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University Scholars

The University Scholars Program at the University of Florida introduces undergraduate students at the University of Florida to the exciting world of academic research.  In the program, students work one-on-one with UF faculty on selected research projects, taking away an understanding of and appreciation for the scholarly method.

To contact scholars about their work and inquire about future USP opportunities at SPOHP, please contact us.

2018-2019 Scholar

Julian Cutler Valdivia

Research Project Description:

Long ago Southwest Florida had been known for having vast untouched lands, rugged Florida crackers, and Spanish merchants who traded gold doubloons for herds of cattle. If you were to visit that desolate land today you’d find the growing Cape Coral-Fort Myers Metropolitan Area, elderly retirees, and European tourists eager to exchange their euros for an affordable vacation! A number of individuals lived between these two periods of history when Southwest Florida transitioned into what it is today between the 1950s and 2000s. My research involves interviewing these people to piece together an oral history of Southwest Florida, an area rarely mentioned in the wider history of the state.

Major/Minor: History Major/Florida Teaching Minor

Academic Awards:

Dean’s List (2017)

University Scholars Program (2018)

2017-2018 Scholar

Nicole Yapp

“Labor Exploitation, Racism and Oppression: Convict Labor in Florida From 1960 to 2010”
My research focuses on the evolution of convict labor in Florida from 1960 to 2010. In addition to examining incarceration trend, various state prisons and the forms of convict labor used in Florida, I will be exploring the role that racism and labor discipline plays in the racial disparity in incarceration rates. Florida currently has the third highest incarceration rate in the nation and I hope to be able to shed more light on the reason why that is the case.

Majors: History, International Studies, African American Studies

“I am excited to be work with SPOHP because I am a history major who is passionate about civil rights and social justice. A lot of the work SPOHP does is geared toward promoting social justice and preserving civil rights and human rights history. While working with SPOHP’s Mississippi Freedom Project, I learned about the importance of oral history research and I want to help SPOHP continue to do great work.”

Academic Awards: President’s Honor Roll, Dean’s List, University Scholars Program (2017)

2015-2016 Scholar

For the 2015-2016 academic year, Dr. Ortiz advised senior Annemarie Nichols, also a 4+1 MA/BA . Annemarie presented at the student presented at the 17th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on March 24, 2016 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. In April, she will discuss her completed thesis at a departmental reception, open to family members and the public.

Annemarie Nichols

“Race Relations in Jackson County, Florida”
My project is a study of African American history and race relations in Jackson County, Florida from 1865-1945. I plan to develop a chronological structure that ties Reconstruction violence and politics to the eventual disenfranchisement and establishment of Jim Crow rule. I will contextualize my research of the rural Northwest Florida county with regional, state, and local politics and events that take place in order to begin the implications of race relations in the lives of African Americans in rural northwest Florida.

4+1 BA/MA: Oral History
BA Major: English, Minor: History

“I work with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, and I have helped conduct oral histories in Florida, Mississippi, Virginia, and North Carolina. I have a passion for researching and writing about history, and I want to use my time as a USP scholar to further develop my skills in archival and oral history.”

Academic Awards: University Scholars Program 2015-2016

  • Organizations: Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
  • Volunteer: Mentor for Students Advocating Gainesville Education at Lake Forest Elementary

2014-2015 Scholars

For the 2014-2015 academic year, Dr. Ortiz advised four SPOHP students: seniors Derick Gomez, Ellie Portillo, and Raina Shipman, and junior Jennifer Thelusma. Each student presented at the 16th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on March 18, 2015 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. On April 11, they discussed their completed thesis at the departmental reception for honors students, open to family members and the public.

Raina, Ellie, and Jennifer are all alumni of SPOHP’s internship program, and attended the inaugural Fieldwork in Folklore research trip to the Virginia tidewater region in October 2014, led by graduate coordinator Jessica Taylor. Jennifer later worked as a staff member with the Hugh Rozelle Collection at SPOHP. Derick studied abroad in Chile in 2014, where he conducted many interviews, participated in student activism, and did local research on his topic. He is also an alumni of SPOHP’s internship program.

