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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

UD student brings local history to life in Dean’s Summer Fellowship project

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

University of Dayton student Brian Schmidt is bringing Kettering’s historic Polen Farm, and its nearly two centuries of stories, to life as part of his faculty-mentored summer research project.

Schmidt’s project was funded through the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Summer Fellowship program, which provides opportunities for students to collaborate with a faculty mentor during the summer on an original research project.

Schmidt, a senior English major from Kettering, Ohio, worked with Aili Whalen, associate professor of philosophy, on his project, titled The Twilight of Polen Farm. His project was largely concerned with the aesthetics of Polen Farm throughout its existence.

“The idea of the project was to look into the history of this sort of random and obscure barn that is just sitting in the middle of Kettering,” Schmidt said. “What I really wanted to do was look into the history of it and figure out, why is it there, how did it get there and why is it still here?”

Schmidt used these questions to guide his research. His final project includes a written piece about the history of Polen Farm, as well as a short story from the farm’s perspective that explains the role of its history, experiences and aesthetic qualities in shaping the community that has developed around it.

Whalen said Schmidt’s emphasis on aesthetics throughout the short story is one of its key impacts.

“I think it demonstrates philosophy's relevance, especially environmental and other forms of aesthetics, to thinking about the meaning of certain places, structures and stories within our human lives,” she said.

Polen Farm dates back to 1813, when John Bigger Sr. was awarded the land for his service in the Revolutionary War. Schmidt’s short story begins with the construction of the house and barn on the property in 1854 by Joseph Bigger, Bigger Sr.’s grandson.

Polen Farm stayed in the Bigger family until 1940, when it was sold to Russell V. Polen, a General Motors executive and associate of Delco founder Charles F. Kettering, inventor of the electric starter for cars. Today, it is owned by the city of Kettering Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department and used as a rental facility. Many community social and business gatherings are held on the property each year.

Schmidt is no stranger to Polen Farm. Having grown up just a short distance from the farm, Schmidt said that he often visited it when he was younger with his brothers and their friends.

“Growing up, it always was just this random fixture and it just kind of blended in with the background, until I got to Dayton and I realized that things like that aren’t typical,” Schmidt said.

Influenced by his experience in Whalen’s class, Professional Ethics in a Global Community, Schmidt began to consider the farm for its aesthetic differences from the surrounding suburban area. Once his childhood playground, Polen Farm suddenly became a source of inspiration for his creative work.

Whalen helped Schmidt organize interviews with people familiar with Polen Farm’s history as part of his research process. He also conducted his own independent research, creating a list of nearly every mention of Polen Farm in various newspapers. His extensive research provided him with a factual framework for his short story.

Hoping to pursue a career as a novelist, Schmidt said the research and writing process was a particularly eye-opening aspect of this experiential learning opportunity.

“It made me realize that writing really is a full-time job,” Schmidt said. “You have to keep doing it, you have to keep marching forward, otherwise it isn’t going to get done. I think it will be a really useful experience for me going forward.”

Schmidt met with Whalen periodically to discuss his progress on the project. She provided advice on how to handle different difficulties Schmidt encountered, as well as what he should be working towards for his final product.

“Brian was wonderful to work with in this project,” Whalen said. “More than anything it was his own interest in and ownership of this project, his methods, and its outcomes that made him dedicate the hours of time and effort he did to making the best story and historical piece that he could on Polen Farm.”

Schmidt said Whalen’s guidance was extremely helpful in refining the project and developing a deeper understanding of the concept of aesthetics that was central to his research.

“I don’t think the story would exist as it is without her,” Schmidt said. “She was such a great insight into the philosophical understanding of the aesthetics that I was looking at. She was such a big help, I definitely couldn’t have done this without her.”

For more information, visit the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program website.

Middle photo: (left to right) Polen Farm coordinator Beth Brubaker talks with student Brian Schmidt and Philosophy Associate Professor Aili Whalen about Schmidt's research project. 

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