Our Students

Our Students

In the College of Arts & Letters, our students are as diverse as they are numerous. Our students are hardworking, creative, intelligent, committed to their personal development, and passionate about leaving a positive impact on the community.Our students come from a variety of backgrounds and have a wide range of interests, both academically and personally.

Meet some of our students who make the College of Arts & Letters a great place to be:

Q & A with Ashley McMichael, ISCOR Major and UK Fulbright Scholarship Recipient Studying in Belfast 

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Ashley McMichael

With only two-and-a-half weeks to prepare, Ashley McMichael, a freshman majoring in International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR) took on the daunting task of applying for a UK Fulbright scholarship. She spent “a ridiculous amount of time” writing and reviewing her 1,395-word application and 749-word essay. She passed the rigorous application stage and was invited in for a personal interview. McMichael didn’t feel she performed well during that interview, so when she received the acceptance notice, she had to read it several times before she believed that she, indeed, was selected as one of three scholarship recipients from SDSU. “I was completely overwhelmed and in disbelief.”

Fast-forward to July and she’s now studying at Queen’s University Belfast, in Northern Ireland. This is her first trip abroad. I caught up with her between side-trips and studying to ask about the first half of her four-weeks on the Emerald Isle.

Q: Tell me about your focus area and studies in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

A: I’m studying conflict transformation in Belfast. As an ISCOR major, this has been a completely unparalleled opportunity to study my focus area. My program has largely focused on conflict transformation during and after the era of the Troubles, and thus far, we have covered areas such as transitional justice, dealing with the past, trauma, borders, and policing, all in the context of the Troubles.

Q: Have you had a chance to research and connect with people impacted by the Troubles yet?

A: Throughout the entire program, we have heard snippets of peoples’ lives from the era of the Troubles. We have heard from people in securitization aspects as well as people whose everyday lives were impacted forever by acts of violence. However, it is during the field trips and excursions out to the town that I feel that I have truly been exposed to the reality of the situation. From hearing about Bloody Sunday from a relative of one of the men killed during the event to the perspective and experiences of people at pubs, the memory of the Troubles truly is everywhere in Belfast, and I have been able to hear about it from both sides.

Q: How do you expect meeting them will change, inform, or enhance your research?

A: Meeting these people and hearing their experiences has truly made the Troubles real for me. Hearing about a subject from an academic lens is one thing, but it is completely different to listen to people who have personally experienced events. That has been one of my favorite parts of being here and of studying this subject matter, as I feel that it is what has really made me understand the Troubles best. Putting a face and emotion to something so broad makes it more understandable. In terms of enhancing my research, I would say that this has truly opened my mind and solidified my understanding of the knowledge that we are gaining in class.

Q: What are examples of cultural differences/similarities you have noticed during your first time abroad?

A: I suppose it’s easier to look at the differences than the similarities, as those are what we notice first. One cultural difference that really surprised me and continues to throw me is that pedestrians don’t have the right of way here, and that drivers don’t stop. My friends and I have almost been run over a few times while we’ve been walking across the street. Something else that has been very different is the fact that most places, whether they are pubs or restaurants, don’t split the check. There’s a “round buying culture” here, and that has proven very difficult for me and my friends to wrap our minds around when we’re out eating, as we’re so used to each paying for our own meals.

One of my favorite cultural differences is the abundance of live music in this city. It absolutely comes alive at night, and there’s a great appreciation for live music that I haven’t seen as much in the U.S. People here have been very friendly so far, and that has been such a pleasant experience, especially with this being my first time abroad.

In terms of similarities, there are still many things that remain the same between the cultures. People enjoy having fun and they love socializing. Especially because the language is the same and our culture is so tightly connected with this part of Western Europe, many things have been very similar, and I’ve appreciated the familiarity and universality of that.

Q: Where are you conducting your studies? What is unique about the city?    