Raina Shipman

“Lessons of Tulia: Intersection of Race, the War on Drugs, and Mass Incarceration in the 21st Century”
My research project will explore mass incarceration in the United State’s justice system by examining a case of inequality and failure of the United States’ justice system that occurred in Tulia, Texas in 1999 to analyze factors like racism and federal funding that is based on the amount of arrests made which directly affects the injustice of the United States justice system. While examining this historic event, I will analyze the factors that contribute to the rising incarcerated population in America as well as the importance of grassroots organizing in order to fix issues like the case of the “Tulia 46.” I will be examining other faith-based organizations that have emerged in the movement against mass incarceration and America’s burgeoning prison-industrial complex. I will read extensively in the secondary literature on crime, race, and incarceration, starting with Levin Law School Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown’s “The Color of Crime” (1998) and “Underground Codes: Race, Crime, and Related Fires.

Majors: Political Science, History

“I have always had an interest in history as well as legal aspects of it. While interning at the Samuel Proctor Oral History program, I became aware of how laws have shaped history whether they be just or unjust. I came across Alan Bean’s book “Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas,” and was astonished at how much injustice could be done if there is no one to shed light on the justice system. I began to wonder if injustice actions like the one in the “Tulia 46″ case happened in other places which would account for the astonishing amounts of African Americans that make up prisons.”

Research Interests: African American history, mass incarceration, law

Academic Awards: Bob Graham Civic Scholar (2014), University Scholars Program (2014), Dean’s List (2013), Phi Alpha Delta in-house Mock Trial Champion

  • Organizations: Phi Alpha Delta, Public Leadership Society, Multicultural Political Science Association
  • Volunteer: ChampionShips, Inc., Boy’s and Girls Club, Ronald McDonald House


Derick Gomez

“University for All: The Rise and Repression of the Chilean University Reform Movement, 1967-1973”
Chile currently has one of the most developed and robust economies in Latin America. This is generally credited to neo-liberal reforms enacted during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which lasted from 1973 to 1989. However, these economic policies created a massive gulf between wealthy Chileans and the rest of the nation. This is perhaps most evident in the country’s educational system. Pinochet’s government passed laws, without democratic approval, that considerably changed the structure of education in Chile. The Chilean Student Protests of 2011 sought to pressure political leaders to reform the nation’s educational system and to challenge one of the most substantial and lasting changes to Chilean society produced during Pinochet’s dictatorship. I want to research and understand this movement.

Major: History, Minor: English

“High school history is taught in a static way that is much more focused on having students memorize a couple of key names and dates rather than learning how to think critically. Studying history in the university setting has allowed me to recognize how much understanding it helps me come to grips with current, real-world situations and events. Participating in a research project is giving me the opportunity to immerse myself deeply in something that I am passionate about.”

Research Interests: Student activism, Latin America, politics

Academic Awards: University Scholar Program, Dean’s List

  • Organizations: Reitz Union Board, Fine Print, Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures
  • Volunteer: Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Libros de Familia, Southern Legal Counsel


Ellie Portillo

“From Earth to Market: Interlinking Voices of the Locavore Movement in North Central Florida”
I will be conducting a study on the proponents of local farming and distribution during the year 2014/2015. More specifically, I will be addressing how the Locavore Movement has grown in the recent years in the North Central Florida area. The Locavore movement promotes the effort to create locally based, self sufficient food economics. Further, it promotes a food economy that supports sustainable food production, processing, distribution and consumption that will enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a specific place. I will be researching why the Locavore movement has originated and developed. I also will explore the many intersections it has with trends in agriculture. These will include sustainability, community gardens and food sovereignty.

