2020 Mellon Scholars - University of Houston
Skip to main content
The Mellon Scholars are undergraduate students with a commitment to pursuing careers in the humanities. This two-year program provides these flourishing scholars with opportunities to conduct original research in their discipline, better preparing them for their future graduate studies. Meet our 2020 Mellon Scholars cohort.
  • Freisha Burke

    Freisha Burke

    Major: Political Science
    Minor: Chinese Studies
    Project: African-American Vernacular English: The Portrayal of AAVE in Mainstream Media & It's Relationship to Code-Switching Amongst African-American Individuals
    Mentor: Wei Wang

    Freisha's interest in languages and cultures developed from an early age. The root of this development stems from her military parents constantly moving the family to different states and different countries. Coming into college in 2017, however, she was not sure how to translate this interest into a practical career and decided to study Biology, pre-med. Upon transferring to UH, Freisha decided to focus on her initial desire to study foreign language and culture, and she changed her major to Political Science with a minor in Chinese Studies. With the Mellon Research Scholar Program, Freisha hopes to create a substantial research project exploring language, its relation to society, culture, and the way we think, and how it affects one’s perception of reality.

  • Kaleb Clark

    Kaleb Clark

    Major: English Literature
    Minor: History
    Project: Tolkienian Fantasy in the Modern Era: The Role of Traditional Literature in the Twenty-First Century
    Mentor: Dean William Monroe

    When Kaleb was young, he always yearned to hear the next great escapade of the likes of Superman, or to watch the next episode of whatever Saturday morning cartoon was airing. He was easily enamored by a good story, even if it was formulaic. Strangely enough, he was not a fan of reading, preferring stories to be delivered to him, not locked behind a grid-like patchwork of words and symbols. Kaleb originally thought himself strange for this preference but as he grew, he found myself in the majority. Kaleb believes there to be something innate in this preference for the delivered speech over the dissected speech. Over the summer, Kaleb intends to research the origins of this "delivered narrative" and why it is so much more approachable and desirable than "recorded narrative," paying close attention to the importance of the recorded narrative's place in human history.
  • Daniela Contreras

    Daniela Contreras

    Major: Political Science 
    Minor: History
    Project: Religiosity, Partisanship, and Race: The Effect of History on Contemporary African American Voting Patterns
    Mentor: J. Bryan Cole

    Daniela is a political science major, a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Pi Sigma Alpha, and a former senate intern. Under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Bryan Cole, her research examines the extent of religion's influence on the decisions American voters make when casting their ballot. She hopes that her research will contribute to the field of political science and that it will answer questions related to how religion matters, and to whom religion matters in the context of American politics and voting.
  • Antonio Enriquez

    Antonio Enriquez

    Majors: History and Philosophy
    Project: La Gran Chichimeca: Chichimecan Place in New Spanish Society
    Mentor: 
    Norah Gharala

    Antonio Enriquez is a man of many words. He may have seemed in the past an unlikely candidate for anything academic, and yet he strives nevertheless. Antonio seeks to be the best at the universally useful skill of Paleography; he also aims to shed light on the lives of the Native Americans who fall under the blanket term of the Chichimeca. Ultimately Antonio hopes to write a thesis on the coalescing of culture that occurred between Indigenous peoples at the heart of the Spanish empire and those on the northern frontier.

  • Paulina Ezquerra

    Paulina Ezquerra

    Majors: Philosophy and Political Science
    Minor: Phronêsis
    Project: The Intellectual and Moral Virtues: Against a Consequentialist Account
    Mentor: Iain Morrison

    Paulina decided to study philosophy and political science to learn what great thinkers have concluded about the good life and the good society. Within these fields, she enjoys thinking about ethics, epistemology, moral psychology, social and political philosophy. Above all, Paulina is interested in confronting and analyzing the values she intuitively holds, for her concern is not only with thinkers and their ideas but with truth itself. As education is one of these values, her research will focus on two of her favorite philosophers, Kant and Nietzsche, to examine why she considers education – particularly higher education – valuable. Paulina hopes to continue asking questions by pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy and becoming a professor.

