Student Spotlight – Herman Luis Chavez

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Herman Luis Chavez!

Herman Luis Chavez majors in Ethnomusicology and Comparative Literature and is in our Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF)! The title of his project is “Composing Bolivia: The Politics and Perspectives of Mestizaje and Indigenismo in Atiliano Auza León’s Historia de la Música Boliviana.” Their focus is to bring a fundamentally interdisciplinary lens to studying Bolivian music and its accompanying politics. Their best piece of advice is to explore your interests with UCLA’s immense resources and faculty support!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I discovered my project on a visit our family’s home country of Bolivia. We had decided to visit my tía one afternoon—I immediately noticed the piano that sat next to the door, to the right after walking through the entrance. It was evident that the piano hadn’t been tuned in years—what was meant to sound like a major triad was as an ethnically ambiguous child, simultaneously major and minor and augmented all at once. Regardless, I was delighted. I had begun developing my piano chops after a year of college coursework and was eager to see if I could sight-read despite the unwarranted atonality of a supposedly equally-tuned instrument. Burrowed in my tía’s piano bench amidst an unkempt collection of sheet music, I found Atiliano Auza León. At the very bottom of the pile, beneath the Hungarian Marches and Eine Kleine Nachtmusiks and other reductive arrangements, was the piano score for 6 Danzas Bolivianas del ciclo ‘Runas’ por violín y piano, with the violin part gently tucked into the first spread. To see a piece by a Bolivian composer among the expected scores of the German canon surprised me. I was even more shocked that, upon closer inspection, 6 Danzas was based on the popular folkloric tunes that I had grown up listening to in my Bolivian and Bolivian-American households. My research began here: locating an art music composer among Bolivian urban modernity and beneath a European musical canon.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Although there have been many thrilling aspects of my research, from connecting the dots of disparate secondary material to using UCLA Library resources, the most exciting part of my research so far has been the opportunity to interview Atiliano Auza León, the composer who is the subject of my thesis. I never thought I’d get the chance to speak directly to him, but by chance we were able to do a remote interview. This has not only given me ethnographic experience, but also the ability to place his written works and compositions into the context of his personal experience.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

Learning more about myself has been an unintended consequence of my research. Although I knew I would learn more about my Bolivian heritage the more I engaged in this research, I didn’t know that my worldview—in relation to institutional cultural power, thinking about sound and music, and the processes of (re)producing knowledge—would be so affected to the point in which I would also be able to reflect on some of the fundamental truths of my personal experience. It has been so exciting to see how transformative the research process has been in terms of my own perspectives as I have interrogated my own Bolivian diasporic identity while engaging in my research.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Your research questions are worth exploring, and there are so many avenues with which to do so! From the URC programs to departmental honors to individual studies, you can and should explore your interests with UCLA’s immense resources and faculty support. Many of us undergraduate students—particularly students of minoritarian communities and subjectivities—may not see the knowledge which we have experienced or have interest in represented in our coursework or in faculty research. That is certainly the case for me, as there are probably a handful of scholars in the entire country who study Bolivian sound and music. I found a faculty member who would support me and simply plunged in, and I’ve been able to explore the works of a Bolivian composer who has likely never been performed or studied in the United States. I encourage all undergrads (and especially minoritarian students) to take that plunge with their own ideas and interests, no matter how small or niche they might think they are, especially while they have the resources of UCLA. You can do it!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I see my thesis as one step in my scholarly journey, and therefore one that starts off on an explorative, if devout, foot: I hope to bring a fundamentally interdisciplinary lens to studying Bolivian music and its accompanying politics. I hope that as I continue writing in this manner, I will encourage the academy to see studies of sound and music as necessarily holistic. When I insert certain critiques about how Auza León constructs a discourse or presents research in my thesis, I provide my own application of my studies in comparative literature, ethnomusicology, musicology, and ethnic studies to exploring Auza León’s work. Thus, in part, this thesis is practice for my interdisciplinary praxis. I am also hoping to bring the work by a Bolivian music historian to the fore in a country where such history and historiography may not be considered or even valued. Yet, this motive does not preclude scholarly seriousness: I approach Auza León with a critical lens that first and foremost seeks to analyze his publication with an eye for discursive moves, exploring how he may contribute to certain epistemological notes around Bolivian music. Overall, I seek to contribute to the historical ethnomusicology of Bolivia and its paradigms, and thus thinking through how this history is presented in tomes such as Auza León’s is important not only for the field to learn about Bolivian music, but also for us to understand the epistemologies that surround such historiography and how they might shape our contemporary understanding. As I work on translating my thesis, I hope my work will be accessible to a Bolivian audience as well, and that this is the start of many projects about Bolivian music and culture on an international stage. Just as it is important for me to push the academic disciplines in an interdisciplinary manner, it is also important for me to represent my country, which has not been studied or taught internationally to the degree to which it might be. I am committed to continuing my work in interdisciplinary sound studies and Bolivian cultural studies—this thesis is just one piece of this expanding puzzle.