A:  I’m currently studying at Queen’s University Belfast, which is in the center of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s an absolutely amazing university that looks like a castle on the outside and has a completely modern interior, and I adore it. This city is so unique because it has so much history in it, especially given the events of the Troubles in the latter half of the 20th century. This history is still very much alive in the memories of people, but you can also see much of it in the conflict architecture (ie the peace walls). This is something that I haven’t seen anywhere else; the landscape of this modern city bears the scars of the conflict itself. The city is also trying to rebrand itself, and you can see that everywhere you go. It’s making its way out of the shadow of the Troubles and is making an effort to become a tourist attraction, and this is something that I’ve found fascinating while I’ve been here.

Q: Tell me about your cohort.

A: In my program of Conflict Transformation, there are about 58 students. Amongst the three programs, I believe there are around 90 students. It is a very international crowd; many are either from the U.S. or Australia, but there are also people from Austria, Spain, Germany, Israel, and Canada whom I have met. I originally expected that the students would all be undergraduate students, but there are actually quite a few people who are taking a gap year or who are in some sort of postgraduate work. The ages themselves range from 18 to 65+; it truly is a diverse group. As far as studies are concerned, I have met people from an array of studies within Conflict Transformation. Sociology, political science, international relations, criminology, and law are the most common ones that I have heard, but we really do have some of everything.

In the Fulbright group itself, there are six of us total, and two in each of the summer school programs. They’re from all across the country, with four of them being from various places in the Midwest and one from Georgia.

Q: How do you think this experience will impact your life?

A: Already, I have been exposed to so much that I would not have been able to see otherwise. From learning to be independent to adapting to a new country to having the opportunity to see these amazing sights, I know that this experience will stick with me forever. Within the educational aspect, I’ve learned an enormous amount about my area of study in such a short time, and I know that I’ll be able to bring this experience back to my classes at SDSU. I honestly think that this independence and being adaptable will return home with me, as it is very confidence-inspiring to know that I am fully capable to deal with some of the situations I have been presented with during my time here. Beyond that, however, the friends who I have made are such genuinely wonderful people with such bright futures ahead of them, and it is inspiring to know that I will have them in my life. Overall, the first two weeks of this experience has already helped to provide me with more direction and desire to see the world.

Although I’m only halfway through the program, this has already been one of the most life-changing events of my life. I never expected to be doing something like this after my first year of college, and it has exceeded all of my expectations. I’ve been able to see and do things that I didn’t imagine myself doing for another few years, from hiking up Cave Hill to visiting Giant’s Causeway to casually strolling around eight-hundred-year-old castles. The friends I’ve made through Fulbright and through the program itself are people with whom I definitely intend to stay in contact, and their company has contributed to this trip being as excellent as it has been. I truly only have the best things to say about this experience.

 

Victor Beck Selected to Intern in Washington, D.C. with the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Victor Beck

SDSU junior Victor Beck isn’t going to have a typical summer. This political science major, Webers Honors College interdisciplinary minor, and incoming president of SDSU’s Mock Trial team, will participate in a summer internship on Capitol Hill offered by the Panetta Institute.

Founded in 1997 by Leon and Sylvia Panetta, the Panetta Institute serves the entire California State University system plus several other schools. Under the direction of Secretary and Mrs. Panetta, the Institute provides a variety of study opportunities in government, politics and public policy, and sponsors a range of other programs.

The Congressional Internship Program gives selected students from throughout the CSU system, along with Dominican University of California, Saint Mary’s College of California and Santa Clara University, an opportunity to get a firsthand look at the legislative process by working in a congressional office in Washington, D.C.

Politics and Public Policy – Beck’s Journey Begins

Beck’s interest in politics began as a senior at San Diego High School, where was Inspired by a political science class. From that point, Beck had a plan. He knew he wanted to go to law school, so majoring in political science at SDSU seemed the right choice.

Within his political science course of study, he recalls meeting with his pre-law advisors. One was Ronnee Schreiber with whom he felt a good connection. Beck respected her work. Schreiber said, "Victor sat in the front in of my Political Science 102 class, never took a single note, aced the exams, and was actively engaged. He's clearly passionate about politics, which is wonderful because he is also compassionate. I look forward to his many future successes!"

Another influential advisor was Assistant Professor Dr. Kimberley Fletcher. In a capstone class, Beck recalls that Professor Fletcher pushed him “in a good way.” He said, “She made me strive to be better.” About Beck, Fletcher said, “As Mock Trial advisor it has been a pleasure to work with Victor, first as the chair of communications and now as the president of this growing student organization. Victor's commitment, his energy and his capacity to meet the demands of the classroom and that of a time-consuming student organization is a credit to Victor's organizational skills and his devotion to always give 110%.”