  • Paulina Fernandez

    Paulina Fernandez

    Major: Philosophy
    Minor: Women's Studies
    Project: Environmental Justice in Houston: A Virtue Ethics Approach
    Mentor: Johanna Luttrell

    Paulina Fernandez always knew she wanted to teach, but in her time as an Education major she found philosophy and switched her major shortly after. Before transferring to University of Houston, Paulina was part of LSC-Cyfair’s Honors College where she presented at two Student Symposiums, one TwinStar Conference, and an Honor's Day presentation. Her ultimate goal is to one day be a philosophy professor, working with students while also conducting her own philosophical research. Paulina’s main interest is ethics; she is interested in questions of how we ought to act, and which acts are morally correct. Specifically, she has a strong drive for Environmental Ethics and argues against anthropocentric views in favor of a more biocentric view.

  • Marco Garcia

    Marco Garcia

    Major: Philosophy
    Minors: Energy and Sustainability; Phronêsis
    Project: The Conception of Freedom in the Green New Deal
    Mentor: Johanna Luttrell

    Sustainability is Marco’s primary object of study. In his coursework, he studies subjects such as decarbonization and environmental degradation. Through co-curricular programs, he has offered solutions to water scarcity and urban sprawl. As the Outreach Assistant for the Office of Sustainability, he helps cultivate a culture of sustainability on campus. Each of his inquiries into sustainability feed into his main research interests, which are political philosophy, moral psychology, and environmental ethics. Hence, this summer, his research will focus on the various Green New Deal proposals promulgated thus far. He plans to compare them to understand what political philosophies underpin each. His goal is to get a better insight into the philosophical influences in play.

  • Maya Garza

    Maya Garza

    Major: World Culture and Literature, Ancient Studies 
    Project: Giants, Incubi, and Monstrous Sisters: Ethnocentrism and Sexism in the British Legends of Albion
    Mentor: Lorraine K. Stock

    Maya cherishes the power of the written word and traces this admiration back to her days of childhood. Although she enjoys reading from different literary periods, narratives and themes taken from the Middle Ages have become particularly special. Her fascination with historical fantasy, myths, and fairy tales first began with the Magic Tree House series—introducing Maya to Arthurian motifs and plot dynamics influenced by both biblical times and classical antiquity. These books would later lead to her pursuit of a dual degree in English literature and ancient studies. For her summer research, Maya aims to examine the British legends of Albion to see how their ethnocentric and misogynistic treatment of foreigners and women, respectively, speaks to the condition and quality of societal-constructed Otherness in the medieval period. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in English Literature and become a professor.

  • Karla Grado

    Karla Grado

    Major: Political Science
    Minors: Mexican American Studies; Law, Values, and Policy
    Project: The Creation of the Latine voter through political advertisement in traditional media: What does the Latine voter really want? A Literary Analysis
    Mentor: 
    Jason Casellas

    Karla is interested in Latinx political efficacy and participation. By observing voting trends compared to exit polling, Karla wonders if there is a better way to target English and Spanish dominant Latinx voters. Although considered a sleeping giant, the Latinx voter is usually seen as a single issue voter. Ignoring the diverse issues the Latinx voters care about not only adds to growing political disillusion but also contributes to the low voter turnout.

  • Stefanie Guzman

    Stefanie Guzman

    Major: History
    Minor: Education
    Project: Why Don't You Matter: Missing White Women, Black Women's Sexuality
    Mentor: 
    Richard Mizelle

    Since childhood, History has been a never-ending fascination for Stefanie. The idea of discovery and exciting facts have been one of the many reasons for this. Now, as an adult, Stefanie has a keen interest in how the past continues to influence the present. Currently, questions of race and identity formation in America is where her passion lies. Specifically, she is curious in the role of propaganda and stereotypes and their impact on Mexican-American and African-American communities throughout history, impacts that continue to affect identity formation to this very day.

  • Nicole Hart

    Nicole Hart

    Major: Sociology
    Minor: History
    Project: Racial Disparities in Black-White Education: A Sociological Conflict Theory Explanation
    Mentor: 
    A. Gary Dworkin

    I am a 22 year old Mississippi native who moved to Houston in 2017 to pursue a better education. Being someone from both a black and white family, I have seen the major differences and disparities between the education black children receive and the education white children receive. It has been a passion of mine for quite some time to explore these disparities and find out why they are there and what historical actions caused these consequences. After completing the program I hope to complete a Senior Honors Thesis, graduate and attend a rigorous graduate school to pursue future endeavors in my research.