Student Spotlight – Janet Zamudio

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Janet Zamudio!

Janet Zamudio majors in Public Affairs and Geography and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP)! The title of her project is “A Tale of Two Movements: Coalition Building Between Environmental Justice and Affordable Housing in Los Angeles.” Her hope is that her research will bridge together what is happening within the two movements and academia. Her best piece of advice is to put yourself out there!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

My inspiration for this project stems from my lived experience growing up in the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) area. I grew up seeing and feeling the effects of environmental racism firsthand: the targeting of BIPOC communities by the intentional placement of hazardous sites and the official sanctioning of the presence of life-threatening poisons and pollutants, all without these affected communities being represented at the political level. Without even knowing the definition of environmental racism, I lived it day-in and day-out by biking past toxic facilities, breathing polluted air, having to carry an asthma inhaler, and drinking contaminated water. After being exposed to the environmental justice movement and becoming a youth advocate for a local organization, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), I began to understand the urgency behind the fight against environmental racism and injustice. The COVID-19 pandemic shed a new light on systemic injustices in SELA, magnifying the environmental, healthcare, and housing insecurities that our communities have faced for decades. During this turbulent time, it was impossible not to see how environmental injustices (not having a clean environment) went hand in hand with housing insecurity (the lack of safety and existence in an urban environment). My environmental justice advocacy work, combined with my experience in academia, led me to my current research project, “A Tale of Two Movements: Coalition Building Between Environmental Justice and Affordable Housing in Southeast Los Angeles.”

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

One of the most exciting aspects of my research so far has been collaborating with other environmental justice advocates and hearing their insight. My faculty mentor, Dr. Juan Herrera, is a well-known researcher in social movements and has extensive knowledge on environmental justice in the urban context. I am excited to contribute to the already existing knowledge on social movements, environmental justice, and affordable housing through an academic perspective while expanding the existing knowledge in SELA on the acts of resistance happening on the ground. So far, having conversed with community organizers has been an honor, a privilege, and insightful for me. I only hope to highlight their work, and the resistance of residents from injustice, in the best way that I can.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

As silly as this may sound, I’ve been surprised with how quickly time flies when doing research, especially as an undergraduate student. Aside from the typical responsibilities an undergraduate student has, my research process so far includes creating my research timeline, developing a literature review, and emailing housing and environmental experts in the field. I have been surprised by how each week goes by quickly.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Do not be afraid to put yourself out there in research. It is easy to be afraid of Professors and researchers; however, that does not mean you are not allowed to ask for help, question the norms set in research, and/or choose a non-traditional avenue towards research. In an already challenging, selective, and elitist environment, do not be afraid to break down barriers through research.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

SELA residents and grassroots organizations have long known the importance of having to choose between a place to live or living nearby environmental toxins. On the other hand, academia has historically lacked the means of highlighting ground up activism. It is my hope that this research will bridge together what is happening within these two movements and academia. What I also hope to achieve is to highlight the real life experiences people have in SELA while exploring the implications these two social movements have on navigating the U.S. legal system.

Student Spotlight – Martin Makaryan

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Martin Makaryan!

Martin Makaryan majors in Political Science and minors in Global Studies and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP)! The title of his project is “Power, Primacy, and Europe’s Post-Cold War Order: Explaining the U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO.” His hope is that his research will contribute to the field by providing both an explanation for this specific question and a more general theoretical framework to understand foreign policy decision-making. His best piece of advice is to just do it and make the most out of experience!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I wanted to complete the honors program of the UCLA Department of Political Science even before transferring to UCLA. As I began the process to find undergraduate research opportunities and apply to the department to write a senior thesis, I found out about the URSP program, applied, and received a research scholarship to complete my project.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Conducting interviews with high-level government officials and examining declassified records regarding NATO expansion.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

How much dedication and commitment social science research requires.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Just do it and make the most out of experience!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

The question of NATO expansion has been and remains a debated and controversial topic both in academic circles and in world politics today. With Russia threatening to invade Ukraine if NATO expansion is not halted, the issue is pressing as ever. I hope that my research will shed new light on an old problem and contribute to the field by providing both an explanation for this specific question and a more general theoretical framework to understand foreign policy decision-making.

Student Spotlight – Jamie Jiang

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Jamie Jiang!

