New CAL Mentoring for Undergraduate Student Excellence (CAL-MUSE) Program Takes Flight

First cohort of CAL student research assistants begin work in spring 2024.

Monday, April 15, 2024
student explains research to faculty member

While many undergraduates get their start in research, scholarship, and creative activities (RSCA) by volunteering, not every student has this option. In spring 2024, the Undergraduate Research Office of the College of Arts and Letters (UROC) developed an innovative student assistantship plan to expand meaningful opportunities for CAL undergraduate students.

Interim Dean Ronnee Schreiber said, “With this funding we offer continued support for our CAL undergraduates to bring forth opportunities that often lead to transformative work for both the students and faculty mentors in the social sciences and humanities. Embarking on these research projects helps raise visibility through publishing and other creative endeavors.”

Six faculty members received funding for nine undergraduate student assistants (SAs) to work on projects ranging from the automated detection of archaeological sites using satellite imagery to Black Muslims and racial capitalism. In exchange, faculty are providing rich undergraduate mentoring experiences to their SAs while also assisting them in presenting or publishing their work. Some have presented at the SDSU Student Symposium (S3); some have submitted their research to Splice, CAL's URSCA journal.

“The kinds of one-on-one relationships our program enables help students prepare for meaningful careers after college; they also contribute to a strong sense of belonging and boost retention and graduation rates. Faculty, too, find them very fulfilling” said Elisa (EJ) Sobo, director of UROC.

The work is intended to ultimately lead to professional growth for the faculty mentor as well as for the students.

The spring awardees and research descriptions are as follows:

Anthropology // Mentor: Isaac Ullah // Students: Ace Boyle and Kylie Coughlin
Project Title: Automated Detection of Archaeological Sites from Satellite Imagery
Description: Ace Boyle and Kylie Coughlin will assist in Ullah’s “proof of concept” research intended to train and test an AI (machine learning) image pattern detection algorithm using satellite imagery to aid in our current understanding of the spatial variability in desert kite sites of eastern Jordan.

Economics // Mentor: Ryan Abman // Student: Hattie Jenkins
Project Title: Environmental and Economic Effects of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade program (FLEGT)
Description: Hattie Jenkins will co-author a paper for a professional/academic journal with Abman and another professor as an extension of her summer participation in this investigation.

Geography and ISCOR // Mentor: Dan Sousa // Students: Daniel Carr and Stuart Olsen
Project Title: Mapping and Monitoring Geogenic Arsenic in Cambodian Smallholder Rice
Description: Daniel Carr and Stuart Olsen will be trained to work via remote sensing to monitor arsenic levels and will participate in writing and disseminating findings.

Department for the Study of Religion and Africana Studies // Mentor: Esra Tunc // Student: Tiffany Hungerford
Project Title: Black Muslims and Racial Capitalism in the United States
Description: Tiffany Hungerford will examine newspaper archives representing the Nation of Islam’s understandings of self-help, charity, and economy in the 1960s and the 1970s and connect this to existing literature on the topic.

Political Science and History // Mentor: Latha Varadarajan // Student: John-Michael Ellis
Project Title: The Rise and Fall of the “Third World” Idea
Description: John-Michael Ellis will help track the discourse relating to the rise and fall of the concept "Third World" through a systematic search of documents from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and other archival materials.

Sociology // Mentor: Charlene Holkenbrink-Monk // Students: Belen Rashidi and Elena Miller (Note: both won the “President’s Award“ at the SDSU Student Symposium (S3) in March and will go to the CSU Student Research Competition April 26-27 at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo).
Project Title: Frontier Housing: A Qualitative Research Study on an Oft-Forgotten Part of San Diego Housing History
Description: Belen Rashidi and Elena Miller will use visual and documentary methods for a socio-historical analysis of the defunct Frontier public housing project (which was in the Midway area). Their “action research” investigates the idea of community, and documents neighborhood concerns regarding race, socioeconomic status, and affordable housing.

For Faculty

The program continues next year, with funds available not only for fall and spring but also for a bridging period running from November 1. 2024  through February 29, 2025, to accommodate S3's calendar.  Apply Now.

Any lecturer on more than a one-year contract and any tenure-track faculty member can apply on behalf of an undergraduate student in good standing (academic and disciplinary) who will graduate from CAL. Faculty and students are only eligible for one grant every two years.

Visit the UROC website for details: (go to Resources: CAL).

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