College of Liberal Arts


Meet the Undergraduate Fellows

The third Cohort of Undergraduate Engaged Scholar Initiative Fellows was selected in Summer 2020.

Adaylin Alvarez

Adaylin Alvarez is a fourth-year Biology and English double major. Her academic interests and work focus on the experiences of marginalized communities, especially those that suffer at the hands of the prison industrial complex and policing by the government, in imagining a future of abolition in every sense. Adaylin is influenced by Saidiya Hartman, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler and their ability to use critical fabulation to tell stories of those who were erased because of archival racism. As someone who is an avid reader, Adaylin hopes to center her research through the ESI program around escapism – through literature and fiction – and its ability to reimagine a future of liberation centering around the liberation of Black trans-folk and their challenging of the gender binary. There is no explicit structure in advocating for abolition, which means one must use their imagination to do so.


Irene Ameena

Irene Ameena is a Plan II and Human Dimensions of Organizations senior pursuing a minor in Philosophy. She is interested in a variety of issues pertaining to power dynamics and justice, including educational equity and change of the criminal punishment system. Irene is currently working on an anthology of short stories exploring the experiences of eldest-born daughters in immigrant families and the unique perspectives and burdens held by those who fit that role in their families. She is also passionate about community service and how work in that field can be reframed to move away from paternalism and towards ethical, just solidarity. She loves working with children and wants to explore how restorative practices in education can be an alternative to punitive approaches.


Christie Basson

Christie Basson is an English and Humanities double major. She has completed a thesis in the Creative Writing Department and will be doing the same for her Humanities major which is centered around Women’s Policy. She is interested in the ways in which policy influences minority groups, especially women, and wants to focus on issues of fertility, reproduction, and population control. As a South African herself, she is especially invested in how these issues play out across the continent of Africa. Her research will focus on the way large-scale policy influences the individual and how the relationship between government and community plays out and can be influenced by different forces. Christie believes in the strength of the humanities to bridge divides and examine the biggest issues our society faces, and hopes that her own research will contribute to the quest for innovative solutions to the world’s problems.


Myrnalejandra Canales

Myrnalejandra Canales is a third year English and Iberian and Latin American Languages and Cultures double major with an Italian minor. Her research interests include the evolution of literary symbols, the result of indigenous influences on colonial literature in Latin America, literary translation, and thematic and stylistic literary comparisons between European countries. She has also worked with Project SEED and Project JUNTOS to explore the effect that cultural stressors have on Hispanic high school students; these endeavors brought about an interest in developing a program that helps Hispanic students with the transition from high school to college. She aspires to earn a PhD in Comparative Literature and to learn a couple of languages along the way.


Sasha Davy Peña

Sasha Davy Peña is double majoring in History and English Literature with a minor in Mexican American Studies. Her academic and personal interests include immigration reform, minorities in higher education, and educational programs for underrepresented students. Sasha’s honors thesis will concentrate on the experiences of African American and Latina women on college campuses. Through the Engaged Scholar Initiative, she hopes to start a Grassroots Leadership chapter at UT to raise awareness of the mass incarceration and deportation of marginalized groups across the country. Sasha wants to pursue a doctorate in History after graduating and eventually become a History professor.


Jenohn Euland

Jenohn Euland is a fourth-year Liberal Arts Honors pre-law student pursuing an English literature major, a French minor, and a certificate in Creative Writing. Jenohn believes that research is a tool for advocacy that should be used to prevent future injustice against marginalized peoples. Her past work has centered on increasing non-majority visibility, specifically those concerning suppressed black narratives and the multi-dimensional establishments of African-American communities. Her experience as an archival researcher has encouraged her to consider ethical, hands-on approaches to uplift silenced voices. She seeks to create space for minorities to establish the indelibility of their history and transformative justice for their children to come. Whether engaging with civil rights issues, education, or disabled rights, Jenohn pursues an interdisciplinary approach to problem solve. She also enjoys enrolling poetry as a means to organize and express chaotic emotion that she encounters along the way. Her graduate plans involve attending law school, publishing poetry, and serving in low income education systems. Through the ESI program, Jenohn hopes to explore new modes of system reformation to disarm racist, anti-black legislature in the United States and encourage others to diversify our collective social memory of black narratives.


Elizabeth Le

Elizabeth Le is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Digital Media. As part of her English Honors and Liberal Arts Honors thesis, she is researching topics concerning the interactions between readers, text, and conceptions of physical and cognitive spaces in Modernism. She is particularly interested in the idea of a “transforming media ecology” and how that relates to the effects of technology on present-day human environments and society. Currently, Elizabeth is looking towards design ethics and Human-Computer-Interaction programs as potential fields of graduate study. It is her hope that through her research, she can discover the patterns of digital design that uphold an ethical, accessible, and empathetic relationship with users.


