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Student Spotlight – Melissa Hernández


Melissa Andrea Hernández

Monmouth College, French and international studies

GSEF Fellow, Cohort 1
Research Placement: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"I learned how much fun research can be if you really dig deep and ask yourself, "What do you love?""


How would you describe yourself in a few sentences?

I spend most of my free time watching spoken-word poetry, binge-watching Netflix, watching makeup and bullet journaling YouTube tutorials, and dancing salsa as much as possible.

What kind of research are you working on this summer? Who are you working with?

This summer, I was working with the amazing Dr. Sandra Ruiz at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. My project was on tracing the influence of Black liberation movements in the Americas and how these movements had/have an influence on Afro-Colombian poetry by women. In addition, I translated a few poems, not only in order to demonstrate to an anglophone audience the similarity in themes of the literary movements, but also to share the beauty, strength, and resilience that these women express.

What have you learned so far?

Over the summer, I learned how much fun research can be if you really dig deep in yourself and ask yourself, "What do you love?" (my mentor asked me this in our first meeting). I learned that in Urbana-Champaign everything is a 20-minute walk away, but it gets better because you get used to it. I learned that academia is competitive but it's better to focus on your community, your work, and your health (self-care is key!). I would say that, most importantly, I learned that I am so intelligent and so capable of doing graduate-level work, no matter what other forces or people say or imply. You can do it because you are doing it. Do not be afraid of your own brilliance! (my mentor also told me this.)

What part(s) of this experience will benefit you most? How so?

This experience showed me what it takes to do graduate school work. A lot of the work that you do is about your own timeline, research schedule, and your study habits. Your relationship with your mentor is incredibly important, especially when discussing a research topic. Many graduate students that I met over the summer emphasized that it's important to maintain a balance between your research and what keeps you at peace in order to produce your best work but to also keep yourself happy. The biggest part of this experience that I will benefit most from is getting to know who I am and how that relates to the research that I want to do in the future. Overall, I learned that it's incredibly important to be in touch and rooted in who you are when doing research.

What do you want your faculty mentor and/or university to remember about you?

I want my faculty mentor to remember that she pushed and guided me to be bold and self-assured. I want my university to remember that I walked in unsure but I walked out 100% certain: I am brilliant.

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