Learning through Research

Learning through Research

Research collaborations with faculty help students hone critical skills and find their focus.

by Abe Loomis

As an institution committed to exploring and achieving justice in all of its forms, John Jay has long championed the close relationship between that ideal and the work of researchers who gather information aimed at revealing truth. “Research sits at the core of our mission to educate for justice,” says President Karol V. Mason. “The research that our faculty and students perform has lasting, positive impacts on our society. Empirical data reveals inconsistencies, highlights disparities, and has the power to open minds and change policies.”


John Jay students at the United Nations Office in Vienna
John Jay students at the United Nations Office in Vienna
It was in this spirit that Mason announced in December the awardees of the 2018-19 Inaugural Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award. Mason had directed the Office for the Advancement of Research to develop the award, which was funded through the President’s discretionary research budget, to involve students directly and comprehensively in faculty-supervised research or creative projects. Among the projects to be so honored were studies on gender equality in municipalities; diversity, inequality, and law in New York City; and an E-Portfolio collaboration related to John Jay’s Historical Memory Project (see Making Connection).


Another Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award project, led by Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures María Julia Rossi, will seek to provide encouragement and models for Latinx students by offering opportunities for them to present their own research in Spanish and English at undergraduate research conferences. “My proposal is an attempt to involve Latinx students in research activities, as well as visualizing Spanish as a language for intellectual and academic exchange,” Rossi says. “I expect to open new roads for students who had not imagined themselves as researchers for many reasons.”


Rossi, who is currently finishing a manuscript on servants in Latin American fiction and beginning a new project on translations of queer texts in Latin America during the 20th century, says she considered inviting students to assist in her own research, but soon decided to let them choose their own topics. “I thought, why should I have someone else work on my own passions?” she says. “I really like what I do, but that doesn’t mean we all need to like the same thing. So, I decided not to involve students in my own research, but to help them find their own voices as researchers and investigate their own interests.”


One student who took up Rossi’s challenge is Sylvia Perez ’21, a doublemajor in Computer Science and Information Security. After a class discussion in which Perez shared her experience with language discrimination at work, Rossi asked her if she would be interested in doing some research in Spanish. For Perez, a firstgeneration college student whose parents are immigrants, having the opportunity to use Spanish to conduct research and present her findings feels extraordinarily important.


“Growing up, I only spoke Spanish because it was the only language that my parents spoke,” Perez says. “When I was in school at four years old, it was difficult to communicate with anyone. I had to learn English basically on my own, through words and sounds. So, for me, being able to present something in Spanish, and having Spanish be seen as a language that you can use academically, is something really inspiring.”


For her Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award project, Perez is developing a study of perceptions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy announced by President Obama in 2012. Specifically, she wants to look at the ways people are using art to represent DACA recipients, or Dreamers, as well as to respond to subsequent political developments such as the current administration’s call for a wall on the southern border.


Affording students the opportunity to engage in such research has many benefits, according to Professor of Environmental Toxicology and Dean of Research Anthony Carpi. “I have been involved in research mentoring for more than two decades now,” Carpi says, “and I have seen incredible results with these types of programs. They help students to better understand what their respective field of study is all about, and they help students to understand this idea of critical thinking and inquiry.”


“This Presidential Award really helps to build relationships with students and gets them motivated to pursue career goals seriously.”
—Yuliya Zabyelina


That was the case for Zaria Goicochea ’21, an International Criminal Justice major whose Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award work with Assistant Professor Yuliya Zabyelina, an expert in transnational organized crime studies, has helped her narrow the focus of her career aspirations. In January, Goicochea and two other John Jay students traveled with Zabyelina for an intensive two-week winter course on organized crime at the United Nations Office in Vienna. In cooperation with the European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on Organized Crime and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the John Jay students, together with 30 other participants from 19 countries, not only deepened their knowledge of transnational organized crime and existing national and international containment policies, but were also invited to discuss and critically reflect on a range of cross-cutting issues relating to laws, organized crime theory, and related research methods. They are now engaged in research to generate summaries of criminal cases to help support the Sharing Electronic Resources and Laws on Crime (SHERLOC) initiative, a comprehensive database of case law, legislation, and other information that allows member countries to share data regarding the implementation of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols.


For Goicochea, the experience in Vienna was eye-opening. She was intrigued by the revelation that international criminal syndicates that sell drugs online share marketing tactics similar to those of other big online retailers, providing customerservice chat lines and even refunds for disgruntled patrons. And, she was, particularly struck by the harms caused by human trafficking, a category of crime she is now considering making the focus of her own study of law.


“I knew about human trafficking, and I knew it was a problem,” she says. “But this one professor talked about sex trafficking, and the way she spoke about it just really broke my heart. I didn’t realize how prevalent an issue it is. Honestly, the school opened my eyes as to how much of this actually happens and how easily it can happen, especially to younger children.”


As her students continue the research on their database contributions, Zabyelina has been gratified both by the relationships the Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award has allowed her to build with them, and by the enthusiasm their projects have fostered. “President Mason is doing a very good job encouraging faculty-student interactions,” Zabyelina says. “With our teaching load and research activities, there’s little time for face-to-face interaction with students outside the classroom. This Presidential Award really helps to build relationships with students and gets them motivated to pursue career goals seriously. Whether it’s the topic of transnational crime or something else, it doesn’t matter. As their professor, I want that sparkle. If I have that, I’m happy.”

In addition to the Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award projects described in our feature, three other projects are offering John Jay students the opportunity to attain critical skills and knowledge doing primary research alongside faculty ready to offer expert guidance.


Associate Professor of Public Management Maria D’Agostino and Assistant Professor of Public Management Nicole Elias are teaching Gender Equality in Municipalities. “Our student-faculty research collaboration examines how municipalities are addressing gender equality through three learning objectives that contribute to student success— developing knowledge of gender equity; building and applying research skills; and participating in mentorship and professional development for future opportunities,” D’Agostino says.


Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Yarbrough, Associate Professor of Political Science Jamie Longazel, and Assistant Professor of Political Science Jean Carmalt are researching diversity, inequality, and law in New York City. This multi-stage project allows Law & Society majors to conduct research in their own communities. “In the interdisciplinary field of Law & Society, a lot of the research focuses on working-class communities of color, but the research is almost always conducted by outsiders,” says Yarbrough. “In this research project, our students will help design and conduct the project from the ground up.”


And Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Marcia Esparza and Director of Student Learning, Academic Services and Assessment Daniel Auld are leading students in a Historical Memory Project/ E-Portfolio Collaboration rooted in John Jay’s Historical Memory Project (HMP). “HMP cultivates historical memory to memorialize victims of state-sponsored terror, raises awareness of historical injustices in Latin America and beyond, and fosters our collective human rights memory,” Auld says. “The recovery of historical memory is an antidote to ongoing historical injustices. Our goal is to teach and raise awareness of state violence and human rights crimes and empower immigrant and diasporic communities.”