44 Pitt students named Brackenridge Fellowship winners

44 Pitt students received the Brackenridge Fellowship from the Frederick Honors College, which provides the students with funding to complete independent research or creative work under the guidance of a faculty member. 

The students received $4,000, which allows them to use the summer to concentrate on their fellowship project. Following the summer program, the students will present their work at the Frederick Honors College Research Symposium. 

Junior film and media studies major Zain Adamo is using the fellowship to work on a documentary centered around his great aunt, the first person in his family to immigrate from the Middle East to the United States. 

“She passed away in 2016, so it’s not a typical documentary because I can’t sit down to interview her,” Adamo said. 

To get around this barrier, Adamo said he is having conversations with his family members about his aunt’s immigration and looking at archival footage from home videos. 

“I want it to explore immigration as a personal choice and to explore the idea of the butterfly effect that immigration has by rippling down through generations,” Adamo said. “As you move from your home country to a strange new place, and if you have children there, you just keep having these generations below you where their entire existence and the way they operate is because of you.” 

Adamo said he completed his first interview, and it’s given him a chance to talk to his family about the environments they grew up in and concepts he didn’t understand in his childhood. 

“This is an amazing opportunity to pursue a project you might not get to do otherwise,” Adamo said. “I think the project helps me understand myself better. It also affords me the space to think about my work in a more research-oriented way,” Adamo said. 

Senior classics and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major Luciana De Jesus is working on a classical ballet project. She said she also “enjoys” the fellowship as it allows her the opportunity to study humanities in an academic way.

“I have a collection of writing and critiques of the classical ballet world, and I’m putting it all on a blog that can be accessible,” De Jesus said. 

Growing up as a classical ballet dancer, De Jesus said the ballet community can continue to harm people by not talking about the negative associations, such as discriminatory hiring practices and harmful body images. 

“Part of my project is giving people the space to talk about ballet or think about it in ways that it doesn’t normally allow with ways like blacklisting or firing,” De Jesus said. 

Another scholarship winner, sophomore English literature and neuroscience major Donovan Allen, is working on a research paper about Black counternarratives and their place within the American canon. 

“The stories we read and the stories we tell have an immense amount of power. In this era of renewed book banning, it has become even more important to consider what we read,” Allen said. “I aim to analyze how many works of Black literature serve the purpose of critiquing coloniality in the American canon and responding to the invasiveness of coloniality and racism in American literature and education.”

Although Allen said he wants to eventually share his research with a larger community, he is only focusing on “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison for the summer. 

“Often in research, we exclude people outside of our immediate field of study, not realizing that our work can be interconnected and has the potential to influence people outside of our disciplines,” Allen said. 

During the research process, Allen said the fellowship winners complete weekly seminars in a small cohort to discuss the progress and importance of their work. 

“I’ve enjoyed being able to talk to people outside of my area of study and hear the important work other students are doing,” Allen said. 

Another fellowship winner, Julia Caterino, a senior media and professional communications major, said she also enjoys hearing from students with different majors. 

We are there to support each other, and I have already learned about my cohort’s projects and how they are planning to conduct their research,” Caterino said. 

Caterino’s project is centered around the TikTok “What I Eat in a Day” trend and the ways diet culture appears on social media. 

Caterino said her analysis will consist of American mass media from the early 20th century to today’s social media age, culminating in an essay and visual component by the end of the fellowship.

I gathered information on the demographic of users in the U.S., bookmarked videos under the trend and read the existing literature on TikTok,” Caterino said. “I have analyzed etiquette books, cookbooks and advertisements for their role in perpetuating diet culture in the early 20th century. I regularly meet with my amazing scholar mentor, Dr. Bridget Keown, to discuss our findings.”

Since her project is mostly qualitative, Caterino said she plans on asking her cohort about their personal experiences on TikTok. 

“I will gather oral histories of college-aged women who use the app so that I can get a better understanding of the reach of #WhatIEatInADay. When we were chatting, some of my cohort said that they have definitely run into these videos. I plan on tapping into this resource as much as I can and learning from them,” Caterino said. 

As a media and communications major, Caterino said she didn’t have a great understanding of research before the fellowship, but the opportunity provided her with ways to gain a better understanding of how to research non-STEM-related subjects. 

“Like so many others, I was intimidated and thought that research was just lab coats, test tubes and data. I never knew how much you could do in humanities research,” Caterino said. “I hope that my project will encourage other students in the humanities to try out research for themselves. If you have an idea, go for it!”


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