The Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellowship (MURF) is a four-year research program for undergraduate students in the School of Foreign Service (SFS). Students are selected in the spring semester of their first year and paired with a faculty mentor to gain hands-on experience as a research assistant working on advanced research methods and projects. The Mortara Center was pleased to financially support MURFs with their various research this summer, with the support of the SFS Dean’s Office. From the Salvadoran civil war to opioid overdose, MURFs were researching various issues around the world. Here is what a few of our MURFs were working on:
Andres R. Alfonso (SFS ‘24)
Andres R. Alfonso is a rising senior in the SFS studying Culture & Politics. This summer with support from the Mortara Center and a CULP Summer Research Award Andres traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador to conduct independent archival research at the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen. Andres focused on archival documents from the UNHCR and other primary sources during the Salvadoran Civil War relating to refugee communities and repatriation. Through this work, Andres hopes to find the nexus of how humanitarianism, displacement, state violence, and community building operated in the context of an emerging modern international order. He looks to use this research in a forthcoming Senior Thesis and MURF final project and hopes that it can help reframe the importance of agency for displaced populations.
Isabel Ching (SFS ‘26)
This summer, Isabel Ching worked under Professor Diana Kim to research South Korean comfort women and American military facilities abroad. Her work included translating Korean newspaper articles and compiling sources for a complete literature review. She also visited New York City’s Schwarzman Library’s archives, where she researched American newspapers on the Korean War and texts on the subject. Professor Kim and Isabel are hoping to publish a journal article in the spring about the correlation between the impact of South Korean “comfort women” and the American military presence and micro-level economic changes today.
Sofia Doroshenko (SFS ‘24)
Last winter, MURF Sofia Doroshenko was selected as the recipient of the Hank Shea 2022 Circumnavigator Grant, where the Circumnavigator Foundation of DC funds one student from Georgetown to embark on a worldwide summer research project. Through working with ethnomusicologist Dr. Jessica Roda as a research fellow, Sofia trained in ethnographic research methods, but also learned how cultural heritage and identity interact with the political and social changes occurring in the world today. This background informed her Circumnavigator research topic on historical memory, titled “Remembering the Past: How Does Civil Society Create Dialogue About Memory?”
From May to August, Sofia traveled to six countries including Chile, Argentina, Germany, Latvia, Vietnam, and Japan to investigate how memory activists challenge and expand mainstream narratives about one event in their nation’s past. In her research she conducted 20+ in depth interviews with museum directors, NGOs, academics, activists, and artists who work on historical memory. Her interest was motivated by Russia’s propagandistic narratives of the past to justify its invasion of Ukraine, proving the urgency of addressing and reconciling history.
With Mortara’s support, Sofia also filmed during her travels and will incorporate this footage into a documentary about her research for her MURF undergraduate thesis project.
Ula Ekmecic (SFS ‘26)
This summer, Ula Ekmecic worked on the Georgetown University Lab for Globalization & Shared Prosperity under the mentorship of Prof. Nita Rudra and Georgetown doctoral student Niccolo Bonifai. The Lab seeks to examine the effects of open markets and better inform the debates surrounding globalization, with the goal of presenting evidence that shared prosperity and globalization are mutually dependent, rather than mutually exclusive.
Additionally, as a junior researcher for the GU Labor Project, she reviewed SEC 10-K filings and helped build an original dataset that categorizes multinational firms’ perceptions of foreign and domestic labor risks. The data will be used to investigate whether big business is becoming increasingly ambivalent, rather than averse, to generous labor policies and practices.
Ula is grateful to the Mortara Center for funding her work and will continue working on both projects into the academic year!
Salmah Elmasry (SFS ‘25)
Salmah Elmasry began her first independent research project investigating the role of women’s press in Egypt’s 1950s revolutions. Her research has consisted of translating one of Egypt’s most prolific women’s journals of the 1950s, Bint el Nil, through the Special Collections at American University in Cairo, and reviewing literature on the intellectual movements and debates during this period. She has also researched the history of women’s press in Egypt more broadly.
This project seeks to investigate the relationship between the journal and its readers as well as the role of Bint el Nil in challenging gender roles, attitudes, and public opinion in revolutionary Egyptian society. Although she will be continuing this research into the fall, she have begun to find that women’s journals like Bint el Nil expanded middle and upper-class women’s literacy beyond religious texts and allowed women to consume secular material. However, Bint el Nil’s writing reinforced womanhood as linked to domesticity, although this accompanied writing that advocated for greater access to education and women’s participation in the political process.
Jupiter Huang (SFS ‘25)
This summer, Jupiter Huang, a MURF in the 2022 cohort, accompanied his faculty mentor Dr. Toshihiro Higuchi on a research trip to the Nixon and Reagan Presidential Library Archives in California with the generous support of the Mortara Center. They are co-authoring an article that aims to explain the history and impact of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy in the Republic of China (Taiwan) through the lens of Taiwan’s connection to the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has greatly enjoyed going through recently declassified documents and interacting closely with the remnants of history to discover the intricacies of some of the nation’s most consequential foreign policy choices in the Asia-Pacific.
Jake Lang (SFS ‘25)
While working at his local pharmacy at the crux of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellow Jake Lang saw firsthand how policy and power drive health and healthcare. As a MURF, Jake focuses his research on health equity and contemporary opioid politics. The opioid “crisis” has emerged as one of this decade’s most pressing public health challenges, laying bare the virulence of America’s widening inequality and declining well-being. Under the guidance of his faculty mentor, Professor Emily Mendenhall, Jake recently led a scoping review investigating how scholars have applied syndemic theory in studies of opioid use and overdose. Leveraging research grounded in syndemics, Lang, Mendenhall, and Dr. Adam Koon of John Hopkins University critique the prevailing Deaths of Despair (DoD) concept, which has dominated discourses on opioid impacts. Their objective was to bring clarity to how the syndemics and DoD constructs speak to each other, what each offers, and how we might integrate otherwise parallel strands of scholarship to enhance social insight. Be sure to check out the full-length article, “Disentangling Opioid-related Overdose Syndemics: A Scoping Review,” in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
Sanjana Ranganathan (SFS ‘25)
As a student in the SFS, Sanjana Ranganathan has developed a strong interest in post-conflict development which she is eager to apply to issues in South Asia. This summer, with the support of the Mortara Center, the Provost Fellowship, and her faculty mentor Professor Raj Desai, Sanjana has begun an independent research project studying the perspectives of Tamil youth in Northern Sri Lanka on current events issues across society, economics, and politics. With the goal of deploying a public opinion survey among university populations in Northern Sri Lanka, she has been working on a literature review, survey design, and building local partnerships. Sanjana has deeply enjoyed understanding the intersections of youth, conflict, and development, and hopes her research will help illuminate the sentiments of Tamil youth in Sri Lanka and identify areas of further study regarding the country’s development.
Sarah Grace Shurden (SFS ‘26)
This summer, Sarah Grace Shurden and Professor Kim continued chronicling the history of the Korean legation (1889-1905) in Washington D.C. as a locus of cultural exchange between the United States and Korea. She spent her time combing through the Library of Congress online archive of historic newspapers, Chronicling America, in search of references to the Korean Legation that reveal how the American press viewed the ministers and the families that resided in the building. In conjunction with Professor Kim, she analyzed the editorial focus on the women of the Korean legation and their path to social independence in the United States, as well as coverage of the clothing members of the Korean legation wore, which newspapers framed in terms of the United States’ “civilizing” influence.
To learn more about the Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellows Program, click here.