The Road to Washington, D.C.

As a freshman, Beck remembers going to an admissions event for the Webers Honors College.  There he heard a past Congressional Internship Program recipient make a presentation. He was inspired to apply at that moment. However, two years passed before he applied as an incoming junior.

Beck had to pass rigorous interviews to seal the nomination and obtain the internship invitation.

First, Beck interviewed with two administrators at Webers Honors College — Dr. Martha Enciso, associate director and Michelle Knowlton, adviser. Dr. Enciso said, “Victor’s major along with his honors minor have equipped him with the proper foundation to put theory into practice. Victor is a thoughtful, inquisitive individual that is eager to learn more about the field of public service. His curiosity for learning makes him an excellent representative for SDSU.”

Next, he interviewed with President Adela de la Torre. “That was really cool! She is really awesome,” Beck said. It gave de la Torre a chance to get to know him. Each year only one candidate from each CSU is selected by the president of the university to attend the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program. President de la Torre selected Beck.

He flew to Monterey to interview with a three-person panel including Sylvia Panetta. During the Panetta Institute interview, he was asked about the issues he cares about. Beck shared his top areas of interest: health care, foreign affairs, and foreign relations. “In public health care, it is the failure of the systems and how they affect people. I think it is very important,” he said. “In foreign affairs, there are alot of problems in the world due to the lack of knowledge. To be a representative of the U.S. would be really cool.” When asked about the biggest problem facing America today, Beck answered, “Partisanship and the implications of policies. It’s made to please the constituents and special interest groups.”

Hands-on Opportunity on Capitol Hill

Beck has never been to Washington, D.C. and looks forward to being immersed in the culture during his two and one-half month internship. He hopes to do policy research, and to take memos. “I’ll learn so much and be exposed to so much,” Beck said.

Beck continued, “In law school you learn about the legal basis for the law. I feel that in D.C. it is the application of the law. It will be nice to have hands-on knowledge with public policy. Now, I sit in class, and I study about how the foundations of how policies work. During the internship, I’ll see it upfront. I’ll be with the people working on them.”

Beck will determine if the East Coast is the right fit for future law schools and his career trajectory. During his internship, he hopes to find out if public policy is his true future focus. “It really supplements my educational experience. To literally go and live it, will be great,” Beck mused, “I could end up in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that would be crazy!”

 

MORE ABOUT THE PANETTA INSTITUTE CONGRESSIONAL INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

Each fall, the Panetta Institute hosts students for its Congressional Internship Program beginning in mid-August with an intensive two-week course at the Institute and continuing in Washington, D.C. through mid-November.

“We are proud that our program has earned the reputation of being one of the finest internship programs in the nation,” says Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

Interns first attend an intensive two-week course at the Panetta Institute, where discussions range from United States foreign and defense policy to cybersecurity issues to fiscal and monetary policy to practicalities of what interns can expect once they arrive for work on Capitol Hill. During this training session, students attend lectures led by an array of experts from diverse disciplines.

Each intern is then assigned to work for two and one-half months in the Capitol Hill office of a member of the California congressional delegation. In addition to their work in congressional offices, participants attend weekly seminars on policy issues and different aspects of government.

 

Get to Know Latrel Powell, CAL’s Outstanding Graduating Senior 2019

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Latrel Powell

It all clicked during his junior year.

For Latrel Powell, a political science and africana studies double major, and this year’s CAL Outstanding Graduating Senior, it was on the day he took the helm as CAL’s Student Council president in October 2017 that he realized his voice would be heard. “The experience literally changed my life,” Powell said.

He applied his talents to CAL’s Student Council while maneuvering his way through the college experience accepting every opportunity he encountered along the way. Powell said, “It was very rewarding, and very hard. I was fortunate to have council members, the executive team, and deans surrounding me.” He was able to move from his position as the president of the CAL Student Council into the California State University Student Association as a vice president, which gave him an opportunity to advocate for CSU students from all campuses on a statewide level. He worked with the chancellor’s office, state legislators, Governor Newsom, and others to draft legislation and policy for the betterment of students. He even had a chance to give a speech on the California State Capitol steps one year.