  • Alyssa Holt

    Alyssa Holt

    Major: English, Creative Writing
    Project: Grammar and Power: The Role of the Student Consultant in the Writing Center
    Mentor: 
    Maurice Wilson

    Alyssa always knew she was interested in writing. After two transfers and a brief stint studying architecture, she found a space in the UH Writing Center where she feels fulfilled. Alyssa is fascinated by writing center theory, and she is always searching for ways to improve the services the writing center provides. Her specific area of interest is in the power structures of the writing center, including the dynamics between student and consultant, consultant and staff, and center and institution. Following the Mellon program and graduation from UH, Alyssa intends to pursue a master's degree in creative writing and continue her work with the writing center. She aims to make a career in the center, where she will be able to continue helping students express themselves through writing.

  • Mỹtrang Huỳnh

    Mỹtrang Huỳnh

    Major: Philosophy
    Minor: Creative Work
    Project: On the Moral and Aesthetic Evaluations of Artists and their Artworks
    Mentor: 
    Christy Mag Uidhir

    Mỹtrang believes a diverse academy involves reading underrepresented literary and philosophical works. She began her philosophical studies by writing her first paper on compassion, which would become a series of papers. In 2019, when she presented her last paper on compassion, she remembers this comment from a professor: "Your references to ancient Eastern and continental metaphysics and ethics are interesting. They're rare to cite. We often review analytic papers instead." This comment would become advice for Mỹtrang on redefining academic philosophy. She plans to incorporate the analytic method of argumentation with aesthetics and ethics at their intersection for her ongoing writing sample. She will then pursue a Philosophy M.A. and Ph.D. with a primary interest in axiology, language, and pedagogy, and a secondary interest in ontology, identity, and narrative.

  • Nancy Katz

    Nancy Katz

    Major: History
    Minors: Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, and Classical Studies
    Project: The Memory of Being Hidden: Crypto-Jews in the 20th Century
    Mentor: 
    Mark Goldberg

    Nancy Katz is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts degree in History. Her current research is on the Crypto-Jews in Mexico following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Nancy's combined work in Classical Studies and Jewish Studies rounds out her degree, and her participation in the Honors College has afforded her to opportunity to pursue deeper reflection in subjects that contribute to a better understanding of history. Following the completion of her Bachelor's degree, Nancy plans to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in History with an emphasis on the Early Modern Transatlantic period with a focus on Jewish experiences in the era.

  • Rana Mohamad

    Rana Mohamad

    Major: English, Creative Writing 
    Project: Black, Arab, Other: The Sudanese Migrant Woman's Articulation of Identity
    Mentor: 
    Hosam Aboul-Ela

    Rana is interested in pursuing research in various concomitant subjects. Her primary focus is on representations of the African Arab identity through literature, specifically those representations that sit in the periphery of renowned Arab works. As a Sudanese immigrant, she is particularly interested in the ways in which Black Arabs are depicted and situated in the context of the largely ethnolinguistic Arab identity. Tangential to these representations, Rana is also interested in exploring identity formation and the negotiations of power that are inherent to it. She looks to understand racial and ethnic identities as means of establishing power, and the ways in which a proclaimed identity can be used to restrict or limit marginal identities. In the future, Rana plans to pursue a PhD in African and African Diaspora studies at the University of Texas in Austin.

  • Kat Newman

    Kat Newman

    Major: Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
    Project: The Cisnormative Wall: Distinguishing Gaze's & Transgender Representations in POSE and Dallas Buyers Club
    Mentor: 
    Guillermo De Los Reyes

    Kat Newman is a non-binary activist, writer, artist, and Marxist-Feminist. They are currently a Frameworks Fellowship writer and writing their Senior Honors Thesis. The chosen topic for all of these projects, including the Mellon Scholar program, is "Transgender and Non-Binary Representation in Television and Film from 2000 to Today." Kat has a passion for many different fields of study that are all encompassed in their studies and writing - sociology, psychology, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, history, literature, art, and queer/feminist theory. In addition to their love of education, Kat is also greatly interested in social work and empowering others. They plan to earn a P.h.D. in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and to be a professor of the subject.

  • Veronica Ordonez

    Veronica Ordonez

    Major: English Literature
    Minor: Dance
    Project: When Words Fail: Narrative and Dance in Posttraumatic Stress
    Mentors: Steven Long and Teresa Chapman

    Even though Veronica grew up in a family of engineers, she found her fit in the performing arts and literature at an early age. She began training in gymnastics, dance, music, and theatre throughout her primary education and has always had a passion for reading and writing. Through her own life experiences, Veronica has garnered an intense interest in mental health and exploring self-compassion through mind-body connectivity. Currently an English major and Dance minor at UH, Veronica hopes to merge her disciplines by researching how literature and dance are processed in our brains and how they can complement each other. Her hopes are to explore how they can be used together as an alternative therapy method to help people with posttraumatic stress reengage with their minds and bodies. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she has found a particularly strong space in which to have an open conversation on the topic that seems more relevant now than ever. She hopes to apply this research toward various fields, including choreography, literary analysis, creative writing, dance therapy, and neuroscience. After her undergraduate studies, Veronica intends to pursue a career in professional performance and be involved in the publishing industry, but graduate studies in her interdisciplinary research interests is not off the table.

