The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Faculty and Students Team Up for CJLS/SBS RISE Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Friday, October 28, 2022

During the summer of 2022, three students participated in a new program developed by the UMass Amherst Center for Justice, Law, and Societies (CJLS) and SBS RISE (formerly the Academic Fellows Program). The CJLS/SBS RISE Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship paired SBS RISE students – undergraduates who identify as first-generation, BIPOC, and/or from low-income families – with faculty members from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) to work on original research projects. The Fellowship offered $5,000 in summer funding to support the research work of the faculty-student pairs.

Jamie Rowen, associate professor of legal studies and political science and the founding director of the Center for Justice, Law, and Societies, explained how this inaugural Fellowship set a high bar. “Through the inspiring efforts of the students, Dr. Griffin-Fennel, and the three faculty, we surpassed our ambitious goal to provide not only transferrable research skills and experience, but potentially life-long mentoring relationships between professors and students.

Participants had the chance to work on various projects, providing exposure to research design, methods, and the publication process. Laurel Smith-Doerr, professor of sociology and principal investigator of the UMass ADVANCE program, paired up with Nicole Ojugbana, managerial economics ’23, to study faculty equity in access to centers and institutes at UMass Amherst. The partnership was so successful that Nicole continues to work as a funded research assistant on the project.

“Working with Nicole as my research assistant this summer has been a terrific experience,” says Smith-Doerr. “I have learned a lot from her perspective along the way – she always has insightful and excellent questions on everything from how to keep data confidential to what variables will be the most important for our final analysis and report.”

Cedric de Leon, professor of sociology and labor studies, paired up with Xavier Aparicio, political science and legal studies ’25, to examine the contributions of Black labor organizations in the growth of interracial solidarity among Black and White labor organizations in the 1910s and 1920s. Aparicio’s research has contributed to Professor de Leon’s upcoming book, “A Constant Sorrow: The Black Freedom Struggle and Organized Labor in the United States.”

Konah Brownell, political science and journalism ’23, spent the summer working with Kelsey Whipple, assistant professor of journalism. The pair explored how American journalists feel their union membership influenced their lives, outlets, and work. Like Smith-Doerr, Whipple notes that the partnership positively affected her research.

“Working with Konah on our study of new media unions made me think about the project and our research goals in a new light, “ says Whipple. “Her insightful suggestions helped improve the scope and argument of our research, and it was wonderful to see how much she grew as a collaborator and a researcher during our short summer together.”

Student participants noted that the program not only provided research experience but also opened their eyes to post-graduation possibilities that they had not previously considered.

“It was an incredible experience for me. I feel like, before this opportunity, I did not see myself as a researcher,” says Brownell. “Now I’m like, ‘Oh, I could do research. I could apply for grad school.’ I feel like everything I gained this summer could help propel me into whatever career I choose to go into.”

“What we were able to accomplish through our students and professors' mutual curiosity, enthusiasm for research, and ability to learn from one another and grow together has been truly uplifting,” says Felicia Griffin-Fennell, sociology and director of SBS RISE. “I am grateful that SBS RISE could work together with CJLS on such a wonderful opportunity for our students. Dr. Rowen has been such an amazing colleague throughout the planning, launch, and execution of this initiative. I look forward to the summer research assistantship’s future.”

Faculty and students interested in participating in the 2023 CJLS/SBS RISE Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship are invited to an upcoming event on November 4, 12:00-2:00 p.m., located in the Campus Center, room 804-08. Participants in the 2022 Fellowship will be on hand to share their experiences and answer questions.