Major: Political Science

“I was an intern for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida during my junior year. During my internship, I learned first hand that oral histories were a powerful way to capture an aspect of the history and human experience that should not be overlooked. I felt that through this I was exposed to certain research methods that I could use to discover more about the origins and impacts of the Local Food Movement. ”

Research Interests: Locavore movement, oral histories, North Central Florida

Academic Awards: 2013/ Florida International Center Scholarship Recipient, 2011-13/1st Presbyterian Choral Scholar, 2012-14/ National Society of Collegiate Scholars

  • Organizations: 2014/Reitz Leisure Program at UF
  • Volunteer: Summer 2014 Asociación Sor Maria Romero Volunteer in Granada, Nicaragua, 2005-2010 Junior Volunteer for the UF Natural History Museum, 2012 Volunteer for the Democratic Party


Jennifer Thelusma

“Florida Voting Rights: Voter Suppression Done Differently”
While many regard the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the strong arm of the Fifteenth Amendment because the statute effectively eliminated poll taxes, literacy test, voter purges, and other tactics used in the south to prevent minorities from voting, there has yet to be an overcoming. Suffrage continues to be challenged by lawmakers, particularly in the state of Florida, through efforts that disproportionately affect African American and language minority voters. In my work, I examine how minorities in Florida have shaped voting laws and how attacks on suffrage affect minority turnout and the question of citizenship. In exploring these concepts, primarily through oral histories, court cases, and congressional testimony, I hope to illuminate the detrimental consequences of suffrage restrictions. These obstacles to voting rights reduce civic engagement in a republic that cannot operate without citizen participation.

Majors: Political Science, History

“Following my involvement in the 2012 Presidential Campaign, I saw the importance of restrictions on voting in Florida firsthand. This encouraged me to become involved in understanding why those changes were being made and how I can stem the flow of the gradual but direct assault on our voting rights as a constituency.”

Research Interests: Voting rights, civil rights

Academic Awards: University Scholars Program (2014), Keri Heiken Scholarship (2012), Hallandale-Aventura Rotary Club Scholar (2012-current), CLAS Dean’s List Spring 2014

  • Organizations: University of Florida College Democrats, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
  • Volunteer: Westwood Middle School ESL/ESOL Program, Charlie Crist Gubernatorial Campaign, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program

2013-2014 Scholars

For the 2013-2014 academic year, Dr. Ortiz advised two SPOHP students: seniors Génesis Lara and Joanna Joseph. Each student presented at the 15th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on March 27, 2014 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. In April, they discussed their completed thesis at a departmental reception, open to family members and the public.

Génesis and Joanna are alumni of SPOHP’s Mississippi Freedom Project research trip. Génesis was the founding coordinator of the Latina/o Diaspora in the Americas Project, and recently led the Tucson Ethnic Studies research trip in Spring 2015. She was the Executive Director for the 2013 Hispanic Heritage Month, the largest student-run celebration of Hispanic-Latino Culture in the nation, and was inducted into the Hispanic-Latino Hall of Fame at the University of Florida in Spring 2014. She currently studies at UC Davis in their History Ph.D. program. Joanna currently teaches in Broward County Public Schools.

Génesis Lara

“The Forgotten Revolution: Memory, Politics and the Anti-Colonial Struggle in the Dominican Republic, 1961-1966”
Co-Mentors: Dr. Lillian Guerra, Dr. Paul Ortiz
My research project focuses on the revolutionary period in the Dominican Republic (1961-1966). My thesis will shed light on the importance of this revolution to Latin America and global Cold War politics. As the United States feared that the Dominican Republic would become “the next Cuba”, the country struggled to shape its future after the 31 year dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. My research will explore the international support this revolution had and the different political actors who sacrificed their lives to create a constitutional democratic government in the Dominican Republic. Much of my research focuses on Dominican political theorist Juan Bosch and his influence in the revolution of Dominican Republic. This thesis is a tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their lives seeking freedom in the Dominican Republic.

