Jetzel Chavira focuses on photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Honors Program student Jetzel Chavira stands in front of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s photograph in the “Highlights from the Collection” photography exhibition she helped curate at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibition features 85 photos related to transportation and is a small sample of the museum’s vast holding of photos dating from the advent of photography in 1839.

“Álvarez Bravo was a Mexican photographer, and I wanted to include him because there’s not a lot of diversity in the photography collection. My parents are from Mexico, and they could relate to this picture,” Jetzel said, studying the 94-year-old photographer’s self-portrait. Álvarez Bravo created the image by snapping his reflection in the side mirror of a truck in 1996 in Oaxaca, Mexico.

To the right of Álvarez Bravo’s photograph is the explanatory plaque Jetzel wrote: “Though Álvarez Bravo rarely took self-portraits as a young man, he made this image just a few years before he passed away, a literal and metaphoric self-reflection at the end of his life.”

During a recent tour of the photography show, Jetzel reflected on her role in the exhibition, her studies as a junior majoring in art history with a minor in Latinx studies who plans to pursue a doctorate degree in art history, and her interest in photography and the work of Mexican and Latinx photographers.

The Álvarez Bravo photograph is one of the ten images that Jetzel researched and wrote about as an Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial fellow at the Nelson-Atkins. She won the prestigious year-long fellowship, which is part of a national program seeking to create diverse curatorial cohorts in U.S. art museums, in the summer of 2021.

As a Mellon fellow, Jetzel worked with April M. Watson, the curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins. “I never knew how much curators do,” Jetzel said. “I had hands-on experience.” 

For the exhibition, Jetzel spent many hours selecting ten images to interpret and compiling information about images by photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, the famous early twentieth-century French photographer known for capturing on film the “decisive moment.” One of her favorites is Carpoolers, a striking series of images of Mexican workers riding in the backs of pickup trucks from their homes to jobs in 2011-2012. Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartegna took the photos from a highway overpass that afforded a bird’s eye view of the trucks and workers and makes both artistic as well as social statements. Jetzel also conducted an interview with Cartegna interview that is on the Nelson-Atkins website at

“Jetzel came into the fellowship with a passion for photography and a love for our collection. While still in high school, she was selected to participate in the selective Photography Scholars Program, a partnership between the Nelson-Atkins and schools in the Kansas City area that introduces teens to the collection and professional practice,” Dr. Watson noted.

Praising Jetzel, Dr. Watson said she “has a natural curiosity, is always eager to learn more, and brought insight to the interpretation of works in our collection. Embracing the museum’s goal to be more diverse and inclusive, she foregrounded the contributions of women and photographers of color in her research. Jetzel was up for any challenge and was an absolute joy to have as part of our curatorial team.”

Jetzel’s fellowship provided other important opportunities, such as attending two national conferences. She encountered Mellon fellows from across the country at a recent meeting in Philadelphia. At the Midwest Art History Conference in Houston, Jetzel became acquainted with a curator from the Chicago Art Institute who gave her a private tour of the renowned museum when Jetzel later visited Chicago.

The Mellon Fellowship also provides funding for fellows as they explore graduate programs. To date, Jetzel has visited Denver University and plans to investigate programs at the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. 

Looking back, Jetzel said the highlight of the year “was building connections with people in museums and having the opportunity to do research on a variety of different artists.”

The “Highlights from the Collection” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is free and can be viewed through April 2023; for more information, go to

Christian Dang Wins Prestigious Fellowship

Honors Program student Christian Dang has won a prestigious fellowship at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and will spend the year following his graduation in December 2022 conducting biomedical research at the main campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

Competition for the fellowship, the Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award, is intense and only 24 percent of applicants were selected over the past year, according to the NIH.

Christian will work in the Muscle Energetics Laboratory led by Dr. Brian Glancy within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. This lab studies the function and development of mitochondrial networks within skeletal and cardiac muscle and how energy distribution is mediated during contraction.

“I think this fellowship will be a great opportunity to gain experience in basic and/or translational research in medicine,” Christian said. “The NIH is the hallmark of bench-to-bedside research, and the experiences I will gain from the fellowship will better prepare me for a potential career as a physician-scientist. I envision that I would be able to run my own lab in addition to seeing patients related to my research. Learning to conduct independent hypothesis-driven research is a key skill for this type of career.”