  • Pishoi Rafaile

    Pishoi Rafaile

    Majors: History and Interpersonal Communication
    Project: Let Us Speak! South African Women as Activists and Revolutionaries in the Anti-Apartheid Movement
    Mentor: 
    Tshepo Masango Chéry

    Pishoi's interest in African history centers on gendered history. A key source in his research will be Speak Magazine, a South African magazine created to give women a space to share their experiences to help educate and inspire women. Looking at the period between 1989 and 1994, Pishoi will highlight how women spread awareness on a variety of issues facing South African women, including apartheid, violence, and access to education. He will use different interviews, literary works, and art featured in the magazine to show how instrumental women were to the Apartheid movement, and how native South African women faced the biggest obstacle in their fight for freedom. His faculty mentor is Dr. Tshepo Masango Chéry.

  • Jaden Urdiales

    Jaden Urdiales

    Major: History
    Minor: Classical Studies
    Project: Twitterstorians: An Examination of History as It Is Portrayed on Social Media
    Mentor: 
    Andrew Pegoda

    Jaden has always had a deep appreciation for the past and the ways in which narratives about it are constructed. This appreciation for the past manifests as a desire to explore the ways that history is taught and is studied. Jaden is especially interested in the ways the internet has increased and has changed public perception of past eras. Jaden plans to continue this work into graduate school with the eventual goal of being a professor and life-long academic.

  • Jaelynn Walls

    Jaelynn Walls

    Major: Art History
    Minor: African American Studies
    Project: Contemporary Black Portraiture and the Vitality of Self-Making
    Mentor: 
    Natilee Harren

    Jaelynn Walls is an Art History major pursuing a minor in African American Studies. She is interested in exploring identity politics and the role of the black body in museum spaces. Jaelynn is currently exploring the implications of painters replacing classical narratives and figures in the western canon with black bodies in order to reframe narratives surrounding art history and African-American identity. At the graduate level, she hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in Art History with a concentration in African American Studies. She hopes to go on to conduct art historical research while curating exhibitions in major museums.

  • Naomi Zidon

    Naomi Zidon

    Major: English Literature
    Minor: Creative Work

    Project: Agnes Varda and the Reinvention of the Flaneuse: The Movement through Paris
    Mentor: 
    Robert Cremins

    Naomi has always been intrigued with movies since she was young. The fascination was in parallel with her fasicination for France and French culture. In the fall semester of her junior year, Naomi was introduced to the French New Wave, a film movement that combines her fascination for film and French culture. The summer research will involve looking at the flaneuse from the lens of the French New Wave director, Agnes Varda. The research will include a look into Agnes Varda's experience with feminism, psychogeography and space, and how these elements lead to a reinvention of the flaneuse. The research will compare Varda's reinvented flaneuse to the traditional flaneur. After her summer research, Naomi plans to extend the research into a Senior Honors Thesis.

  • Raneem Bakir Alia

    Raneem Bakir Alia

    Major: World Culture and Literature, Middle Eastern Studies
    Minors: History; Creative Writing
    Project: State of Defiance: Women’s Role In the Moroccan Liberation Movement
    Mentor: Tshepo Masango Chéry

    Raneem’s research is focused on African history with a specialized focus on Moroccan history and gender. Much of her interest comes from her own Moroccan and Palestinian heritage and the political histories of these countries. Her work within the Mellon Research Program focuses on the ways post-independent Moroccan women processed the end of colonialism as they cultivated new identities while forging new lives in Morocco and abroad. The focus of her research project will be on the ways Moroccan women define this complicated colonial relationship, which has been often described as amicable as compared to their Algerian neighbors’ violent revolution. Raneem’s work focuses on answering her questions regarding a gendered Moroccan history, as most archives she has encountered exclude women’s role in history. Raneem’s work also asks what constitutes the African archive in a broader sense—reflective of a larger argument within African history about creating an equitable archive. Her faculty mentor is Dr. Tshepo Masango Chéry.