting and talking with people on downtown streets, malls and at local attractions.

"Some people got emotional and many others were unresponsive," Neville said. "In Oklahoma City we met a soldier who had recovered body parts at the Pentagon. He was really having emotional problems." Oklahoma City turned out to be one of the most emotional stops on the trip for the trio. They wrote their thoughts on a remembrance wall at the site of the Federal Building bombing.

"People seem to have a greater realization of how short life is," Taylor said. "Some said their families had come together and they were reorganizing their priorities - putting work on the back burner. Everyone had a story."

Taylor completed 18 hours of videotaped interviews and will produce a one-hour documentary recounting personal stories from people she met. "It will be a real video, with stories from real people."

The three students live together and conceived the project as a way to gain new experiences in their fields. They proposed the project to Nancy Midgette, associate provost at Elon, who was excited by their plans and pulled together support from several academic departments on campus. Taylor's research was funded by the School of Communications and she is completing the research under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Frontani. In total, the university contributed $2,900 to cover lodging, gas and other travel expenses. Dick Shirley, an adjunct business faculty member and owner of a local automobile business, loaned the students a minivan.

"It was an amazing experience, and we did it ourselves," Taylor says. "Our parents were concerned, so we took three cell phones, stayed together and only drove during the day. We stayed in touch with our friends and teachers using e-mail. We really didn't have any problems."

The students will work with faculty members to finalize their research findings. The results will be presented on campus April 10 during Elon's annual Student Undergraduate Research Forum.



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