Major: History, Minor: Latin American Studies

“As a history major there are few things that are more gratifying that conducting your own research. As a historian of Latina/o & Caribbean history, I gain a sense of identity and purpose that I would not have otherwise gathered. This came from learning the stories of my people. It is such an empowering experience. However there were still so many unanswered questions and conducting research is the only way to shed light on these questions. I conduct research to answer questions to help give back to my community. In my community this is the kind of knowledge that transforms and empowers. Lastly, but certainly not least I love history and everything it entails.”

Research Interests: Caribbean history, Latino/a history, African diaspora studies

Academic Awards: UF University Scholars Program, Ann Reagan Undergraduate Research Award

  • Organizations: Hispanic Heritage Month, Dominican Student Organization


Joanna Joseph

“The Legacy of Judaism in Haiti”
My project will describe the waves of Judaic diaspora in Haiti from colonial times to present.

Major: History

“I became interested in research during my history practicum course. Since then, I’ve gotten the opportunity to participate in research and truly enjoyed doing it.”

Research Interests: American South, Caribbean history, Judaism

  • Organizations: Nu Alpha Lambda CSO, Inc., Phi Alpha Theta
  • Volunteer: Samuel Proctor Oral History Program

2011-2012 Scholar

For the 2011-2012 academic year, Dr. Ortiz advised senior Sarah Blanc. Sarah presented at the student presented at the 13th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on March 28, 2012 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. In April, she discussed her completed thesis at a departmental reception, open to family members and the public.

Sarah coordinated the Mississippi Freedom Project and was a senior research staff member at SPOHP. She organized the annual MFP research trip for three years, and served as the staff coordinator for the project’s award-winning 2013 – 2014 mini-grant with George A. Smathers Libraries. For the 2014 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, Sarah edited the oral history volume, “I Never Will Forget” (PDF) for distribution at schools and reunion celebrations in Mississippi. She also managed fundraising and grant initiatives, focusing on public programs, social media and academic outreach at SPOHP. Sarah currently works at Santa Fe College as the Coordinator of the Civic Engagement and Service Office.

Sarah Blanc

“Showcase of the Disinherited: Planning the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968”

My research compares how different civil rights groups addressed rural poverty in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement, and the consequences of these responses to community development. My paper will survey legislation since the New Deal and how it impacted poverty in the United States, culminating in the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) of 1968. Originally proposed by Marian Wright Edelman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., no single anti-poverty effort before or since has reached the level of ambition found in the PPC. Through oral history interviews, I will highlight the individuals that found a voice in the PPC, who stand as proof of this comprehensive anti-poverty effort that fell apart in the midst of political chaos in 1968. I will also address the outside pressures that caused the PPC to collapse, as well as what other civil rights groups did to insulate themselves from such pressures. This final phase of Martin Luther King’s legacy crossed racial and geographic boundaries, and equipped people with the resources to become the leaders and advocates of their own communities for years to come. Indeed, the continuing social activism of individuals recently interviewed by the UF Oral History Program demonstrates that an intricate web of community organizers trained in the 1960s still exists in the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the country. It is important to revisit and understand the Poor Peoples’ Campaign to recognize the efforts of its countless foot soldiers, to separate its shortcomings from its triumphs, and to use these lessons to reexamine the issue of contemporary rural poverty and work toward a permanent solution.

Major: History

“My thesis was inspired by a 4-year collection of interviews from the Mississippi Delta conducted by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program where I work. It is important to conduct interviews face-to-face, and I applied to the Scholars program to receive the support I needed to make the return trip to Mississippi. My primary goal in writing my thesis is to show others how legislation throughout our recent history still impacts economic circumstances for people today.”

Research Interests: Rural poverty, labor Issues, race, U.S. civil rights movement

Academic and Other Awards: University Scholars Program Scholarship (2011-2012), Florida Bright Futures (2008-2012), J.M. Rubin Foundation (2008-2012), Daniel Koleos Undergraduate Research Award (2011)

  • Organizations: Red Cross Gators, Phi Alpha Theta, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
  • Volunteer: Fire Safety Foundation

For additional information, contact SPOHP, call the offices at (352) 392-7168, and connect with us online today.