Christian has been part of the Honors Program for four years as he pursued a Biology B.S. and minors in Chemistry and Sociology. He credits Biology H206: Genetics, taught by Dr. Saul Honigberg and Dr. Scott Hawley, as key to his studies.

“I would say taking honors genetics is an extremely useful class for someone aspiring to a career in biomedical research. This class solidified my interest in wanting to understand the mechanisms of diseases and why incorporating genetics is such a useful starting point to expand our knowledge of diseases in the hopes of developing new therapeutics,” he said.

Christian recently participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities (SUROP) Poster Symposium, where he presented his project, “A Self-Directed Mutagenesis Approach for Examining the Drosophila Tribbles Recognition Degron in the C/EBP Transcription Factor Slbo.” His research was supported by a SUROP grant provided by the UMKC Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Scholarship. Dr. Leonard Dobens of Biological Sciences in the School of Science and Engineering was the faculty mentor for Christian’s project.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work in Dr. Dobens’ laboratory throughout my time as an undergrad,” Christian said. “I learned new techniques in genetics/developmental biology and experienced firsthand the process of conducting hypothesis-driven research.”

Dr. Dobens said Christian was an important part of his lab. “It has been a pleasure to have Christian in the lab during his undergraduate studies and both his preparation in the Honors Program and financial support from funding mechanisms like SUROP has assisted his contributions to our ongoing project to understand how protein turnover contributes to cell function. “

What advice does Christian have for Honors students who want to get a NIH fellowship?

“I would recommend applying as far as six months in advance of your proposed start date to increase your chances of landing a position. Many of these labs are looking for applicants with experience in research, whether it’s benchwork or clinical,” Christian said. “If this fellowship is something you are interested in after graduating, I would recommend getting involved in research as soon as you can. Consider reaching out to a research mentor to apply for a SEARCH/SUROP grant, which are a great source to fund your proposed projects and help you gain experience in drafting a research proposal.”

During his years in the Honors Program, Christian volunteered as a peer mentor. He also is a student reviewer and the marketing and design coordinator for Lucerna, the UMKC undergraduate research journal produced annually by the Honors Program.

After he completes his fellowship, Christian plans to apply to medical school, and he hopes to return to the Midwest.

Meet a Lucerna Author: Denise Dean

What is your Lucerna project about?

My article, “Associations of Environmental Factors and Physical Activity Behaviors: A Photo Analysis, is about how the built environment affects physical activity behaviors among underserved communities in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Why are you interested in this topic?

I am interested in improving health equity for our community and exploring the associations of the built environment on health behaviors was the perfect start.

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?

The benefits of this project include working closely with faculty and becoming familiar with scholarly-scientific writing.

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna?

My advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna is to make sure you meet your deadlines and carefully read the requirements before submitting your work.

What are your professional plans or goals?

My professional goal is to work towards global health equity by developing sustainable water and sanitation systems as well as increasing access to culturally tailored health education. I will be starting my Masters in Global Public Health Spring of 2022 and plan to pursue a doctoral program soon after.

Meet a Lucerna Author: Brooke Friday

What is your Lucerna project about?

My project, “The Neuropathological Analysis of Sport and Blast TBIs,” co-written with Lauren Cooper, is about traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Essentially, we’re looking at how the brain is impacted on a short and long-term basis once a TBI has occurred.

Why are you interested in this topic?

There were a lot of things that drew me to this topic. First, I have always loved the intricacies of the brain, and how it is able to adapt and constantly change, especially during injury. Second, a lot of my family is in the military and have been deployed across seas and have had to face the idea that something could change their lives in an instant, so it was almost a tribute to them in a way as well. We’ve seen a lot of studies that have focus specifically on sports injuries. We wanted to see how a military versus sports traumatic brain injury differed.

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?

There was definitely a challenge in getting the research we needed, especially on the military blast side. There isn’t a whole lot of information out there, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to investigate it. The government isn’t going to just publish all this on their soldiers. But after intense research and even contacting currently deployed relatives, we had so much research at our hands. There was a lot of sifting through information to figure out statistics and the specific impacts of the mechanism that an IED had on the brain. There were weeks where we were just going through this information with a fine-tooth comb and it really taught us the importance and diligence of this information and why it is so important to get out there for others to see.

