BINGHAMTON RESEARCHERS, SCHOLARS & ARTISTS SPOTLIGHT
Meet a Faculty Mentor
Assistant Professor of English
Aja Martinez, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Program for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), is a strong advocate for undergraduate research. Professor Martinez received her PhD from the University of Arizona, where she explored her interest in Rhetoric and Composition, specializing in the study of race in literature. Professor Martinez was a McNair Scholar. She received mentorship through the program that guided her through graduate school into her professional career.
Mentorship has a significant resonance to Professor Martinez. As an underrepresented minority, she was well aware of the cultural, economic and personal disadvantages she had to face as a student. "Graduate school was normally not in the radar for my population." To strive beyond these limitations, she sought out mentors that supported her in pursuing her goals. Through her experience, Professor Martinez learned that success is achieved through tapping into networks of people and opportunities and mentorship is one of the facets to doing so.
After being a beneficiary of mentorship herself, Professor Martinez wants to give back. At Binghamton University, Professor Martinez strives to prolong the continuum of knowledge from faculty to students. She does so by sharing information that she believes could help someone be where she is someday."My labor should be a bridge to make it easier for those behind me." Professor Martinez quotes this idea from Gloria Anzaldua, cultural theory scholar and author of This Bridge Called My Back. Professor Martinez utilized this same philosophy in her mentorship with Elijah Simmons.
When Elijah initially approached Professor Martinez for assistance, he did not have a particular topic for research. Professor Martinez recounts her first conversation sessions with Elijah using an analogy of patients going to doctors. "We did a diagnosis, he was describing different interests and I was trying to piece together his ideas." Professor Martinez began to realize that Elijah was interested in literacy, particularly the engagement of texts for students. That was how Elijah came to like Shakespeare, because his teacher gave him engagement in the text. Professor Martinez explains: "So I thought okay, I can do that. It just so happened it was Spring semester, and I was preparing for the next summer with EOP." So the two solidified the research topic, "How do EOP students from Binghamton University in a 4 week summer bridge program engage with assigned reading?" and worked together to create an effective research methodology.
Throughout the mentorship, Professor Martinez found it was challenging to "backpedal and remember how to explain for the first time to someone who had not done it before." At each phase of the research, they conversed on next steps and improvements. Elijah was especially willing to seek feedback, which Professor Martinez notes as one of her favorite attributes of her mentee. She recalls after Elijah's presentation at the McNair National Conference, she grimaced at an answer he gave to an audience member. After the presentation, Elijah eagerly asked what he had said wrong.
Overall, Professor Martinez feels it is a pleasure to work with Elijah. The mentorship has continued beyond the completion of Elijah's research project. Now, Professor Martinez is assisting Elijah in his application process for graduate school.
Professor Martinez strongly adheres to the belief that anyone can achieve success. She advises students to "Keep your ears open, jump on opportunities. Go to office hours and ask your professors to tell you more." Students need to take initiative to find the great resources the University offers. The more mentorships and research opportunities a student possesses, the better opportunities to be competitive for graduate school.
....and her Student Mentee
Elijah Simmons, Senior English major
Elijah Simmons is currently a senior at Binghamton University pursing a degree in English. This past summer, he had the opportunity to work with Professor Aja Martinez, Assistant Professor, English Department and Writing Initiative, on research in the field of literacy and educational studies. His research, titled "How do EOP students from Binghamton University in a 4-week summer bridge program engage with assigned readings?", aimed to understand how students in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) learned from their readings and ways to make students more engaged with their assignments. Elijah presented his research at the McNair National Conference hosted by the University of Buffalo this past August.
Elijah first became interested in English through a Shakespeare class he took with Professor Al Vos. Through the class, Elijah learned to engage with the text beyond the written words, and to extract life lessons that are applicable to today's generation. Elijah wanted to further his understanding of English through research, however, most English research involved reading English pieces to write criticisms. Elijah was not interested in doing so. Instead, he "wanted to do fieldwork with results that have real world implications." Professor Al Vos directed Elijah to Professor Aja Martinez, which initiated their mentee/mentor relationship.
When Elijah first met Professor Martinez, he did not have a concrete research topic. The two met weekly and had open discussions, picking each other's brains and learning what intrigued the other. He enjoyed the mentorship because "We interacted like friends and collaborated together on everything." Through these conversations, "the topic and research procedures grew organically," Elijah said. Elijah was interested in engagement with reading because of the way he was taught in his Shakespeare class. At the same time, Professor Martinez was interested in racial awareness and was planning for her summer EOP class. The opportunity rose for Elijah to research his topic with the EOP students, so he pursued the project.
During the summer, Elijah sat in on EOP classes and recorded observations and interviewed students on questions relevant to his topic. However, he observed much more than just the answers to his questions. He realized that minorities were aware of racial stigmas and bravely challenged them. "They were open-minded, supportive, like a family. It was great to be in situations where students wanted to start class early and participate every day."
At the conclusion of his fieldwork, Elijah presented his research at the McNair National Conference. After the presentation, he was approached by a professor from the University of Buffalo who was impressed by his findings and extended an invitation for Elijah to speak again at University of Buffalo. The praise Elijah received made him feel like his findings would have real life implications, just as he had initially intended.
This semester, Elijah has enrolled in Rhetorics of Race, Citizenship and Nation with Professor Martinez. Simultaneously, Elijah is working with Professor Martinez on graduate school applications. Elijah plans to turn his research into a paper to apply for graduate school. He intends to study English composition and possibly obtain a PhD and become a college professor, dean or president.
Articles written by: Christina Huang '16