Jamie Jiang majors in Linguistics and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP)! The title of her project is “Cops On Campus: The Untold Story Of The UCPD.” Her goal is to help the community shape the future in terms of police presence on campus. Her best piece of advice is to get all the help that you can and not be afraid to talk to people!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I started this project independently at the Daily Bruin and continued after I left the paper. I first got interested during the summer of the George Floyd murder and Chauvin case. This project kind of fell into my lap — all around me were people attacking and defending the UCPD, but it suddenly occurred to me most people had no idea why the UCPD was even created.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

I’ve loved interviewing and finding sources. I got to interview a giant in the podcasting world, Chenjerai Kumanyika, who brought me into this sort of fold of journalists who write about police. I’ll forever be grateful for that.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I’ve been surprised by how slow it can be. Journalism is a lot faster, even investigative journalism, which happens kind of at a breakneck pace because you’re trying to outrun other investigators. This project is much slower and tests my ability to complete long-term projects a lot more.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Get all the help that you can! Don’t be afraid to talk to people! A graduate student mentor at the URC told me to apply for URFP. At the time, I was just talking to him about my *idea* for a project. I had no idea you could get money for doing research. Take advantage of the community you’re in!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope this work puts valuable information in the hands of Bruins about why their world is the way it is. I hope my podcast helps the community shape the future in terms of police presence on campus.

Student Spotlight – Fiona Osborn

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Fiona Osborn!

Fiona Osborn majors in Geography/Environmental Studies and minors in Global Studies and Geographic Information Systems and Technology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP)! The title of her project is “Impact of Agricultural Expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado.” Her goal is to shed light on the increasing threat facing protected lands and indigenous communities in the state of Tocantins. Her best piece of advice is to not feel pressured to know your specific research topic right away.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I first became interested in my research project last year in my world vegetation class, where I learned about tropical savanna ecosystems and the major threats of land use change and subsequent degradation these areas are facing. I was surprised to learn the Cerrado, or the Brazilian Savanna, made up the second largest biome in South America and was severely threatened but rarely discussed and only recently studied. Not only was I interested in this ecosystem, but I was also fascinated by the rich history of the region and the dynamics between the environment and various sociopolitical processes. My favorite part about my research project has been the way it combines my interests of the natural landscape and the relationships people have with it, as well as the way it allows me to use the analytical tools I’ve learned as a GIS minor to study the topic more in-depth.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting aspect of my research so far has been the interdisciplinary nature of my topic; I’ve found it extremely interesting to explore the interconnections between the natural environment in Tocantins, Brazil and current economic development and policies in the region that have had tremendous impacts on the native vegetation and local communities.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

One thing that has surprised me about the research process has been the amount of preparation that has to go into a study. Although I am planning to conduct my own remote sensing analysis of satellite imagery to map out the extent of landcover change in my study area, I have spent the majority of my time collecting data and conducting background research on the native vegetation and climate in the Cerrado, as well as social/political issues that have impacted the environment and indigenous populations. This has been surprisingly gratifying, and I have enjoyed learning all I can about my research topic. This process has also provided me with invaluable insights into the difficulties of data collection, and I have found it rewarding to see how far my research has come in just a few months.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Don’t feel pressured to know your specific research topic right away. It has taken me time to develop my interests and discover how these could be woven together into a single project. Even throughout the research experience, my question has evolved as I develop my understanding and learn about both the complexity of the issue and how I can contribute in a more meaningful way.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope to build on existing literature on the Brazilian Cerrado by focusing on an area that has only recently turned into a hotspot for deforestation and land degradation. My ultimate goal is to shed light on the increasing threat facing protected lands and indigenous communities in the state of Tocantins. In the future, I hope to build on this research experience and continue to study the impacts land degradation has on local communities.

Student Spotlight – Ragini Srinivasan

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Ragini Srinivasan!

Ragini Srinivasan majors in Mathematics/Economics and Political Science and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP)! The title of her project is “Economic and Political Factors Behind Perceptions and Levels of Adoption of Decentralized Currencies Across Countries.”

Her focus is to provide an unbiased perspective on the changing financial systems of our world and on what is best for economically vulnerable countries. Her best piece of advice is to put yourself out there!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

As a North and South campus double major, I have always been passionate about the intersection between STEM and the social sciences. Back in September, I happened to be shown an article about El Salvador establishing Bitcoin as legal tender, and it immediately intrigued me; there were great disputes over the political event, as there have been over Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies at large. I started thinking about why the government may have taken this action and why this elicited such a strong response among the population, especially given that the nation has been marked by great economic instability in recent decades. From here, I decided to pursue a research project analyzing the various economic and political characteristics of different countries that may contribute to their perceptions of decentralized currencies; it felt like the perfect opportunity to analyze a modern-day phenomenon that has generated so much controversy from both quantitative and qualitative viewpoints!

