CAL Students Shine at Student Research Symposium

By Aaron Burgin and Leslie L.J. Reilly

Rebeca NavarreteRebeca Navarrete remembers the day she wanted to be a part of San Diego State University’s Student Research Symposium.

“It had been a dream of mine to take part in this opportunity since I was a sophomore at SDSU,” Navarrete said. “I vividly remember picking up a wrinkled flyer from the ground during the beginning of my sophomore year at State and telling myself I wanted to be a part of this.”

She got her chance this year and made the most of it, becoming one of 11 students from the College of Arts and Letters to receive awards.

She received one of two SRS College of Arts and Letters Dean’s Awards.

The symposium, held Feb. 28-29 is a public forum where San Diego State University students present their research, scholarship, and creative activities. It is a two-day event, occurring each spring semester, that recognizes the outstanding scholarly accomplishments of SDSU students. It is a great way to learn about the wonderful projects that SDSU students, both graduate and undergraduate, are engaged in.

The 11 CAL student winners were among the 57 award recipients out of 500 presenters at the symposium.

“I’m so impressed by the number of CAL students who received awards this year, as well as by the breadth of their projects,” CAL Interim Dean Glen McClish said. “Undergraduate research is thriving in the College of Arts and Letters.”

For Navarrete, her biggest question after making the SRS her goal was what would her presentation be about?

She found her research topic in a cause that she champions: the youth anti-vaping movement.

Under the supervision of faculty mentors Lourdes S. Martinez (School of Communication) and Cynthia D. Park (School of Teacher Education), Navarrete researched the prevalence of “vape god” videos on YouTube and how the language and features of such videos attract impressionable users.

“By examining associations between ‘vape god’ YouTube videos and the Urban Dictionary definitions of a ‘vape god,’ the field can develop a better understanding of the social and cultural health literacy of youth surrounding usage of vape products,” she concluded.

Navarrete said that the project was a “dream come true.”

“As a person who is majoring in Spanish, minoring in Digital and Social Media Studies, and seeking a translation and interpretation certificate, this research project is the dream project that was able to merge all my academic studies into one,” she said. “Language and societal culture in itself is an inspiration because it is ever changing, but it is also a great guide on how language socioculturally adapts throughout the generational usage of social media.”

Her reaction to the win? “Utter disbelief,” she said.

“When they called my name, I was in shock,” Navarrete said. “At first, I thought it was another Rebeca that they were calling up to the stage. To me, having achieved my goal of presenting at least once at SRS and also getting an award for my first research presentation, it just seemed too good to be true.”

Navarrete credited her mentors for preparing her for the big stage.

“They understood this was the first time I was going to embark on such a big research project and were able to guide me to create this first of its kind research,” Navarrete said. “They were always able to give me insight to be able to really allow me to pinpoint the true objective of the project.Through their experiences and knowledge I was able to learn and grow as a researcher.

William LambertAmong the other CAL winners was William Lambert, a creative writing master’s student, who won the President's Award for the Arts for "Worship of a Decaying Martyr," a short story inspired by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and a contemporary article on Roman crucifixion.

“I  did not just want to write this story for the sake of shock value, I wanted to use this image to distort a well-known image, add realism, capture the devastation of his loved ones, and most importantly, show how the body of Christ became a symbol of martyrdom for Christians and a symbol of horror for marginalized groups,” Lambert said.

Lambert said he didn't feel confident after presenting his story to the judges, which made his award that much more thrilling.

“I was surprised. I came in thinking I was not going to win anything let alone the President’s Award for the Arts,” Lambert said. “I was baffled, and Diana (Pham, friend and fellow creative writing student), who was sitting next to me was telling me, ‘Dude! That’s you!’”

For history master’s student Andrea Alvarado and winner of the SRS Library Award, the SRS competition provided a chance to present a portion of her thesis.

Her project titled: "Fell on Black Days: Expressions of Mental Health in Grunge Music," had its roots in her undergraduate research, which exposed her to gender studies. “I have a personal interest in 1990s history and am a big fan of grunge music, so I am grateful that I was able to take a passion of mine and critically study it within the context of masculinity and mental health,” Alvarado said.

About her mentor, history professor Eve Kornfeld, Alvarado said, “ She has guided me not only in my research, but also took the time to arrange practice sessions for SRS for all the history students, that way we could receive feedback and be as prepared as possible. Her classes are thought-provoking and she has fundamentally shaped how I approach history.” 

During the SRS there were a variety of research presentations from myriad disciplines, and Alvarado noted that judges and commentators drew comparisons amongst the students. She said, “It showed me the importance of interdisciplinary research.”

For a full list of winners, visit the SRS webpage

This story originally appeared on SDSU NewsCenter.

Ivette LoronaSRS President's Award: Ivette Lorona, is a dual MPH/MA student in the Latin American Studies program in CAL with a concentration in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science. Her winning project was titled "The Right to Health Care: Central American Asylum-Seekers in Chiapas, Mexico." Her faculty mentor was Kate Swanson (Geography).

The President's Awards are the highest awards in the SRS, and Lorona is one of the ten President's Award winners who represented SDSU at the statewide CSU research competition. 

Lorona is a Latinx student who grew up living a transborder lifestyle in the San Diego-Tijuana border region. She is an SDSU alumna who received her B.A. in psychology with a double minor in biology and counseling and social change.

Her research interests include im(migrant) health in Mexico, U.S.-Mexico border health, and global transborder health. She volunteers as the intern coordinator for Allies to End Detention and works at the SDSU library archiving letters received from migrants and refugees detained in detention centers across the U.S.

She is the CAL representative in the Latin American Studies Student Organization (LASSO) .