Bowdoin’s 2012 Mellon Mays undergraduates


Following are brief descriptions of the projects this year’s Mellon Mays fellows will begin this summer during a five-week research program held on campus.

Emily Coin plans on researching African-American vernacular English from different anthropological perspectives, studying the language’s structure, how the speakers are marginalized and how to change these stigmas. She will work with Prof. Krista Van Vleet, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Latin American Studies Program, and plans to earn a PhD and become a professor. She said she was drawn to the Mellon Mays program because of its support of serious undergraduate research. Coin, who’s white, says, “I came across Africana studies by chance, and it was interesting for me to learn about minorities from these people’s perspectives. Growing up I learned about this history from white people’s perspectives.”


Rodolfo Edeza will research how Latino students whose parents lack the social and financial capital of the middle class succeed in American high schools. This summer he will begin interviewing Latino families in Portland, Maine, seeking answers to questions such as how school practices affect student identity, how the system may be complicit in student failure, and how a student’s identity is linked to student performance. Edeza will be mentored by Prof. Ingrid Nelson, assistant professor of sociology, and says he plans to turn his Mellon research into an honor’s thesis senior year and after Bowdoin pursue a PhD. “I feel committed to social change and making knowledge accessible to everyone,” Edeza says.


Marble Karuu will look at the social and academic challenges that ELL (English-language learners) students face at school, specifically Somali students. This summer, she plans on interacting with Somali families living in Portland, talking with the children to get a better sense of their daily school experiences. She’ll explore such ELL issues as teacher training and the processes schools use to determine ELL students’ readiness for mainstream classes, under the mentorship of Prof. Nelson. Karuu says she wants to pursue a PhD in sociology of education and become an academic. “Being a professor is about talking to other people about a topic you love every day,” she says. “That attracts me to it.”


Isabelle Rodriguez will study the influence of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on three social movements in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, and examine whether the movements were successful or not. She’ll be mentored by Prof. Gustavo Faverón-Patriau, associate professor of romance languages. Rodriguez grew up in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in the south side of Chicago, and was accepted into academically rigorous programs where she was exposed to the upper classes, causing her to confront the “incomprehensible economic differences” she saw around her. “My experiences navigating two spaces … has engrained a sense of education and hunger for truth ever since I was young; academics has become a tool to navigate borders,” she writes in her Mellon Mays proposal. “Receiving the Mellon fellowship will place me on the path to combining my two passions in life, education studies and supporting people, so that one day I can become a Latina professor, like [Bowdoin Professor Mariana Cruz], who will inspire others….”

Filiberto Vargas, “Beto,” will investigate the influence of philosopher Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959) on shaping Latin American identities and nationalist ideals, and on Gloria Anzaldúa’s more recent scholarship. Under the guidance of Prof. Enrique Yepes, Peter M. Small associate professor of Romance languages, he’ll use these thinkers’ work to delve into questions such as “how the use of language and the social construction of mestizaje (mixed European, Native, and African cultural heritage) has served as a frame to re-invent national identities during the 20th century.” Vargas writes in his Mellon Mays proposal that “to be part of the Mellon Mays program means I will be connected to a greater community of talented scholars and alumni who are working together to diversify academia.” He plans on using his independent research as the basis of an honor’s thesis, and to earn a PhD in either Romance languages or Latin American studies. “I want to defy expectations and become a great scholar,” he writes.