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Beck Fellow Nicholson set to study philosophy, language in Europe

As a senior sociology and French major and philosophy minor, Dillon Nicholson of Groves has always been intrigued by the development of thought and function of human society.

“I originally chose to major in sociology so that I could study group dynamics typically ignored if not deliberately concealed in other disciplines,” he said. “As for concentrating in French, some of the most fascinating philosophical and sociological works come out of the French literary tradition. Overall, it's a language and culture I'm very interested in studying.”

Dillon NicholsonNicholson’s greatest interests, however, lie in philosophy.

“I am interested in many things, but my favorite subject of all is philosophy,” he said. “All other disciplines are results of the patterns of thinking first explored and documented by philosophers— ‘thinking about thinking,’ if you will.”

Nicholson’s interests will take him throughout Europe this summer to study French language and continental philosophy as a 2017 recipient of the David J. Beck Fellowship, which covers all school expenses such as tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board for one year and includes up to $10,000 to pursue a summer project.

The Beck Fellowships reward outstanding academic achievement and allow top students to further challenge themselves with unique opportunities for undergraduate research and creative study. Through a generous gift to the LU Foundation, 1961 Lamar University graduate and distinguished alumnus, David J. Beck established the undergraduate fellowships. Recognized as one of the top lawyers in the state, region and nation, Beck has served as the president of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Association of Defense Counsel and the State Bar of Texas.

Specifically, Nicholson will be studying at the Sorbonne’s French foreign language school in Paris, France, the University of Quebec in Saguenay, Quebec, and finally at the Global Center for Advanced Studies in Maribor, Slovenia, where he will meet top social philosophers and critical theorists as a research assistant to Giovanni Tusa, co-director of the Institute for Critical Media and Cultural Studies and a preeminent academic in the philosophical community.

The studies he completes in Europe will greatly aid him in achieving his long-term goals of becoming a philosopher and university faculty member, Nicholson said.

“I’ll travel to Paris, France to study written and oral French Languages at the Sorbonne, focusing especially on translation studies. Upon completing the course, I intend to spend the rest of summer translating between French and English and serving as research assistant to Dr. Tusa,” he said.

“It will be hard work; I am taking the courses very seriously. The workload is intensive, and the faculty are reputable. But as simplistic as it may sound, an opportunity to just ‘get away’ and devote myself to my studies is truly a dream come true. I’m getting paid to do what I love: learn.”

To culminate his project, Nicholson plans to translate a modest expository essay by famed French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, of whose numerous French-language publications, only around 30 have been translated to English. Nicholson will preface the piece with a critical essay of his own.

“As a translator, one must discern a great deal; what was intended by the author, what was understood by the audience, and what unmade connections remain possible within the text,” he said. “In such a way, textual analysis and sociological inquiry are one in the same. Both activities take an object of inquiry and apply theoretical ‘readings’ to demonstrate an underlying principle that binds the whole together.”

Nicholson was originally mentored by former professor Steven Zani, and going forward will be mentored by Amy Smith, associate professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages.

“The opportunity is astounding, and one might say it is indeed unparalleled. Dillon is going straight to the source itself,” Zani said, “finding the most exciting, ground-changing scholars in the field and organizing ways to work with them, learn from them, and help translate and distribute their completely unavailable work. If you were a primatologist, this would be akin to explaining that Dillon had arranged to work with Jane Goodall, or with Frans de Waal. If you were a scholar of physics, this would be equivalent of working with Niels Bohr, or Stephen Hawking. He’ll be working with the philosophical giants of today.”

While in Paris, Nicholson plans to visit the city’s many museums and art venues when he finds free time. An avid saxophonist, he said he also looks forward to touring Parisian woodwind factories, which produce some of the world’s finest musical instruments and accessories.

“No matter how exactly I spend my time, it’ll be a life-changing experience,” he said.

During his time at Lamar, Nicholson, a Mirabeau Scholar, has been an active participant in Student Government Association, the Reaud Honors College, French Circle at Lamar University, and the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music, specifically in the saxophone quartet, studio, wind ensemble, jazz orchestra and pep band. He was the co-founder of Lamar Democratic Socialists and served as Head Delegate for the inaugural LU Model United Nations team in Austin, TX and Washington, D.C.

Nicholson says he’ll forever be thankful for the opportunities he’s been given at Lamar, and looks forward to the continued growth of its academic programs for those just beginning or considering a college experience at LU, specifically in liberal arts and global education.

“Lamar University provides the collegiality and low student-faculty ratio of a small school while boasting the services and endowment of a much bigger university,” he said. “That's why every year it seems our incoming freshman class gets bigger, and better. Lamar has opportunities—seize them.”