Thinking back, Powell said, “I remember vividly, my freshman year move-in day. I woke up the next morning in my dorm, and realized ‘I need to make something of myself.’” The pressure to excel came from within. Fast-forward four years to find the accomplished (and now SDSU graduate) Latrel Powell, accepted to UCLA law school and on the waitlist for UC Berkeley law school.

Opportunities rolled his way

Aside from a study abroad experience in Cape Town, South Africa, a Berkeley fellowship, and other off-campus leadership activities, Powell was heavily immersed in student government affairs. He discovered that his voice mattered. Powell said, “I got a taste for this in student government — I realized my voice is important. This is my community on this campus.”

His list of leadership and volunteer accomplishments is long: CAL Student Council president; California State Student Association vice president; Mortar Board chapter president; Associated Students board of directors; Pi Sigma Alpha executive vice president; SDSU Rotaract member; YMCA basketball coach; City Heights Prep volunteer. His list of honor society and other memberships and program attendance is equally long: Mortar Board Honor Society; Phi Beta Kappa; Phi Kappa Phi; Golden Key; Phi Eta Sigma; Pi Sigma Alpha; U.C. Public Policy and International Affairs (UCPPIA) Fellow; Public Policy and International Affairs Program (PPIA) Public Service Weekends; AIM for Law graduate; and, Sheriff Citizens’ Academy graduate.

It’s an instinct to help others — to lead. Powell didn’t realize the value of all the volunteer work he participated in, and how it offered him a chance to take on leadership roles. “You find a lot of community and purpose in this work,” he said.

“Many times the ball rolled the right way and I was able to make the most out of opportunities,” Powell said. “I didn’t have an aspiration to be in student government when I first came to campus.”

Powell often tells people about the unique opportunities for undergrads. “We have the opportunity to poke our head in, to put our toes in the water, but also to really put our hands on the steering wheel to make an impact and seek change,” he said.

Impact of Arts & Letters Professors

Powell remembers the impact of his professors. “Dr. Barbone was my professor during my first semester. He taught a freshman seminar class and Philosophy 101. Barbone spoke about the importance of applying for scholarships, which was a foundational stepping stone for me,” he said. “I didn’t realize the value of volunteering, being involved, and expressing this in scholarship applications.” Powell applied for scholarships every semester upon hearing Barbone’s sage advice. “I wouldn’t have had the freedom to do my research projects or student government without those scholarships,” he added.

Powell’s Advice for Students

“If you show up, it will be there for you.You will find faculty who will take you under their wings. You will find programs, organizations, and mentors, who will steer you in the right direction,” Powell said.

He added, “Give yourself the chance, and you’ll be rewarded. Take your knowledge beyond the classroom, because San Diego has so many unique circumstances to take advantage of, like professional networks and volunteering.”

And, lastly, Powell recommends, “Always remain fearless. Your heart will take you so much further. Be bold, be willing to take risks, now is the time to do that.”

What Powell’s Professors Say

Powell was asked to choose a most influential professor from each of his majors.

