Linguistics Research on Latino Culture

Jane the Virgin is a romantic comedy-drama telenovela that has received critical acclaim for its humor, storytelling, and, most importantly, for its multifaceted portrayal of Latino culture. The show has garnered many fans, one of them being UCSB undergraduate Victoria Melgarejo, who decided to study the show’s linguistic representations of Latinos.

Melgarejo appreciated the show’s complex representations of Latinos as opposed to typical stereotypes. She wondered what exactly about the show was different, and how these differences were represented linguistically. She found that, in the show, a character’s decision to speak Spanish was related to the character’s age and the situation that he or she was in.

Along with her interest in language representation in the media, Melgarejo is interested in language attitudes, which are personal beliefs about a language that are often similar throughout a community. Her current research focuses on English monolinguals and bilingual Latinos and how they see Spanish as a marker of cultural identity. This research has three parts: a survey, individual interviews, and focus groups.

Her findings from the survey indicate that most participants believe that Spanish is crucial in order to identify as Latino. This contradicts the responses from the interviews, where most participants said that knowing how to speak Spanish is important for communication, but not necessary to identify as Latino.

Melgarejo found correlations between community and siblings, and the likelihood of speaking Spanish. Younger siblings were less likely to speak or understand Spanish than older siblings, and a lack of other Spanish speakers in one’s community negatively affected one’s ability to speak Spanish.

Her research revealed insecurities from both monolinguals and bilinguals. Monolinguals felt insecure about not knowing any Spanish. Bilinguals worried that their Spanish was not as good as their parents, that they did not know all of the words in Spanish, and that they speak English with an accent.

Melgarejo’s next step is to conduct focus groups for bilingual and monolingual speakers to further discuss Spanish as a marker of cultural identity within the Latino community, and to have a conversation about common harmful stereotypes and linguistic discrimination.


Fighting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria With Viruses

Bacteria. The single-celled organisms responsible for a range of diseases from food poisoning to the bubonic plague. Modern medicine, especially antibiotics, has allowed us to survive these bacterial diseases. Unfortunately, antibiotics are not working as well as they used to because bacteria are getting better at getting us sick.

The growing problem with using antibiotics, which are the first line of defense against infections, is that bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Due to the growing prevalence of pathogenic diseases, scientists are scrambling to come up with alternatives to diagnose and treat bacterial infections and diseases.

Undergraduate researcher, Colin Kim, is familiar with this problem, and he is working to help solve it. As a researcher under Chemistry Professor Irene Chen, Kim studies bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. Although there are more bacteriophages on Earth than there are bacteria, the vast majority are uncharacterized. The Chen group aims to characterize bacteriophages so that they can be engineered to treat bacterial infections.

A typical wound contains a diverse community of microorganisms, and the Chen group hypothesizes that it contains bacteriophages. In order to figure out the different types of bacteriophages, you first need a way to collect them. Last summer, Kim helped develop a method of swabbing human skin to collect bacteriophages and determine the amount of bacteriophage present.

Kim is currently collaborating with researchers to develop a diagnostic tool to detect specific types of bacteria. Because bacteriophages have a high affinity for the types of bacteria they infect, researchers can chemically modify the bacteriophage protein coat so that the bacteriophage will fluoresce, or glow, when it binds to bacteria.

Kim uses the bacteriophage M13, which is well-studied and has a strong affinity for E. Coli. By modifying different parts of the M13 protein coat, researchers can make it have a high affinity for a different bacteria such as Methicillin-Resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA), a pathogenic bacteria that is resistant to higher order antibiotics.

Studying bacteriophages may lead to new developments in how we treat bacterial infections and diseases.

The Dangers of Environmental Activism in the Philippines

Environmental violence.

Internet searches of this term produce several, very different definitions: environmental disasters that cause damage to human life and property, the environmental causes of human violence against each other, and the exploitation of humans and the environment. Another definition, one that does not come up in these searches, is the violence against environmental activists by a corporation or a government. This is the subject that UCSB undergraduate, Michelle Sevilla, chose to research under the guidance of Political Science Professor Matto Mildenberger.

To collect data for her research assistantship, which focuses on environmental violence in the Philippines, Sevilla used EJAtlas, an online resource that documents social conflicts surrounding environmental issues around the world. This data set provided detailed testimonies of Filipino/a citizens that had been harmed by corporations or the government because of their activism. This resource is particularly useful because these human rights abuses are often not addressed by the government and not investigated by the police, creating a climate that justifies the violence against these activists.

Sevilla described one of the many violent situations she had to review:

This… eleven year old boy was en route to school with his dad- [who is fighting] for his environmental rights, his indigenous rights to his own land- when he was killed en route to school because he and his father were ambushed… I feel all of those situations very empathetically so it hurts… It’s a profound sadness and weird reduction of people’s complex, tragically ended lives into an Excel sheet.

It is not often that an undergraduate research project is so emotionally taxing, and Sevilla credits the honest communication with Mildenberger that reassured her and encouraged her to move forward with this topic. The next step in her project is to contact environmental organizations in the Philippines to learn more about how the organizations and activists are dealing with these conflicts.

For more information on this subject, you may contact Michelle Sevilla at:

Conference Call: Putting Academic Research into Practice

By: Chelsea Brandwein, Erika Carlos, and Nastacia Schmoll

When you submit your Statement of Intent to Register at UCSB, you’re signing an intellectual covenant with a top public research university. You’re promising the UCSB community that you will engage academically (which means, yes, you’re going to wake up at 8 a.m. to go to office hours!), you will act in accordance with university policies, you will bleed school spirit, and you will cross the stage at graduation. But you’re also promising to expand the minds of your professors and peers. You will not just be a sponge soaking up new insights; you will contribute to a pool of developing knowledge.

At a research university like UCSB , Nobel laureates are name-dropped daily, faculty members teach from textbooks they wrote, and your classmates might be one peer review away from a journal article. You aren’t required to get involved in academic research, you’re just sort of nudged.

Enter All Worked Up: A Project About Student Labor, the research project the three of us have been working on this year. In collaboration with lecturer and postdoc Heather Steffen, we are conducting videotaped interviews with UCSB student-workers, offering them the chance to reflect on their duties on the job, their working conditions, any exploitative experiences they have had (and boy have they had them), as well as student debt, academics, and work-life balance. Our goal is to contribute knowledge about student-workers lives’ through academic research, public writing, an online space with interview videos at, and eventually a documentary film.

Our work recently took us to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Portland, Oregon. CCCC is a national academic convention where scholars, teachers, and researchers gather to discuss a plethora of topics within the humanities with a focus on writing and composition. One component of the convention is the Undergraduate Research Poster Session, which gives student researchers the chance to create a poster about our project and discuss it with curious convention-goers for about two hours. To prepare for the session, we submitted an abstract of our project, had it reviewed and accepted, and peer edited our poster online with other presenters.

In this post, each of us reflects on her experiences at CCCC, and we advocate for humanities students making research posters (research posters aren’t just for scientists!) and give some advice to students thinking about presenting at a national academic conference.

Erika’s Take

When you’ve been working on a large, collaborative research project for most of the year, the opportunity to finally present your work is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Simply being accepted for a poster session means that your research efforts are not only being acknowledged, but that there are people who are interested in what you do and what you have to say. This in itself is incredibly motivating, since it makes all the time and effort you put into your research feel worthwhile and important.

As far as presenting for the first time, since our project has many components and is exploratory in nature, it was helpful to have a deadline to look forward to and push us to solidify our project’s goal and preliminary findings. Presenting also helped us to think about audience within a more specific context (scholars in writing and composition), which lead us to adapt our work accordingly, like giving our poster the title “Writing the Lives of Working College Students.”

Presenting at CCCC also meant that we could practice our project’s “elevator pitch.” By gauging the interest and reaction of those unfamiliar with our research, we can adjust our pitch in hopes of communicating our research more effectively. As someone who is generally nervous about public speaking, the poster session built my confidence in my knowledge in and ability to talk about our research, which is a skill I can now carry forward in future presentations.

To me, attending a national conference meant that I was able to participate and contribute to academic culture during my time as an undergraduate. It gave me confidence as a researcher and scholar and motivated me to keep the door open to future opportunities within academia. Most importantly, it exposed me to the breadth of incredible work within the humanities and how that research can have a lasting impact within both the academic and civic communities.

Chelsea’s Take

Going to another state or even another part of your own state for a conference is one of the best ways to fulfill that New Year’s resolution of finally getting out of your comfort zone. Traveling makes you feel a little out-of-place, a little uncomfortable, and a little sleep-deprived. Sometimes you do your best work when you are a bit uneasy and displaced, though. I found that being in Portland made me more adventurous and more willing to step out of my bubble. I was introducing myself more, I was allowing myself to be less intimidated about talking to people who are smarter than me, and I was, for perhaps the first time, really acknowledging and feeling proud of my contributions to the All Worked Up Project.

My advice is to really take full advantage of your conference. Chances are you paid to be there, or your school paid for you to be there. Make the most of it! Talk to more people than you would normally talk to and meet different people than you would normally meet, exchange email addresses, ask fellow conference-goers about their research, be prepared to answer questions about yours, and always be ready to accept suggestions for bettering your research or to jot down ideas for further research and writing.

If you’re not too jetlagged and you’re not on information overload, make an appearance at conference-sponsored dinners and other social functions. These are excellent opportunities to network with academics and peers in an informal environment. Our team attended a casual dinner at a local pizza joint and had an opportunity to meet fellow undergraduates and exchange ideas over a slice of pepperoni.

Get your conference schedule as early as you can (these printed schedules can be pretty hefty—CCCC’s was a bound book of over 450 pages) and highlight panels/presentations that sound most interesting to you. Try your hardest to go to one or lots more than one! They are low-stress—you do not have to participate if you don’t want to—but you get to expand your mind and learn how academics approach and execute their own research presentations.

Make it a point to attend the keynote speeches. One keynote speaker at CCCC this year was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, and it was an absolute honor to hear his moving and empowering talk about the changing American identity in the age of Trump.

Overall, attending an academic conference is the icing on the layer cake of undergraduate education at a research university. Go to one! Show the rest of the academic world what the budding minds at UCSB can do.

Nastacia’s Take

I graduated from UCSB with a double major in English and Slavic Studies about three years ago. Having graduated, the world of research seemed lost to me. But now, although I’m not a student any more, I have become an “independent scholar”—something I didn’t think was possible just nine months ago before the All Worked Up team invited me to join them. It was an opportunity to research something I care about and do something I thought I had missed out on.

Factors that deterred me from pursuing research as an undergrad included not only the time and perceived inaccessibility, but also my majors in the humanities. When I thought of research I imagined bubbling beakers, chalkboards covered in equations, and white lab coats. Even most of what you read about undergraduate research comes from the STEM fields. Through college, the closest I got to research was the occasional paper that I worked on individually and didn’t continue to explore after submission.

Working with All Worked Up and presenting at CCCC is a different story. The goal isn’t to get a good grade or to divide, conquer, and submit as soon as possible. It’s to investigate a question or problem, combining our team’s skills, expertise, and experience, and to continue that investigation as far as we’re able. With coursework, you turn in a paper or present in front of the class, and then maybe get feedback from your professor. With a poster presentation, you continually explain your research, answer questions, and receive feedback in an interactive way that sparks conversation and influences your project. Then you go to panels, presentations, and other posters, ask questions, and give your own insight and feedback, perhaps contributing to other people’s research. You feel like you are actually participating in the exchange of ideas and collaboration that academia is supposed to promote. It was the first time I truly felt like I was a part of the academic community, and I only wish that I had experienced it sooner.

