Summer 2020 Cohort

Cohort members in the summer of 2020 were all funded through the CCE's Engaged Research Program, an opportunity for rising seniors to design and conduct community engaged or place-based research in support of their thesis/capstone work. This program evolved out of a previous CCE initiative supporting independent project work, which ran from 2017-2019.

From translating decades-old letters from Spain and planting a permaculture garden, to interviewing congressional staffers, to volunteering with a non-profit that supports asylum applicants, members of the 2020 summer cohort explored a broad range of topics for their thesis and capstone work.

2020 Cohort Members

Students in the program spent the summer of 2020 doing research for thesis and capstone work from their home communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the cohort included:

Student Major(s) Faculty Advisor(s)
Kiera Alventosa '21 Environmental Studies and English Prof. Ted Melillo
Nishant Carr '21 Environmental Studies Prof. Hannah Holleman
Rafaela Demerath '21 Sociology and Political Science Prof. Jerry Himmelstein
Alice Jackson '21 Russian and French Prof. Michael Kunichika
Cy Nguyen '21 Sociology and Asian Languages & Civilizations Prof. Jerry Himmelstein
Tejia Pavao '21 History and Asian Languages & Civilizations Prof. Frank Couvares
Micah Starr '21E Music and Psychology Prof. Darryl Harper
Camilo Toruño '21 Spanish and English Prof. Paul Schroeder Rodriguez & Prof. Sara Brenneis
Naomi Truax '21 Law, Jurisprudence, & Social Thought Prof. David Delaney
Ana Vieytez '21 Latinx & Latin American Studies and Sociology Prof. Lloyd Barba
Luke Williamson '21 English Prof. Lise Sanders

For more information about the Engaged Research Program, please contact Zoë Jacobs.

Summer 2020 Highlights:

Photograph of Kiera Alventosa Class of 2021 Kiera Alventosa, Class of 2021                         

Majors: Environmental Studies and English                                
Faculty Advisor: Prof. Ted Mellilo, Environmental Studies               

My name is Kiera Alventosa and I am an Environmental Studies and English double major. On campus, I am an executive board member of Food Justice Alliance, captain of the field hockey team, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Indicator Magazine. My passions directly led to my thesis, which is a 200-page novel about a Hispanic woman’s transition from an agricultural life to an urban life, delving into urban pollution and environmental racism.

This summer I planted and harvested a permaculture food system in my backyard. I conducted a series of interviews with farmers, Leo Arlandis Barbera, Alicia Beltran Barbera, Phil Barbato and Carlos Beltran Barbera, in both Long Island and Spain, as well as one interview with an educator, Raquel Calvo Beltran. I began translating a series of letters my grandfather wrote to his brother-in-law in America while he worked on a farm in Spain during the 1950s. Before I was born, my grandfather passed away from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer caused by contact with pesticides. This program allowed me to experientially and theoretically research my familial history as it is related to environmental injustice.

To be a Spanish farmer’s granddaughter, to be a Spanish immigrant’s daughter, is an environmental and political existence. As I write my novel and thesis, I begin the process of weaving these intricacies together. My book is about family, food, thresholds, transitions, refugees, environmental justice and farming, yet through it all it is about culture and legacy. This work directly relates to my professional goals as I hope to attend graduate school and become an environmental author and activist. I hope to ultimately work in underprivileged urban areas, improving rural-urban linkages, and providing healthy food access to such communities.

Photograph of Rafaela Demerath Class of 2021 Rafaela Demerath, Class of 2021

Majors: Sociology and Political Science
Faculty Advisor: Prof. Jerome Himmelstein, Anthropology & Sociology

Hi! My name is Rafaela Demerath and I’m a Political Science and Sociology double major. My idea for my summer research and thesis came over the course of many classes and experiences that lead me to question the politics and power of language, translation, and knowledge. I began my summer reaching out to congressional staffers working on the Hill and interviewing them about their role in developing policy and responding to constituent interests. I wanted to interrogate what I presumed to be a point of translation in the policy process, from constituent demands to policy. However, I began to see how entrenched in the political system the congressional staffers were and realized that this was not where the bulk of translation was occurring.

There was a steep learning curve when it came to the entire interviewing process and redirecting my work. I learned how to write an interview guide, reorient interviews when necessary, and always make adjustments to my interview guide and interviewing approach in order to get the most out of each interview. Constant reevaluation of what I was doing and what I could change was the key to learning and improving these skills, and regularly checking in with my advisors and peers pushed me to reflect on the work I had accomplished and the work to be done.

When my summer research started my biggest focus was making as much headway interviewing congressional staffers as possible and beginning the analysis and synthesis of the data. However, when my research took a turn and I began to make plans to head in an entirely new direction I had to reevaluate my goals and how far I had come. Having reached the end of the summer, I can see how significant this time has been towards my thesis. Not only have I made tangible advances and adjustments to my research, but I have grown tremendously as a self-driven student. Now, I am off to find a case study and examine how policy must go through points of translation for it to finally be passed, and thanks to this summer of research I feel more ready than ever to go out and take on every challenge ahead of me.

Photograph of Camilo Toruno Class of 2021 Camilo Toruño, Class of 2021                           

Majors: Spanish and English
Faculty Advisors: Prof. Paul Schroeder Rodriguez, Spanish & Prof. Sara Brenneis, Spanish

My name is Camilo Toruño and I’m an English and Spanish double major. I spent this summer working on the capstone project for the Spanish department. My research and community engaged work this summer revolved around asylum narratives and Central American migration. As the son of a Nicaraguan immigrant, I have always been motivated to learn and shed light on Central America, which I have found tends to be underrepresented within our conceptions of Latin American. For my project, I wanted to dedicate myself to exploring Central America, but at the same time hold on to my interest in literature and storytelling. Asylum narratives ended up being a fascinating meeting point. Stories are an integral part of the asylum application and I spent my summer researching the ways the I-589 form (as the application is called) influences asylee’s narratives.

My summer was divided into two focuses. I spent part of my time volunteering for a New York City based organization called New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC), which dedicates itself to supporting asylum applicants. I worked in NSC’s pro se clinic in which I helped approximately ten people fill out the I-589 form. The other focus of my summer was a literature review in which I researched asylum’s history, asylum narratives and storytelling, and Central American migration. I aimed to bring together my experience shaping individual stories to the bureaucratic application with my literary research. At the end of the summer, I was able to create an outline of the paper I want to write for the Senior Seminar, as well as identify areas that I want to continue to explore.

This summer was a lesson in independent research, time management and initiative. I learned how to think critically about real-life experiences and connect that to readings. In the end, I’m proud that I was able to be involved in community engaged work in such challenging times and that I learned so much from it. The Engaged Research Program has helped prepare me for the Senior Seminar. My goal is to take full advantage of this class to produce a project I’m very proud at the end of my college career. Doing independent research for the first time gave me a taste of what graduate school might be like. I see myself pursuing research into asylum further because it is such a prescient issue in today’s politics and border rights is something I care very deeply about. Heading into the fall, I plan on continuing my community engaged work with another border rights organization called Al Otro Lado.