Contact Us
Vanessa Christman, Assistant Dean of the College
for Access and Community Development
MMUF Administrative Coordinator
The Pensby Center
(610) 526-6594
Bethany Schneider, Associate Professor of English
MMUF Faculty Coordinator
(610) 526-5051
Jennifer Walters, Dean of the Undergraduate College
MMUF Advisor
(610) 526-5375

Mary Zaborskis
University of Pennsylvania Doctoral Student
MMUF Graduate Coordinator

2011-2012 Fellows

Cohort 22:

Sakina Abdus-Shakur, '13 is from Philadelphia, PA and is a Philosophy major and a Creative Writing minor. Her mentor is Professor Robert Dostal. She is interested in exploring the ideologies of self-esteem through the lense of education. Self-esteem is a psychological appraisal of self worth, which is comprised of a correlating beliefs and emotions. In the consideration of belief from the lense of education, she will consider statements such as “I am intelligent”, “I am worthy” and their converses, “I am stupid” and “I am unworthy”. Through philosophical and psychological readings, anthropological ethnography and sociological studies, she intends to explore the implications of positive of negative foundational beliefs of self. The second component of self-esteem is emotions. Emotions that may be felt in relation to education are pride, shame, triumph or despair. How do these positive or negative emotions interact with belief, and affect academic ability? How do people's beliefs and emotions create ideologies of academic affirmation or of academic inadequacies? Can education affect personal ideologies? What roles do beliefs and emotions play in the development of intellect? In order to develop her research on this subject matter, Sakina plans to  attend the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Training Program at the University of Chicago this summer.


Rachel Kutten, '13 is from Montgomery Village, Maryland and is majoring in sociology with an English minor. Her mentor, Profesor Robert Washington, will assist her in exploring “cyber racism” and how it is manifested on the internet. She will examine how cyber racism can be found on some internet communities, and the implications it has for the way Americans in particular talk about race offline. Rachel will argue that cyber racism within internet communities that are catered towards Americans can expose and help acknowledge the inadequate discourse about race offline in the United States, which includes using the terms “post-racial” or “colorblind.” Internet communities can provide social support and venues of expression for people who are frustrated about inadequate race talk offline. In addition, the internet as a structure that can resemble life offline allows the mindset of colorblindness and post-racialism to permeate it. Rachel will do a content analysis of internet comments on news stories about the 2009 BART police shooting of Oscar Grant from three different news blogs:,, and With her methodology she will decipher if these comments about the event come across as racist. By “racist,” it means that these comments would have to include the covert form of colorblind racism or post racialism, concepts that have been accepted offline by some Americans and have proven to belittle the plight of people of color. In the summer of 2011 Rachel attended a research training program at the University of Chicago and created a proposal for her Mellon project. Those who have inquires about Rachel’s research project can send her an email at



Jomaira Salas, '13 is a sophomore from Lynn, Massachusetts majoring in sociology with an education minor. Her interests lie on the intersection of immigration and education in the United States and France. She is primarily interested in how public perception of immigration and immigration policy affect educational aspirations among first-generation immigrants. For her Mellon research project she will compare how immigration has defined the educational aspirations of students in Philadelphia and Paris. She is planning on studying abroad in spring 2012 in Paris, France. Jomaira will be conducting this project under the guidance of Professor David Karen in the Sociology department.



Jacinda Tran,'13of Newark, Delaware is majoring in Growth and Structure of Cities with minors in Environmental Studies and Chinese.  Her freshman year, Jacinda was assigned to Professor Gary McDonogh, who has now become her major advisor and Mellon Mays mentor.  In her research, she hopes to investigate public spaces and their social implications in addition to the issues of accessibility and disparities associated with them.  This summer, Jacinda will be undertaking Mandarin language study in Shanghai, China for eight weeks through the Critical Language Scholarship.  While there, she hopes to make observations that will direct her research towards a more specific focus.  In the spring, Jacinda aspires to carry on her research in Buenos Aires, Argentina or Quito, Ecuador where she will tentatively be studying abroad.