Here is what his SDSU professors said about him —

Boonie Reddick

Bonnie Reddick, Ph.D., Lecturer, Africana Studies

“Latrel graciously speaks about learning from me, but it is I who has had a chance to learn so much from him.” When I think of Latrel Powell, I am reminded of the renowned, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, who was the first Black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. In 1903, DuBois developed the theory of double-consciousness that still has relevance and applicability today. DuBois opined that Blacks live with this twoness:  American and Negro (Black)—“two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideas in one dark body”. Latrel had the same experience at San Diego State University. He often spoke about the micro and macro aggressions he experienced on campus: the professor who dismissed or ignored his voice; the donor who questioned the veracity of his bi-raciality; his peers who doubted and castigated him. In the face of this opposition, Latrel always exuded tenacity, faith and humility.  He embraced the fierceness of Malcolm X, who said, “education is the passport for the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”. Latrel understood that education is the great equalizer, so like DuBois, he excelled on exams; he articulated sophisticated analysis in class discussions, and he wrote with clarity and confidence. He became an effervescent presence on campus, leading numerous organizations, and representing the university at the State capitol. Latrel, in his quiet, determined way, pushed me to be my best educator-self. He always came to class prepared, and he, like I, abhorred rote memorization. Latrel is inherently, intellectually curious, and he consistently interrogates and questions. He does not merely concede to my position because of my authority; he challenges me to defend it, and I do the same with him. I so enjoyed debating with him on a variety of issues. His discussions helped me keep a pulse on his generations’ concerns and ideas. In the last year, he leaned more into me, as he became more politically involved on campus and at the state level. He, at times, was discouraged by the apathy or vitriol of adult discourse: apathy for his generation’s future and vitriol for his race. Latrel, like Zora Neal Hurston, embraced it all. Hurston once said, it is the price Blacks have paid for civilization, and it was paid for by our ancestors. We are all obligated to resist and challenge systemic racism, in all its forms. Latrel understands that, and I rest assured that he will represent us all well.”

Kristin Hill-Maher

Kristen Hill Maher, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Graduate Adviser, Political Science

“Latrel Powell has been remarkable in any number of ways. He is the most engaged undergraduate I have ever encountered. Even from his first semester at SDSU, he stood out for his analytic engagement and diplomacy. He has always asked hard, good, questions, especially regarding issues of justice, and he has been very proactive about seeking answers outside the classroom, as well. After working with me as a research assistant to help lay the groundwork for a new field project about urban borders in South Africa, Latrel hatched an idea that he could do an unconventional individual study abroad experience as a member of my research team during fieldwork. He cleared all kinds of bureaucratic hurdles, hustled to secure scholarship support, and practiced qualitative field methods in an independent study ahead of time that required him to get out of his comfort zone, including a project where he found and interviewed East African taxi drivers to learn about how Uber and Lyft were affecting the local taxi industry. During his three weeks in Cape Town, he lived in Airbnbs in a black community and continued to prove himself courageous, intellectually curious, and skilled in making human connections, despite the emotional shock of a profound shift in cultural and class context. His field notes are a window into Latrel’s self-reflective, analytic mind, valuable for not only what he was able to record but also for the ways he differently framed and questioned what he saw and experienced. Over the past several years, Latrel has taken on a remarkable range of leadership and service activities that reflect guiding principles centered on where he could best challenge himself, develop his own capacities, and make an impact on behalf of justice. These principles will surely pave the way toward an equally remarkable future in public service.“

 

Meet Undergraduate Research Journal of the College of Arts & Letters (URJCAL) Editor-in-Chief Jana Jarvis

By Leslie L. J. Reilly

Jana Jarvis

Preparation for the job of editor began early in life for Jana Jarvis, an English and Comparative Literature Comparative and English Literature major.  When she was in high school in San Antonio, Texas, she was editor of “The Jabberwocky,” a literary magazine. In that capacity she learned how to analyze work and meet deadlines -- skills she utilizes today as she reviews 3,000 to 7,000 word essays based on student research in humanities and social sciences for the Undergraduate Research Journal of the College of Arts & Letters (URJCAL). When it comes to continually enhancing her writing skills, Jarvis said, “I've been a regular attendee at the Gemini Ink: San Antonio Writer's Conference every summer since 2017 and was an active participant in the local poetry groups of San Antonio, such as the Sun Poet's Society.”

For Jarvis, working on the URJCAL editorial team offers networking and professional development along with a camaraderie found nowhere else. Together, the staff reviews arguments, logical structure, and evidence-based facts. Jarvis offers feedback and advice on how to modify arguments. Along with the editorial board, she proposes edits and encourages students to strengthen perspectives. Feedback from faculty advisors allows for additional fact-checking.

“This is an amazing opportunity for undergrads to be taken seriously as an author and scholar,” Jarvis said. For some students, an accepted submission to the journal offers a glimpse into being published for the first-time and offers the prestige of being recognized for their research. URJCAL is published every summer and highlights the work of eight to 10 students.

“It’s a true stepping stone, no matter what,” Jarvis continued. “This is a chance to assert yourself and to be taken seriously.”