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Over the last few months, the simple process of learning and expanding my knowledge has been incredibly exciting and gratifying. As I delve deeper into both technical topics like blockchain technologies and social topics like anti-Bitcoin protests, I find myself gaining a deeper, not just a surface-level, understanding of these issues. In addition, as part of the URFP, I have had the opportunity to meet other extremely talented, passionate, and kind student researchers. The entire community is so supportive and welcoming, and that has truly been exciting for me.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I’m still in the midst of the research process, but so far the importance of slow, steady preparation has greatly surprised me. Initially, I was tempted to dive right into reading complex literature, analyzing data, and working on all the tangible aspects of research, but I soon found myself lacking a basic understanding of my topic. My faculty mentor helped me realize how crucial it is to start with the fundamentals and take my time to fully understand them, and that has made a huge difference.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! I first got into research solely by cold emailing dozens of professors, and that’s in fact how I met my URFP faculty mentor. It was definitely daunting to go out of my comfort zone, as well as disappointing to receive very few responses; but all you need is one response, so the more you branch out, the more likely you are to get that one. Whether or not you have any formal experience, as long as you create new opportunities for yourself and show your passion for learning, it’ll work out. 🙂

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope my research will provide an unbiased perspective on the changing financial systems of our world and on what is best for economically vulnerable countries. It’s easy to say that governments (like that of El Salvador) always do what is best for their constituents or that they never do. However, in reality, these issues are not as black and white as they seem, and I hope to reveal the gray areas in between. Additionally, in a broader sense, I hope my research encourages people to look at issues from all different angles. We tend to latch onto a strong viewpoint on a controversial topic without knowing the specifics, but it’s so important to learn about these issues in depth before we formulate our opinions.

Student Spotlight – Mursal Sidiqi

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Mursal Sidiqi!

Mursal Sidiqi majors in English and minors in Comparative Literature and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP)! The title of her project is “The Most Western Women in the Empire: Orientalist Feminisms’ Reformations of the Oriental Woman Trope.” Her focus is to contribute to modern American feminist discourses by talking about and researching Muslim women’s roles in feminist movements. Her best piece of advice is to study what you’re passionate about.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

My interest in my research project stems from my identity and experiences as a Muslim and Afghan woman. As an English major, I found it interesting that the Orient became a concept of fascination and sublimity in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain. I wondered how true the representations of “Eastern” women were in texts that were authored by British women, which led to my thesis project. Traces of the alterities and misrepresentations of Southwest Asian and African women are prevalent today. In tracing the origins of the Oriental woman trope, I aim to uncover the histories of Orientalist feminisms in British literature and examine their contemporary incarnations that impact women like myself.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

I am most excited with the opportunity to engage with scholarship. I feel that the more knowledge I gain on my topic through reading scholarship, the more my research flexes and aims to address points that were previously overlooked or unknown to me. It is so fulfilling to create something new in a conversation that has been discussing your interests for so many years.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I was surprised by the amount of willpower it takes to stay structured throughout all of the different stages of the research process. I often find myself backtracking into the different stages whenever I find that I need to revise a part of my argument. It is sometimes difficult to maintain a steady schedule, but I find that the more I revisit my argument’s main points, my motivation is renewed and I get back on track with my schedule!

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

It may seem cliché, but I would advise anyone interested in research to dedicate their time studying what they are passionate about. The research will be more fun and more fulfilling if it’s something you love. There are so many voices whose stories can impact the world and create connections through research. Your passion matters in research!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope to challenge the UCLA community to examine the representations of groups in the literature they read and the media they consume. In my field, I aim to add my voice to connect and intersect past ideas in order to illuminate a new basis for understanding the Oriental woman trope across genres and literary forms. I hope to contribute to modern American feminist discourses by talking about and researching Muslim women’s roles in feminist movements.

Student Spotlight – Lucia Ribisi

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Lucia Ribisi!

Lucia Ribisi majors in Gender Studies and minors in Literature and the Environment and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP)! The title of their project is “‘After Z’ Honors Thesis Documentary.” Their focus is to leverage artistic skill, emotional sensitivity, environmental ethics, and reproductive thought to spark conversation amongst young people about the role of fantasy as we co-create the future. Their best piece of advice is to find a mentor who really understands you.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Searching for a research topic to commit to for my senior thesis, I met Jack Weerts, an undergraduate film minor – who was working on a documentary around asking young people the question “Is it OK to have a child?” considering climate change. As a former birth and postpartum doula, forever wannabe mom, and environmentalist; this topic well-suited my interests.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Learning how to put my research to video, transforming essay into visual media, has been very rewarding. The project gives me an excuse to talk about ethics amongst my community, and beyond, for the first time.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I have been surprised at how my process and approach has changed since September when I started working on the project. A long term project is a good way to measure one’s growth.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Don’t let disciplinary limits bother you. In a rich ecology, even the weeds get watered. Find a mentor who really understands you. This has been key. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do this project without the inspiration and support of my advisor, Dr. Sharon Traweek.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope that my film and thesis paper leverage artistic skill, emotional sensitivity, environmental ethics, and reproductive thought to spark conversation amongst young people about the role of fantasy as we co-create the future.