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna?

If I had to give any advice, it would be to put your heart and soul into your research. That sounds cheesy, but if you love what you were researching and you have such an affinity for it, you won’t back down until it’s perfect. And once you think you’re done, go over it five more times. See if there’s any more information out there to help you. We gain access to more information every day and research that spans our knowledge that needs to be examined. Use your resources and professors, and reach out to people who are experts in the field you are researching.

What are your professional plans or goals?

My professional plans are to become a surgeon and specialize in neurology. I graduated from UMKC in May 2021, and I currently attend St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada. I plan on taking part in further neurological research opportunities here.

Meet a Lucerna Author: Lauren Textor

What is your Lucerna project about?

My article, “The Necessity of Art Programming in Restructuring the Prison System,” is about art programming in prisons and how it can be helpful in lowering recidivism rates and expanding the skill sets of incarcerated individuals. I combined quantitative data from previous research studies with the qualitative answers of people who have worked with prison programs.

Why are you interested in this topic?

I believe that everyone should have access to a creative outlet! My love of writing has gotten me through the most difficult times of my life. I had heard about organizations that facilitated art projects in local prisons before, so I decided to look deeper into it. I decided to incorporate interviews with facilitators into my research, and that’s when the project took off for me. My sources shared so many personal stories with me. From the first interview that I conducted, I could tell that this was going to become more than just another paper to me.

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?

I’m much more educated now on how our justice system functions, but there’s so much ground to cover that I still feel like I’m only beginning to understand it all. I’m grateful that I was able to connect with so many people who not only consented to being interviewed, but fully embraced it. The biggest challenge was in editing, because I found the writing process so enjoyable and I felt loyal to my first draft. I went through so many rounds of edits, partly so that I could find a more objective tone. There was no way to condense all the information that I gathered from the interviews into a single paper, so I had to make some sacrifices and narrow my focus.

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna?

There is no one way to do research! I was intimidated by the idea of it at first, but research in its most basic form is just asking a question and then attempting to find an answer. I research local restaurants extensively on Yelp, and you could most definitely write a paper about the overlaps in the Kansas City foodie scene and the gaps that we’ve yet to fill. Pick something you care about and go from there.

What are your professional plans or goals?

I’m still figuring out what I like. I have always loved writing, and I care about humanitarian issues, so for the past few years I’ve planned to combine the two through nonprofit work. I’m planning on going to graduate school, but not directly after undergrad. I want to give myself time to explore all the fields that I’m interested in.

Meet a Lucerna Author: Anuhya Dayal

What is your Lucerna project about?  

My article “From MMR to COVID-19: A Study of Vaccine Perception Over Time and the Modern Effects of Social Media” is about the perception of vaccination and how it has changed from the age of MMR to COVID-19. I look at how social media has played a role in anti-vaccination sentiment and the evolution of this movement across time. 

Why are you interested in this topic?  

While I was writing this paper in Fall 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had just started and vaccines were being made. Seeing how this virus turned the world upside-down was flabbergasting, and the perception of the new vaccine was equally intriguing. While the virus was new, the concept of vaccination wasn’t, so the public reaction to COVID-19 vaccination was immensely interesting to me. Also, as a medical school student, the crossover between the medical and social worlds was something I hadn’t studied before, but I integrated two aspects of my own life that I hadn’t looked at analytically before.  

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?  

There were many benefits and challenges of working on this project. Some of the benefits include researching an interdisciplinary topic in a detailed manner that I haven’t been able to before. I was given the opportunity to dive into a unique type of research that broadened my knowledge and perception of social media and social movements in a medical context. I was able to enhance my writing style and learned to work flexibly to create the best paper possible. I was also immensely grateful to work with an amazing mentor who helped me write this paper every step of the way.  

Some of the challenges include the time and attention to detail that producing a good quality research paper required. More often than not, research requires a different level of patience and grit that can be difficult to maintain at the early stages of the paper. Additionally, keeping up with deadlines was definitely challenging, but an important requirement to meet.  

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna 

My advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna is to start early and submit with no regrets. I think starting early and making many edits/revisions yourself or with a mentor/peers is a vital first step to writing a successful paper that will be accepted into the journal. The second piece of advice is to simply submit their paper! Don’t be afraid of your work not being good enough or traditional enough. