Jordan Mitchell ’19, CCS Music

“As a composer, my research is what I produce with the knowledge I end up gaining. If I didn’t change my style, I wouldn’t be developing as an artist.”

Jordan Mitchell

For the first ten years of his life, Jordan Mitchell hated music. When his mom, eager to keep Jordan out of trouble—forced him to take a guitar class, he begrudgingly complied, if only because his friends were also enrolled.

Six months later, Jordan was in love with music.

All it takes is one conversation with Jordan to truly hear the passion he has for the subject—a passion that extends far beyond just the creation of music. With three research projects, one filmed documentary, multiple albums, and years of teaching the incarcerated youth, Jordan has a musical background more befitting of a seasoned veteran in the field than a college student.

When Jordan came to Santa Barbara, he immediately became involved with research, eager to expand his knowledge in the field.

“Research is just curiosity,” he said. “As a composer, my research is also what I produce with the knowledge I end up gaining. If I didn’t change my style, I wouldn’t be developing as an artist.

Jordan’s latest song truly shows off that progression. A hip-hop comedy song, the ending of the song slowly transforms into a Mariachi piece.

The groundwork for that experimental ending was laid in part by Jordan’s research. For one of his projects, he researched the correlation between Bolero and Cool Jazz, discovering that both had similar historical roots. To confirm his suspicion, he transcribed both a Bolero and a Cool Jazz song, and found that the melodies and keys between the two pieces were indeed very similar.

From the moment he stepped on campus, Jordan has done his best to maximize every opportunity afforded to him. In the summer of his freshman year, Jordan was asked to fly to China to make a documentary about a musician there.

“That was a really big learning experience for me,” Jordan said. “They told me I made the documentary too dark, so I had three days to re-edit and change the entire tone of the film. It taught me a really valuable lesson about reading contracts before I sign them.”

Make no mistake, Jordan is an uber-talented musician, one who oozes with musical knowledge and passion. But what really sets Jordan apart is his drive—a drive that is in large part guided by his “passion planner”.

“I pretty much have a 12 hour day every single day, so I let my passion planner plan my day,” Jordan said. “I also always need to make sure I have time to write music, so I usually do that either late at night or super early in the morning.”

While Jordan loves creating music, perhaps nothing rivals his joy for teaching music. In his sophomore year of high school, Jordan’s teacher told him his grade in the class would be based on how well Jordan taught the other students for the rest of the year.

“At first, I thought he was crazy,” Jordan said. “It ended up being awesome, and at the end of the class my teacher told me he knew that I would be a great teacher.”

Jordan first started teaching in college as a byproduct of his sociological research, teaching the incarcerated youth in the Santa Barbara area about hip-hop and how it ties to racial identity. After that, he knew he wanted to keep going. For the last two years, Jordan has taught music at the Isla Vista teen center, where he loves building bonds and seeing the success of his students—even attending all of his students’ graduations.

In both winter and spring quarter, Jordan will be teaching classes in the music department based on his research. His winter class will tackle the similarities between hip hop and live orchestration, while his spring class will discuss the sociology of modern hip hop.

Despite his immense individual talent, Jordan has little interest in blowing up or touring. His long-term goal is to return to his alma mater in Stockton to teach music composition, where he hopes to impart his research and knowledge to the students.

“Teaching gives you an eternal experience, where you can see the domino effect that your teaching has on someone’s life,” Jordan said. “I love pushing students so they can reach their 100 percent.”

Feminism Rediscovered

The quintessential Victorian woman was dedicated to her home and husband, and focused solely on raising children. She was respectable and she was not involved in the public sphere. Although this ideology is characteristic of Western women of the Victorian Era, undergraduate researcher Holly Nelson found evidence of American women breaking these gender norms in the late 1800s.

In her senior thesis, Nelson discusses the representation of American women in the 1876 Centennial Exposition and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. These were the first world’s fairs to be held in the United States, and they were a chance for America to demonstrate its industrial power to the world.

In the 1876 Centennial, women were not given a space to present their work with their male counterparts. Undeterred, the women— led by President of the Women’s Centennial Committee Elizabeth Duane Gillespie— organized and fundraised to create their own building, the Women’s Pavilion, that showcased inventions by women. Their actions were controversial at the time because women were not considered a part of the public sphere.

The 1876 Centennial set the precedent for American women to have their own building in the world’s fair, so in the 1893 Exposition, Sophia Hayden, the first female graduate of architecture at MIT, designed the Woman’s Building. 

Nelson argues that despite maintaining a conservative image, in these instances, women were fighting for their right to participate in society. Primary sources that include letters of internal correspondence and speeches revealed how these women wanted to help solve the social and economic problems that plagued American society. They may not have known it at the time, but these women demonstrated feminism in its earliest beginnings.  


Student Spotlight: McKenna Lux

McKenna Lux ’15
Political Science

McKenna Lux, a fourth year political science major, explains that the most rewarding part of her research experience has been contributing and building upon areas of research that need to be further explored according to other scholars in her field.

“I started to see that [my research] is something that has value,” McKenna describes. “When I’m reading up on a specific country and see little hints of what I’m hoping to find, I realize that this isn’t all for nothing.”

Under the guidance of political science professors Dr. Lorraine McDonnell and Dr. Neil Narang, McKenna is currently studying the effects of border policy on the frequency of human trafficking in the Eastern European Union for her senior honors thesis project.

“I’m looking at this region in Europe and extending into Eastern Europe called the Schengan area. That’s the area where they’ve lifted big border checkpoints, the customs controls for their internal borders,” McKenna explains. “So anyone who has passports for any of those countries [within that area] can travel freely through another country that is within [the Schengan] area, and I’m looking at how that affects human trafficking.”

McKenna conducts her research by looking at several variables, such as the year a country joined the Schengan area, as well as how many external and internal border in each country. McKenna also created her own variable, the “McKenna” variable, which gives each country a value. Each value represents its country’s rank on a scale that explains reciprocity between human trafficking and border management policies. She then studies how these independent variables affect the dependent ones, including the number of victims identified, the number of criminals apprehended at the borders, and the number of counterfeit documents found.

McKenna explains that in current counter trafficking policy, countries where victims are taken and destination countries where victims are transported to and exploited are the most targeted, while the transit points are neglected.

“There’s definitely some research that I’m hoping to build off of,” McKenna explains. “I found just from my initial research that a lot of the trafficking criminals are able to circumvent the laws at the transit points and go under the radar and adapt to the rules. So I’m trying to get inside the mind of the criminal and see exactly what makes a border vulnerable to human trafficking, what makes it permeable and able to let trafficking thrive through those borders.”

McKenna explains that though her experience conducting research has been rewarding, it has not been easy. With the help of her mentors however, she has been able to overcome her obstacles.

“I’ve definitely hit some road blocks where I’d have a freak out and I’d think I found something that’s too similar to what I’m doing or something that goes against everything I’m trying to do,” McKenna describes. “But then I’d go to Professor Narang and have my little melt down and then he would tell me that even if something has the exact same intentions as what I’m doing, there are still ways to study it and put a new twist on things. So he has been really helpful in helping me deal with those meltdowns.”

McKenna suggests that students who are new to research to start small and try a smaller-scale independent research project prior to diving into year-long projects.

“I think the 199 course [in the political science major], most majors have and equivalent, gives you a little taste of research,” McKenna explains. “It’s a good introduction to research and you only have to commit for one quarter so I would say incoming students should try that first before taking on a larger project.”

McKenna prepared herself for her senior honors thesis project by testing the waters in research first with the University of California Washington Program (UCDC) and the 199 course, which then motivated her to pursue her research interests.

“A year ago I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation,” McKenna admits. “But [these projects] really helped me confirm that I want to keep doing research so I’m going to grad school in the fall at Leiden University in the Netherlands.”

McKenna explains she applied Leiden University because it is located in Hague, Netherlands, where many larger organizations related to her field are headquartered. Currently she is enrolled in a graduate program in which she has the option to intern at an office of her choice in Hague.

Student Spotlight: Vishaal Varahamurthy

Vishaal Varahamurthy ’16
Electrical and Computer Engineering

“Getting into research is probably the best thing that’s happened to me at UCSB,” said Vishaal Varahamurthy, a third year electrical and computer engineering major.

After learning new material that he never learned in class, forming genuine friendships with his research associates, changing his major to better suit his interests and even traveling to another country to research abroad, Vishaal’s undergraduate research experience has proven to be eye-opening for him, solidifying his aspirations to pursue research as a career.

Vishaal involved himself in research early, participating in the Summer Institute of Mathematics and Science (SIMS) the summer before his freshman year, and then EUREKA, a program dedicated to introducing first year students to a broader science community and providing exposure to academic research.

EUREKA placed Vishaal in the Palmstrøm Lab, where he worked with Professor Christopher Palmstrøm and Graduate Student Ryan Need, researching sustainable ways to utilize the conversion of a temperature difference to an electric voltage.

“Half of the Energy that the United States generates gets wasted as heat, and a lot of it is through electronic devices,” Vishaal explains. “For instance, your phone gets hot or your laptop gets hot after you use it for a long time; what we’re trying to do is recover that energy. If you have a temperature difference across a material, through a process called the thermoelectric effect, it can actually generate a voltage, which means you can turn heat into electrical energy you can use. So when your laptop gets hot, it could use that heat to help power itself if you had a thermoelectric device inside of it.”

Though the results of the study were inconclusive, Vishaal still considers EUREKA to be his most impactful research experience so far as it made him realize he wanted to pursue graduate school once he receives his Bachelor of Science degree.

“I learned what it meant to do research, what it means to be in graduate school, what it’s like working with other researchers,” Vishaal describes. “[EUREKA] opened up doors for me; I wouldn’t have gotten into [the research abroad program] or the lab I’m in now if it weren’t for EUREKA.”

After EUREKA, Vishaal switched his major from chemical engineering to electrical and computer engineering and applied to Cooperative International Science and Engineering Internships (CISEI) in China. There he aided researchers who worked on engineering nanoparticles that would be capable of attaching to specific cells and emitting visible light so that researchers could see what is happening inside the body real time.

After his experiences CSEP and CISEI, Vishaal realized that he wanted spread his enthusiasm for science to other people. When he learned his EUREKA mentor Ryan Need was starting a national organization called Ask a Scientist, Vishaal was eager to get involved.

“Ask a Scientist has chapters at a small number of universities and they push out into their own local communities where they set up tables for the general public to ask questions about science,” Vishaal said. “That’s one of the things I’m most passionate about: getting people interested in science and showing them how important it is as a member of society and as a voter.”

Currently, Vishaal is Co-President of Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Vice President of Ask a Scientist, and working on optimizing metal contact for gallium nitride lasers in the DenBaars group in the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center. Vishaal describes undergraduate research as the springboard that got him to where he is now.

“I was one of those people who didn’t really know what they wanted to do after college, and I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do if I hadn’t gotten into research,” Vishaal explains. “If there’s something you’re interested in, just ask about it! Professors love it, graduate students love it, it’s a win- win for everyone.”

Student Spotlight: Shane Stringfellow

Shane Stringfellow was admitted to UCSB as a Psychology major, but after taking a Feminist Studies course, found a passion for LGBTQ studies. Now, as a double major in Psychology and Feminist Studies, Shane performs research and work that he thoroughly enjoys. “Next thing I know, it’s my senior year and I’m applying for an URCA grant and conducting my own research,” Shane said.

With the help of an URCA grant and his grad student mentor Carly Thomsen, Shane undertook a research project on redefining the concept masculinity. “The best part about my research was being able to conduct all of the interviews that I did…it really allowed me to centralize the voices of my participants as people who are actively producing knowledge in their everyday lives.”

By pursuing his interests in psychology and LGBTQ Shane honed valuable researcher skills he’ll take with him to graduate school, including the logistics of researching, drafting proposals for grants, navigating the human subjects process, and so much more. “I’ve learned how engaging and fun conducting interviews can be, but also how draining the subsequent transcribing process can be as well,” he explained. “I’ve had to navigate my own mental health as a researcher with a topic that is very personal to myself and I’ve learned from my mentor how to show up on days to work/write even when I feel like I can’t.”

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