Donatus Nnani

Donatus Nnani is a psychology and religious studies double major from Detroit, Michigan. After finishing a five-year career in the United States Army, he transitioned into academia starting at Austin Community College. During his time at ACC, he worked as a teacher’s assistant for the philosophy department and went on to integrate himself within the humanities department in general. His academic interests include psychology, philosophy, theology, and Civil War-era history. His research interests deal primarily with the mechanics of transition and attrition between community colleges and universities. Additionally, he is interested in the historical connections of religion and government infrastructure and how the relationship translates to the inaccessibility of services where minorities and people of color are concerned. His ESI capstone project will focus on the social, academic, and financial factors which influence the transition of students from community colleges into universities. After graduating in May 2020, Donatus will pursue a Ph.D. in religious studies specializing in the relationship between Christianity and the implementation of public policy where minorities are concerned.


Orlando Ochoa, Jr.

Orlando Ochoa, Jr. (they/them) was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. They are a fourth-year African & African Diaspora Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies student. Orlando is broadly interested in critical theory, anticolonial thought, poetics, cultural geographies, time, and questions and elaborations of what it means to be human. Under the guidance and mentorship of professor Mónica Jiménez, Orlando’s thesis asks questions of pleasure, domination, and performance in a genre of pornography that represents policing and border patrol violence. Orlando is working on another project that meditates on the violence of border landscapes and asks how we might think of the manipulation of the natural world for terror (in and as the afterlife of racial slavery and coloniality) as ecological catastrophe. Through ESI, Orlando hopes to utilize anticolonial thought to read, study, and imagine with folks in the Rio Grande Valley. As a life-long student, Orlando hopes to continue their studies to become a professor.


Estefania Rodriguez

Estefania Rodriguez is a fourth-year Latin American Studies, International Relations and Global Studies, and Journalism triple major. Her research is centered on student movements and mass mobilizations, specifically in a Latin American context. She is especially interested in the demands and strategies utilized by those organizing for prison abolition, increased environmental protections, and education reforms. Estefania’s work is driven by her belief in the strength of community collaboration and has led her to teach Austin-area students advocacy skills and civics by aiding them in the creation of their own grassroots projects. As an ESI fellow, she hopes to continue to work with local youth to broaden the scope of their education through further engagement with and understanding of community efforts to tackle systemic issues in Austin.


Khali Sykes

Khali Sykes is a fourth year Performer’s Process and Sociology major with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Khali Sykes, at her core, is a storyteller. She is an actress, dancer, dance educator, writer, director, social scientist, and choreographer. She is a general musical theater educator and the head of dance and choreography for the Pre-Professional Musical Theatre Apprentice Company at ZACH Theatre. She creates and works in the local Austin theater community and is signed with Collier Talent Agency for commercial work in film and television. As for her writing, her style falls into the speculative fiction, afro-futurism, and fantasy category. She finds world-building realities outside of her own allows her to discuss social matters and project unimagined possibilities outside of the confines of our current reality. She feels that social implications in all creative works should be critically conceived especially when the work is intended to shape an audience’s or observer’s perception of the world around them. She is heavily influenced by Saidiya Hartman, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Jordan Peele. She engages with theories of afro-pessimism, the practices of critical fabulation, and studies forms of visual thinking in literature and film. She is also interested in child development, social movements, motivation, aspects of attractiveness, and the avenues of intersectionality in terms of gender, seuxality, and race. In the ESI program, Khali hopes to examine how creatives and producers alike present, engineer, and normalize social schemas to instill particular norms, roles, values, and rules through storytelling. She is interested in the existence and evolution of engineered and naturalized portrayals of intersectional forms of blackness in film and television to unveil the prevalence of unitary and fragmented realities of blackness in the United States.


Alison Villasana

Alison Villasana (she/they) is pursuing majors in Urban Studies, Black Studies, and Mexican American & Latina/o Studies. Their research interests focus on issues relating to urban spaces and social justice, more specifically, the nuances of gentrification and the displacement of marginalized individuals. With the mentorship of Dr. Miriam Solis, Alison is currently studying the role of policing within gentrification in Austin. She intends to attain her PhD in Urban Studies and Planning and to produce scholarship based on the racial legacies embedded within urban development. Ultimately Alison hopes that her work will reform modern planning practices and lay the foundation for creating more equitable urban spaces.