The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), which is headed by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, is an annual paid fellowship for Chapman undergraduate students who want to pursue independent research or creative projects for eight weeks over the summer. SURF students don’t just work in isolation, they meet regularly with SURF students from other colleges to discuss their research.

This year, Wilkinson has four students who will embark on their own remote research projects tackling a wide array of interdisciplinary subjects with the help of a faculty mentor. The students had to make last-minute adjustments to their initial projects once instruction moved on-line and travel was restricted. The Voice of Wilkinson recently spoke with the students and faculty about their exciting projects.


Leana Sottile (’20, History & TV Production)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Jessica Sternfeld (Performing Arts)

Sottile’s project, The Good War?: Reinterpreting the Second World War in Contemporary Musical Theatre Abstract, will examine the content and historical context of three Broadway musicals, Allegiance (2015), Bandstand (2017), and Alice by Heart (2019), which all provide a nuanced examination of World War II in a contemporary theatrical setting. 

“SURF is a huge step in the right direction towards my academic and professional goals,” said Sottile. “It’s not every day you get the opportunity to conduct one of your dream research projects!”

Sottile will be working with Dr. Jessica Sternfeld on the project, conducting interdisciplinary research in the artistic disciplines of musical theatre studies, dramaturgy, and musicology.

“Leana’s project is original and explores new territory in the field of musical theater studies,” said Sternfeld. “Her work — like musical theater itself — is interdisciplinary by definition and thoroughly grounded in a cultural context.”

Sottile and Sternfeld are working on gaining access to digital archives in the Performing Arts Wing of the New York Public Library. Luckily, much of Sottile’s research can continue as planned, since it involves readily available resources, especially interviews. Some of the composers, lyricists, and performers for the project have even become more available to interview.


Nicole Daskas (’21, Studio Art)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Micol Hebron (Art)

Daskas’ project, The Leaky Female Body, is an exploration of feminist art history, specifically focused on the idea of the “leaky female body.” There is a level of fear and disgust surrounding women’s bodies and Daskas is examining the inherent censorship that takes place regarding women and completely natural body functions, such as lactation and menstruation. This research will ultimately culminate in an essay of her findings as well as a series of performance self-portraits relating to the leaky body. 

“I never really saw myself in art history until I started learning about performance art, and became inspired by the powerful work of incredible women artists,” said Daskas. “This research will influence my practice for the rest of my life.”

Daskas’s faculty mentor is Micol Hebron, who is no stranger to performance art. Hebron supported the project, which she believes is important especially in a time of quarantine.

“I actually think that her proposed research, in this case, could provide a valuable contribution and model for how creative studio art projects and research can be continued online in this time of quarantine,” said Hebron.

Daskas will be using Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Getty archives for research. She has begun to rethink how she will stage her performance pieces, incorporating the natural environment rather than commercial gallery space.

“Artists are creative problem solvers,” said Daskas. “We are comfortable adapting and experimenting.”


Corinne Tam (’20, Sociology)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Edson Cruz (Art)

Tam’s project, Tiger Moms, Dragon Dads, and Baby Pandas: Cultural Expectations of Success Among Asian-American College Students, which will explore how college-aged Asian-Americans deal with expectations of success in a contemporary society that presents them with pressures of having to return home due to financial instability. 

Her interest in this subject area mainly grew from learning about family dynamics in sociology classes and wondering how life stages are experienced differently between people of different backgrounds.

“I am really excited for the opportunity to participate in SURF,” said Tam. “I am especially looking forward to the chance to learn with and from students of all different majors.”

Tam’s faculty mentor, Edson Cruz, will be guiding her on her SURF journey this summer. 

“With this project, Corinne joins sociological conversations on emerging adulthood, Asian-American stereotypes, and mental health disparities across racial-ethnic groups,” said Cruz. “This is an important  research nexus and I am excited to see what her data reveals.” 

Despite social distancing measures, they are working on expanding the scope of her project. Making the most of Zoom’s video conferencing platform, her project will not only include one-on-one interviews, but also including focus groups with multiple respondents via Zoom.


Prince Mutabazi (’21, English & Political Science)

Faculty Mentor: Professor Morgan Read Davidson (English)

Mutabazi’s project, The Man Who Knows His Name, is planned to be a semi-autobiographical novel about an African immigrant who goes to college in America. 

Mutabazi’s faculty mentor, Morgan Read Davidson, is excited to help Mutabazi navigate the creative research process and develop his narrative approach to the project. 

“‘Own Voice’ novels are in high demand and will continue to be so as access to the publishing industry expands beyond the dominance of white privilege and [Mutabazi’s project] is poised to significantly contribute to this movement,” said Reed Davidson. “His perspective as a Congolese immigrant will help to highlight the absurd construction of identity unique to American racial hegemony, in a fish-out-of-water structure.”

Mutabazi plans to use digital archives and online communities as resources to build the world of his novel, harnessing the stories, statistics, studies, and voices that he finds into creative fuel.


We wish our students luck and look forward to seeing the completed projects presented at the virtual summer-ending SURF symposium on August 5, 2020!