Cohort 21:

Mia Chin

Mia Chin '12 is a Sociology Major with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Mia is interested in studying tourism in Latin America, specifically focusing on the sector of volunteerism.  She will study the impacts of volunteers from places like the United States and Europe on community organizations in Latin America and communities that host and house these volunteers.  She is particularly interested in understanding the roles of women from Latin America in organizations and home-stays to see how they are specifically affected by volunteer tourism.  She hopes to highlight how tourism can give agency to women in the domestic sphere running home-stays and show how local organizations have sustainability despite the inconsistent number of/length of volunteer involvement.  This research also aims to question if volunteerism is beneficial or not and under what conditions it can be.  This summer Mia will be in Peru taking Spanish classes, volunteering and living with different families in Cuzco and Arequipa.  She plans on continuing her research in Buenos Aires when studying abroad and the following summer in another Latin American country.  In mentoring her, Professor Nathan Wright will guide her in her research.


Liana Donahue '12 is from New Orleans, LA, and is a Philosophy major and Africana Studies minor. She is interested in the idea of moral responsibility and judgment within a criminal gang. Liana’s research focuses on the Cape Coloured gang population in Cape Town, South Africa. During Liana’s junior year abroad in Cape Town, she worked at a juvenile detention center as an anger management teacher. This experience allowed her to interact firsthand with youth who were members of prominent gangs in the country. Liana’s interaction with the youth lead her to question the ways in which people from low-income, gang-ridden communities unconsciously commit immoral acts because of their environments. These thoughts led her to her main research questions: Is being a moral agent a privilege? Should people be held accountable for their actions if they were taught those actions are acceptable within their environment? Her mentor is Professor Christine Koggel.

Cristina Munoz '12 is our Mellon Associate!


Cristina S.

Cristina Smith '12 is from Richmond, Virginia, and is a Sociology Major with Concentrations in Middle Eastern Studies and Environmental Studies. She is interested in sustainable development, food politics and food security in the Levant region of the Middle East. Cristina’s research project looks specifically at Jordan by examining its food system for insight into the environmental consciousness of the individual and collective. More broadly her research seeks to answer questions about the shape of environment and society in the Middle East’s near future. Her mentor is Professor Deborah Harrold in the Department of Political Science. While conducting her research Cristina has interned with environmental organizations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Amman, Jordan.


Elena Swartz '12 is a senior from Newton, Massachusetts majoring in Growth and Structure of Cities. Her mentor is Professor Gary McDonogh. The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship has allowed Elena to pursue a variety of academic interests throughout the past two years. During her first year as a Fellow, Elena conducted independent research on environmental public health disparities in marginalized communities in Boston, Massachusetts and Cape Town, South Africa. After studying abroad at the University of Cape Town in Fall 2010, Elena began a new project researching representations of history at heritage sites in post-apartheid South Africa. In summer 2011 she carried out independent research at significant heritage sites in four different cities in South Africa to better understand the ways these sites fit into the larger context of urban spaces in the country and the ways memory is inscribed on these sites. This independent research project contributed to Elena’s senior thesis, Leaving No Stone Unturned: Examining the Role of Heritage Sites in Post-apartheid South Africa and Their Possibilities for Facilitating Socioeconomic Development and Reconciliation. In February 2011 Elena presented a paper at the MMUF Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference entitled Re-visioning Memory in the Rainbow Nation: Challenges and Critiques of Post-Apartheid Nation Building through Memorials in South Africa that will be published in the 2011 MMUF Journal. She welcomes comments and criticisms of her work.


Sana Venjara '12 is a Growth and Structure of Cities major with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and a minor in History of Art. Her mentors are Professors Gary McDonogh and Deborah Harrold. In the Fall of 2010, Sana was fortunate enough to study abroad at the site of her research in Cairo, Egypt. Complex opposing female realities pervade Cairo media and everyday street life. Sana’s aim is to deconstruct the multifaceted nature of Cairo Muslim women’s public image through the perspective of clothing and its resultant effects on how women navigate the city and their lifestyles. While these decisions are not directly “revolutionary,” clothing serves as a point of contestation for conscious and active resistance against social inequality when public space is renegotiated in times of social change and political opportunity. After completing her thesis this past Fall, she will be interning this semester at Next American City, an online urban magazine for a greater understanding and practical application of her Cities degree.