During a year of studying abroad, Nancy Quintanilla began questioning how national and racial identity influenced how one defines “home.” Upon her return, she began working with Professor Rodrigo Lazo examining the role of language and belonging in the works of U.S. Latina writers. Through her research, Nancy not only found a passion, she also developed a profound appreciation for academia as an institution of change and innovation. Nancy’s received the 2010 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research from the School of Humanities, recognizing the passion and dedication she has brought to her undergraduate research.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My research with Professor Rodrigo Lazo through the Department of English examined the use of bilingualism in the works of two U.S. Latina writers: Julia Alvarez and Judith Ortiz Cofer.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I became involved in research when I returned from my study abroad trip in Fall 2008. After taking a course titled, “Land and Identity in South African Literature” at the University of Cambridge, I began questioning how the construction of national and racial identity interrelated with the individual’s connection with “home”; in other words, how did one define “home?” After multiple online searches, I discovered that within the works of Julia Alvarez and multiple U.S. Latino/a writers, language and belonging were pivotal in the construction of a contemporary U.S. migrant consciousness. As a bilingual speaker and the daughter of migrant parents, I knew this was my area of research interest and contacted Professor Lazo for help.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research definitely made my undergraduate study an exciting and completely different experience. Not only did I find a passion, but I also developed a profound appreciation for academia as an institution of change and innovation. The long hours I spent at various libraries and in front of texts definitely showed me that one must have dedication and commitment to research in order to produce thought-provoking arguments. I found myself very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience what my professors and various academics do for a living. I also found myself maturing as a student and budgeting not only my time, but the amount of interest I invested in my classes and in every text I have opened since the completion of my project.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

One of my favorite experiences was the Independent Study course I took with Professor Lazo as a preliminary approach to research. Not only was I in charge of establishing the texts to be read, but I also had to come up with the critical questions and answers I needed for my research project. No longer was I going to read for pleasure and rely on the professor to ask questions and stimulate discussion, I was going to steer the course and establish critical arguments. Although it was not easy in the beginning, I discovered that independent study challenged me as an individual to excel beyond my comfort zone and to become a determined person. If I did not have the passion or the interest in the work I developed, I would not have succeeded in the “preliminary” steps of research. I thank Professor Lazo for the multiple opportunities he gave me to mature before I actually embarked and fully committed myself to this amazing project.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

My future plans are to attend graduate school, with the ultimate purpose of obtaining my Ph.D. in English Literature. Being involved in research has been the ultimate test and preparation for Graduate school and for my increased self-awareness. I now know that writing proposals, obtaining stipends, searching for articles and journals, and editing papers multiple times requires a large amount of time and dedication. Not only do I have the experience of research to guide me when I enter graduate school, I also have had the opportunity to work with various scholars who have influenced me to develop my own scholarly skills. I am prepared not only to confront the difficulty of writing and publishing critical works, but also to think for myself.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

My advice is plain and simple: do it. Whether research is or becomes a passion, or whether the individual detests it, there is nothing that compares to the rigorous experience involved in innovative thinking. It is both self-fulfilling and humbling to be able to see the finished product and to know that one is capable of doing whatever one believes in. There will be times where expectations are met and exceeded and times when the results do not mirror anything one had in mind; however, at the end of it all, the hard work pays off. There are no regrets, but many lessons learned.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '10 Nancy Quintanilla
Nov. '10 Arya Saidi
Oct. '10 Justina Louise Ryan
Sep. '10 Chana Millie Lein
Aug. '10 Jessica Vaughan
Jul. '10 Deanna Shiley
Jun. '10 Diana Vu
May. '10 Aishwarya Sridharan
Apr. '10 Christina Loo
Mar. '10 Kelsey Meagher
Feb. '10 Jennie Thuy Ho
Jan. '10 Sandy Liu