Student Spotlights 2018
Jordan O. James is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Organization, Information and Learning Sciences (OILS) with a concentration in Learning Sciences. He chose to attend UNM for his graduate work specifically because of the interdisciplinary nature of the OILS program, which allows him to explore many topics of interest such as adult learning, program evaluation, and distance learning. He is currently working on his dissertation focused on two topics: 1) developing an early professional identity, and 2) improving the way design thinking is implemented in first-year urban planning courses. Developing an early sense of professional identity is essential because it allows undergraduates from any background to connect the work they do in the classroom to the interesting real-world work that professionally awaits them after graduation. Design thinking will also help undergraduates later in their professional careers by supporting their understanding that anytime they try to design something new, whether it be a community park or a transportation system, there is going to be failure. Students who learn to view design as an iterative process can conceptualize initial failures as a necessary part of the design of these systems.
This research could potentially be used in any academic field. Since the goal of an academic program is to produce students who can successfully navigate their respective fields, developing a professional identity and design thinking early in first-year undergraduate courses are pedagogical tools and frameworks that could potentially strengthen any program. While working professionally as a public health emergency management planner with the New Mexico Department of Health, Jordan came to realize a disconnect between the adult education being used in college and the adult education being used in the professional realm. He decided that he could help connect academic and professional education by enacting change at the source, i.e., first-year undergraduate courses where professional identity and design thinking ultimately begins.
Jordan grew up in the heart of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest on the Grand Portage reservation and among its surrounding communities. After attending boarding school at Navajo Preparatory High School, he enrolled at UNM where he completed both his bachelor's and master's degrees. At present, he teaches undergraduate courses at UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning while also working full time as a graduate research assistant in addition to his own full-time Ph.D. coursework. Upon completing graduate school, he would like to pursue a tenure-track faculty position in Urban, Community + Regional planning where he can implement pedagogical theories, conduct research on their application, and publish the results.
Grateful for the teachings and stories passed down from his ancestors, Jordan continues to honor his cultural heritage as an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe by instilling the philosophical traditions of knowledge and sense-making to both his students and children through lifelong learning pedagogies. Among his people, the Anishinaabe (also known as the Chippewa or the Ojibwa), is the cultural belief that the Great Spirit put everything into being, which includes the known and unknown interactions and affordances of the world around us. As a Native American academic, he makes sense of the world by understanding that he is not ‘ascertaining’ any new knowledge in his academic pursuits, but rather only making sense of what was already put into place by the creator. Outside of academics, Jordan started the Indigenous Training Collaborative in 2016 which offers contemporary cultural competency training supporting lifelong adult learners to work more effectively with indigenous communities. In his free time, Jordan devotes himself to playing the drums in an all Native American alt. rock band, 'Boarding School Dropouts', spending time with his wife and three daughters, and taking on the challenges of building their various Pinterest projects.
Carlyn N. Pinkins, (MA 2011, Georgia Southern University) is a PhD student in history with a current interest in African American History in the Southwest and 20th Century American Indian history. As she approaches her comprehensive exam, Carlyn is examining ways to contribute to the scholarship on Blackdom, the first African-American town in New Mexico. Blackdom’s founder and one of his students walked nearly 2000 miles from Georgia to New Mexico with the dream of founding a town for and by black people. The stories of Blackdom’s founders and families and their interactions with black cowboys, Buffalo Soldiers, and their neighbors reinsert people of color into narratives of the West where they were previously excluded. They also disrupt the tri-heritage narrative of New Mexico that excludes other people of color who settled here. Carlyn, who left her family and lots of friends back home on the East Coast, connected with the founder’s sense of adventure and the possibility of learning more black pioneers in the West. While conducting research, she even learned that the founder of Blackdom was from her home county in Georgia!
Carlyn chose to attend UNM to continue research on pre-AIM, local Red Power activism in the area. She considers it a real privilege to work with professors and peers with expertise and experience in this activism. UNM’s position in a borderlands area has illuminated many of the current realities for Indigenous peoples on and off-campus as well.
Although she originally planned to pursue an academic tenure-track position, her recent experiences working with the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico have steered her toward museum work. Even in teaching and research, her goal has always been to change the way people see themselves and their neighbors in our shared history. Museum work offers more creative ways of teaching and learning in settings that are open to more people.
Her best experiences thus far have come from being a graduate consultant with the Graduate Resource Center for six years, meeting new folks and helping her peers complete their degrees. These opportunities to help others do well has bolstered her own academic confidence.
When asked, “If you could change the world in some way, what would you do?” Carlyn responded she would eliminate all poverty and destroy institutions that promote inequality and division. “History doesn’t do that,” she said, “but if disseminated to people in the right ways, I believe it can change how people see themselves and their relationships to their neighbors who are different racially and ethnically. The imbalances of power that institutions promote are reinforced by the way history frames events and people for those who work in and support them.”
James Fluke, a master’s student in civil engineering, was the winner of the Fall 2017 LoboBITES competition. We here at Graduate Studies recently asked him some questions about his work, his background, and his aspirations.
GS: What is your dissertation/ graduate student project about?