Our Advice

  • Love Your Research: Investigating something that genuinely fascinates and interests you not only fuels your motivation, it also helps you present it in a more enthusiastic and engaging way.
  • Dream Big: If you want to see something done, figure out how to make it possible.
  • Collaborate: Teamwork makes the dream work! Whether you’re a part of a research team or just have a really great faculty mentor, having someone to toss around ideas with is priceless, and everyone brings their own strengths to the table.
  • Network: For a conference, bring a business card or a handout with your contact information and details about how to follow your project. If you’re building a website or maintaining a blog, provide the link. If you’re posting updates on social media, provide your account names. Rack up those followers!
  • Represent: Remember that when you are at your conference, you are representing UCSB and everything it stands for. Present yourself as professionally as possible. A lot of people still hold onto the stereotype that UCSB is a crazy party school with unfocused students who spend their days day-ging and their nights raging. Prove them wrong!
  • Do It!: When you look back on your undergraduate experience, presenting research will be one of your top highlights. Get to know your professors, see what they do, ask questions when a topic sparks your curiosity, and follow it.

Chelsea Brandwein is a senior Classics major and a Professional Writing minor with a specialization in Professional Editing. Erika Carlos is a senior double major in Comparative Literature and Psychology, who has also completed a Professional Writing minor with a specialization in Multimedia Writing. Nastacia Schmoll is a UCSB graduate who currently works as a writing tutor at CLAS and SBCC and as a freelance writer, editor, and independent scholar. The team is grateful to the Raab Writing Fellows Program in the UCSB Writing Program and to the UCSB Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) Grant program for their support of the All Worked Up Project.


Sharing My First Research Conference Experience with The Highlanders

UC Riverside and I go way back. Ten years ago, I was an elementary school boy attending a cousin’s PhD graduation commencement at UC Riverside. Now, for the first time in ten years, I come back to UC Riverside to experience in what many researchers do yearly – presenting at a research conference.

SCCUR – Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. It was their Fall Symposium, and I was eager to share the research I have done this summer. As I arrived, I was not anticipating any food to be catered until lunch, yet a simple breakfast was served. This and especially chugging down a cup of OJ were things I needed to kickstart the day.

After checking in, I sat in an auditorium filled with unfamiliar faces. Introducing myself to who I thought were strangers around me slowly became what was like conversations with my lab mates. We conversed about our research, scientific backgrounds, and undergraduate life. The hall gradually declined in volume as a SCCUR Board Member Dr. Jack Eichler welcomed us and officially commenced the conference. Dr. Susan Wessler, the plenary speaker, soon came up and gave a talk about her research on transposable elements. I was intrigued by learning that a big chunk of our genome consists mostly of these transposable elements that have no apparent use, yet research is finding out that they actually do. Her lab tries to decipher the uses of transposable elements, using some similar techniques which I surprisingly know of. That talk had definitely struck an accord with me, © 2016 JUSTIN SU. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.instilling a drive within me to find out more about transposable elements and connect the dots to what I already know.

After listening to presenters give their talks and eating lunch with our two fellow Gorman Scholars, it was showtime. The poster was up; I was hydrated; and people started shuffling into the room. Having a spot near the entrance to the room definitely got many to take interest in my poster. I was enthused to share with everyone interested in my poster, especially those who knew a lot about microtubules. Whenever there was downtime, I would take the opportunity to learn what my neighbors’ projects were and what they researched. Overall, I was mainly busy throughout the entire session – introducing myself, running down key points throughout my project, and even networking with those around me. The environment itself was lively, yet so nostalgic considering this was my first research conference experience.

Reinforcing my point in my first blog post, you do get the recognition, the food, the drinks, and especially the connections. Driving away from UC Riverside was a bittersweet moment, where I felt happy that it happened and sad that it was over. I learned a lot from SCCUR, and I encourage any undergraduate researcher to experience presenting at a research symposium. In addition, this year’s research experience has been extremely educational, and it sure was a summer well spent. I truly thank CSEP for supporting me and my project this year, and I cannot wait to present at the next research conference that will have me.