Student photo collage

Challenge Accepted

With a focus on enhancing the undergraduate experience, Tulane encourages students to challenge themselves.

Research opportunities for undergraduates abound at Tulane — and are what set the university apart. Tulanian interviewed five students, among the many, who are pursuing research projects. They sometimes embarked on their projects without knowing what to expect or whether their efforts would lead to actual identifiable results. They reported that their findings often surpassed the boundaries of their investigations: increased confidence in their own abilities and a love of hard work.


Raven Ancar
Raven Ancar is studying standards of beauty worldwide.


Raven Ancar

When Raven Ancar, a first-year student in the School of Liberal Arts, whose hometown is New Orleans, attended a summertime youth leadership conference in Uganda last year, she noticed that the topic of beauty repeatedly came up among the young women she met, many of whom were from Uganda and Rwanda.

But it wasn’t small talk about hair and makeup — it was about how a standard of beauty can contribute to a woman’s sense of self-worth, affect her agency in life and influence the opportunities that could come her way. The problem was, the beauty standard seemed to reflect a European ideal rather than an African one, promoting hair straightening and skin bleaching among women of color, in order to approximate whiteness.

“They would tell me how it’s hard moving through the ranks just because of your skin tone,” Ancar said, adding that she had heard African-American women echo the same concerns — missed opportunities because of subtle racism. “I never thought it would be the same in Africa, but it is.”

Curious, Ancar, who is majoring in psychology, sociology and Africana studies, conducted a content analysis of models in mainstream magazines from the United States as compared to Uganda. With guidance from Paula Booke, associate director of the Center for Academic Equity, Ancar rated models for skin tone and hair texture — and found that the American magazines tended to be more inclusive than African magazines.

Ancar hopes to publish her research or speak about it at other universities, starting a dialogue about beauty standards worldwide.

Juliet Chin
Juliet Chin Is making a documentary about the Chinese community in Jamaica.


Juliet Chin

Juliet Chin, from South Pasadena, California, had heard her father, who is a descendant of Hakka Chinese immigrants to Jamaica, discuss his childhood on the island and immigrating to the United States at age 13. Now, she is making a documentary about his experiences.

A Chinese community has lived in Jamaica since around the 19th century, Chin learned. Many of those individuals arrived as servants for the British who colonized the island.

Chin, who is a senior majoring in digital media production and anthropology in the School of Liberal Arts, had never met any of her Caribbean relatives, nor had she ever visited Jamaica. But exploring her Jamaican roots appealed to the Newcomb Scholar, who developed the documentary as her senior thesis. Allison Truitt, associate professor of anthropology and SLA’s undergraduate studies coordinator, served as Chin’s adviser, and Chin received additional help from Sabia McCoy-Torres, assistant professor of anthropology and Africana studies.

“When I took anthropology classes and different film classes, the idea for the documentary came up as a way to merge my two majors,” she said.
It also was a way to explore a side of her family that she did not know much about.

Chin said the documentary evolved as she worked on it. “It was looking at the history, and that’s what it originally started with, but then it became more about why people left, national identity vs. ethnic identity, and culturally merging different groups and what that looked like to different people.”

Chin traveled to Jamaica with several relatives, including her sister, many of whom helped her with filming.

“I had a lot of help, which I was thankful for,” she said. “It became a family project.”

Sophia Kalashnikova
Sophia Kalashnikova Horowitz is writing a senior honors thesis on the history of Turkology during the Soviet era in Russia.



Sophia Kalashnikova Horowitz

A translation project for Yigit Akin, associate professor of history, led history major Sophia Kalashnikova Horowitz to her research project. In the process of translating a Russian-language book, Horowitz, who speaks Russian fluently, became curious about the lives of Russian scholars under Josef Stalin.

A School of Liberal Arts student, whose hometown is New Orleans, Horowitz is now writing an honors thesis on Turkology — also known among Russian scholars as Orientalism, the study of the modern history and culture of Turkey and the Turkic peoples. Last year, with support from the Jean Danielson Scholarship Fund, she traveled to St. Petersburg to review valuable manuscripts at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Horowitz’s goal, she said, is “to examine the questions: ‘How did communism exacerbate Orientalism or Orientalist perspectives, or to the contrary, did it help scholars see the East in a different way? How did the relationship between academic Turkology and the Soviet state develop?’ My research into the documents has helped me formulate some answers.” 