JF: My dissertation is titled “Characterization of Pathogenic Bacterial Impairment Along the Rio Grande Near Albuquerque.” The Rio Grande near Albuquerque has been determined by the US Environmental Protection Agency to exceed safe levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) for recreational contact with and direct consumption of river water. While remediation strategies have been implemented in the Albuquerque area watershed to reduce the amount of fecal contamination delivered as storm runoff, reduced FIB levels have not been observed in this snowmelt-driven reach which receives the vast majority of its water from far upstream. This work aims to gather information about the density and distribution of FIB’s in soil-water interface river sediments and river water along the reach and throughout one year.
GS: Sounds like a great project! What interested you in this topic?
JF: Working as an engineering intern at the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA) exposed me to the set of regulatory bodies and frameworks that govern surface water management and flood prevention in Albuquerque. Learning that the Total Maximum Daily Load for E. coli (a surrogate for fecal contamination) in the Rio Grande is frequently exceeded and represents a point of contention between entities who could be fined for this contamination sparked my interest in management of water quality and quantity. In particular, I am interested in the complications caused by the intersection of water science and law. While water quality prediction and even assessment has many inherent uncertainties, water law requires adherence to strict codes and satisfying the demands of multiple users simultaneously and itself is based on our imperfect understanding of our water systems.
GS: What do you see as the greater application of this project?
JF: I think this subject will have increasing relevance as increasing populations and decreasing surface water resources in arid areas will demand more efficient use of our resources, straining our ability to manage the conflicting demands of quantity and quality. Understanding water and contaminant transport and how to effectively assess and manage our scarce resources is one of our most vital abilities to ensure our own persistence.
GS: Why did you choose to attend UNM for graduate work?
JF: UNM is in New Mexico and New Mexico contains green chile, which I am simply not willing to give up right now. UNM gave me the support and opportunities to succeed in my undergraduate degree, during which I became involved in field and lab work in Dr. Gonzalez-Pinzon’s group. Dr. Gonzalez-Pinzon then took me into his research group and things took off from there.
GS: What are your plans after you finish your master’s degree?
JF: I plan to continue with a doctoral degree in natural resource issues specific to Native communities in the southwest U.S. as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow.
GS: What would you say has been your best experience in graduate school so far—and what’s been the most challenging?
JF: I think my best experience during my thesis project has been gathering the input and perspective of local stakeholders who have extended experience with this issue as well as the complex system of users and infrastructure. While gathering this wealth of information has been very informative and interesting, it has also revealed the detailed complexity and history of the issues we have today which can make them seem all the more difficult to address. I would have to say finding a way to feel you have a real effect of the type you want using research is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of the experience.
GS: One last question, James. If you could change the world in some way, what would you do? ?
JF: I would magically find a way to have fruit trees and crops utilize water more efficiently and endure dessication and heat better. I would feel very tempted to tamper with human nature but the ethical implications of that seem too heavy.
Cristabelle de Souza, a doctoral student in the UNM Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, recently represented UNM at the Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS) Three Minute Thesis competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. She presented her research in a three-minute talk titled "Tackling a tumor suppressor gone rogue: can we OVARcome ovarian cancer?" Cristabelle was chosen to present at the WAGS 3MT after becoming a finalist in the Fall 2017 LoboBITES competition, part of the UNM Shared Knowledge Conference.
We recently sat down with Cristabelle to learn more about her research. With a broad smile and great energy, Cristabelle describes her graduate work examining aspects of ovarian cancer as building on other research that has focused on mutations in tumor suppressor genes. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the correlation between inherited variations at a specific codon (a sequence of three nucleotides that together form a unit of genetic code in DNA) and the acquired mutations in the tumor suppressor gene. This is a very specific and important project and one that gets at Cristabelle’s long-time interest in figuring out what causes cancer. But how did she get on this project, and more generally, here to UNM in graduate school? Cristabelle says, “I was recruited from India as a Ph.D. student to the Kansas Medical Center and began my studies in the department of Cancer Biology. After a year into my program, my thesis advisor Dr. Jeremy Chien moved to the UNM’s Comprehensive Cancer Center." Dr. Chien has been a great mentor and so she followed him to UNM. She adds, “He instills in me the desire to set high goals, I … have not looked back since.”
As for one of the highlights of coming to graduate school at UNM Cristabelle says, “Being one of the winners of the LOBO bites competition and thereafter representing UNM at the WAGS conference in Nevada were especially a great boost to my morale.” She has also received a number of grants and support for travel and has very supportive faculty and a strong bond among her fellow students. One challenge that she sees is in working closer with students and researchers across fields – like math, physics, biology, chemistry – which will benefit answering the big questions and problems of our time. When asked how she would like to change the world, Cristabelle joked, “I would grant every human being a chance to visit Albuquerque and experience great weather." But more seriously, she said, she would, “want to be part of the revolution in novel diagnostics and therapeutics that can alleviate human suffering and give people a fair chance to fight this devastating disease called cancer.”
After completing her doctoral program, Cristabelle plans to work as a principal investigator working the the field of translational cancer research. She hopes she can be "a liason to bridge the gap between bench science and clinical outcomes," helping establish a better bedside approach for precision medicine and innovative treatment.