A First-Year Student’s Undergraduate Research Project Amplifies Diverse Campus Voices

Amplifying diverse voices on the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University campuses.

That’s the purpose behind “We’re Here,” an undergraduate research project put together by first-year student Jazmin Acuna Diaz under the guidance of CSB and SJU professor of political science Christi Siver.

It consists of a series of interviews Acuna Diaz conducted with four CSB and SJU students from different backgrounds, bringing their distinct and unique stories to what Acuna Diaz and Silver hope will be a wider audience among the two campus communities.

“Our starting point was really just telling these stories,” said Acuna Diaz, a 2022 graduate of Big Lake (Minnesota) High School.

“Coming from a minority background, there were times I didn’t fully see the value of sharing my story. But after working on this project, I realize there are a lot of people who haven’t heard stories like these, or who may not realize what the person sitting next to them in class has gone through.”

Acuna Diaz was scheduled to be among the more than 700 students presenting their research, creative work or scholarship at the 23rd annual Celebrating Scholarship & Creativity Day on Thursday, April 27.

“The biggest takeaway for me from these interviews was that we tend to put people in boxes, but everyone has an individual story to tell,” Acuna Diaz said. “Throughout my work, I was aware of the fact that the students I interviewed trusted me to hold their stories in my hands. I had a responsibility to make sure they were accurately represented.”

The project came about through the Emerging Scholars Program, which is designed to “provide first-year students that have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education or their field of study access to three high-impact practices over the course of their first year at CSB and SJU: undergraduate research, learning in community and meaningful on-campus student employment.”

It was born of an idea Siver had after attending a panel discussion at the CSB and SJU Multicultural Center.

“It was the CSB/SJU version of the ‘Green Card Voices’ project that (advocacy group) Unite Cloud did with local immigrants (in Central Minnesota),” Siver said. “My colleague (in the political science department), Pedro dos Santos, chaired a discussion involving four different students from different immigration backgrounds. And it struck me that we should try to share these stories more widely.

“A lot of times, we don’t get to know other people on campus outside of classes. This seemed like a way to both increase awareness and help create a more inclusive environment.”

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the idea from getting off the ground, but Siver applied to have it accepted as part of the Emerging Scholars program beginning with the fall semester in 2022.

That, in turn, connected her with Acuna Diaz, who is a bio-chemistry major after originally planning to major in nursing and took a course in the narrative practices minor.

“It was focused on finding ways of telling stories to help people heal,” Acuna Diaz said. “It seemed like there were a lot of aspects of that which fit really well with this project.

“I related to it because I was born in Monticello, but my parents were immigrants from Mexico. Growing up in a predominately white community, I did struggle at times with taking pride in my nationality and culture, or sharing my story with other people.”

Siver hopes the project continues in the years to come, hopefully with Acuna Diaz serving as a mentor.

“Jazmin brought such a fresh perspective and energy to this,” Siver said. “She’s exceptionally well organized and very task orientated. She’s a self-starter. If you give her direction, she goes out and get things done.

“She really put in some amazing work, and it shows.”

Acuna Diaz was among the students selected as CSC Day Spotlight recipients because they delivered “timely projects that exceed expectations,” and each project represented the ability to “Think Deeply.” The complete list of award winners and their projects is as follows:

  • Emily Rogalla and Lauren Voll, advised by Dr. Christen Strollo, Chemistry: Oxidative Potential for Atmospheric Particles
  • Mary Ludwig, Sonja Hoversten and Caroline Tuck advised by Dr. Lisa Gentile, Chemistry: Inserting a Spectroscopic Probe into Human Mitochondrial Malate Dehydrogenase
  • Fiona Rosko and Sawyer Macht, advised by Dr. David Mitchell, Biology: The Determination of the Minimum Inhibitory Concentration of Erythromycin, Gentamicin, Ciprofloxacin, and Cephalothin for Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Pseudomonas fulva
  • Eli Anderson, advised by Dr. Trista Olson, Exercise Science and Sport Studies: Ammonia Inhalants (Smelling Salts) and their Effect on Countermovement Vertical Jump Peak Force Output
  • Kaitlyn McKenzie, advised by Greg Taft, Physics: Low-Cost Spectrometer for Ti: Sapphire Laser
  • Kenedi Mullings, advised by Dr. Aubrey Immelman, Psychology: The Personality Profile of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Office
  • Clare Lamb, advised by Amelia Cheever, Theater: On The Verge Costume Design
  • Jazmin Acuna Diaz, advised by Dr. Christi Siver, Emerging Scholars Program: We’re Here
  • Anne Beuning, Bailey Eakins, Daniel Eickhoff and William Maikkula, advised by Steve Schwarz, Global Business Leadership: Society for Advancement of Management Case Study Competition
  • Canaan Cooper, advised by Dr. Md Fazal, Chemistry: The Effect of Glucose on the denaturation of Human Serum Albumin

The following students were Distinguished Thesis Scholars (graduating seniors who have completed a three-semester-long independent research project):                                                                                                  

  • Sydney Richter, Political Science, Constitutional Limits? Congressional Power to Enforce Salient 14th Amendment Liberties Post-Boerne v Flores, advised by Phil Kronebusch
  • James Siems, Economics, Trouble Brewing: The Path to Optimizing Sustainability in the Craft Brewing Industry, advised by Parker Wheatley
  • Anna Spreck, English, House of Horrors: The Experimental Labyrinth of House of Leaves, advised by Rachel Marston
  • Alexa Hennen, Computer Science, Usability of SynpleTest: Program Synthesis as a Teaching Tool, advised by Peter Ohmann
  • Alexie Horner, Biology, Assessing Long-Term Mussel Population and Recruitment Health After A Poolwide Drawdown in Pool 5 of the Mississippi River, advised by Trevor Keyler

Written by: Frank Rajkowski for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University; used with permission. Find the original article here

Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.

By Todd Waggoner

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