She added, “I am interested in ideas about ‘otherness’ and ‘foreignness,’” including issues of nationality, ethnicity and the rights associated with them, which are still being discussed today much as they were in the early 20th century.

Horowitz said she benefits from the mentorship of Department of History professors, including Akin, her thesis adviser, and Associate Professors James Boyden and Samuel Ramer; other professors also have worked with her individually.

“There are a lot of people I’m grateful to,” she said.

Horowitz is now a Fulbright semifinalist. She graduates in May and has been accepted to five fully funded PhD programs so far, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities, as well as the universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Mostafa Meselhe
Mostafa Meselhe is developing imaging techniques to identify pain pathways in neurons.


Mostafa Meselhe 

A junior majoring in neuroscience and biomedical engineering, Mostafa Meselhe, from Lafayette, Louisiana, has been involved in multiple research projects. He currently works in the lab of Associate Professor Michael J. Moore in the School of Science and Engineering.

“What sold me on research was that itch of curiosity, seeing the results of an experiment and moving forward from there,” Meselhe said. “I enjoy putting in the work to get those results.” 

At a summer internship at Duke University, Meselhe worked to find ideal thickness of electrodes for recording electrical impulses in the brain. He presented that research at a conference in October, for which he received a Newcomb-Tulane College Dean’s Grant.

In Moore’s lab, Meselhe has his own project that falls under the umbrella of his professor’s research: developing 3D neuroanatomical in vitro models of the pain pathway and methods to quantify neuronal activity and synaptic transmission. 

“We were discussing developing a project for me to take on for my thesis and master’s thesis,” Meselhe said. He and Moore settled on using imaging techniques to identify pain pathways in neurons. Now that project is more than a third done, and the results so far support similar studies.

“We’ve never done this type of imaging work at Tulane,” Meselhe added. “Now the next step forward is to take what has been done and experiment with applying it to multidimensional models.”

Hailey Mozzachio
Hailey Mozzachio has conducted a content analysis of depictions of LGBT characters in TV shows.


Hailey Mozzachio

When School of Liberal Arts junior Hailey Mozzachio received a grant from the Center of Academic Equity (CAE) that would enable her to look at issues of sexual violence, her research was only as far away as her remote control. Mozzachio is majoring in theatre and digital media production with a minor in psychology. Her hometown is Westmont, New Jersey.

Working with Paula Booke, associate director of CAE, Mozzachio conducted a content analysis of popular TV shows with lesbian or bisexual women characters who died, and determined that those characters experienced disproportionate amounts of violence as compared to straight women characters. Sometimes they died in bizarre ways, even by TV standards.

That’s entertainment, right? Mozzachio thought otherwise, considering that lesbian and bisexual women make up only 1 percent of characters but up to 10 percent of TV deaths, regardless of the type of show. Entertainment critics term the trope “bury your gays,” indicating that LGBT characters are more expendable than straight characters.

“I was initially looking at how media affects people’s perceptions of queer people and how that increases or decreases violence perpetuated against queer people,” she said, but “I decided before that I first wanted to look at what is represented in the media.”

Mozzachio gained support from being part of a six-person CAE research cohort, where each person, all first-time student researchers, worked on individual topics.

“Being able to work with the same people every day and being in the same space we were kind of going through this process together. It was a great experience, because it taught us you have to be patient, you have to be prepared to go through a lot of different resources, and you have to be prepared if you find something that you never knew about.”


At Tulane, research adds depth to the undergraduate experience. Inside a classroom, students have engaging and thought-provoking learning experiences, but independent research affords them additional opportunity to approach, mold and stretch their topics in multiple ways and to benefit from direct faculty mentorship. These students’ impressive work, sometimes prompted by a single question or simple observation, will lay the groundwork for broad opportunities throughout their college careers and into the future.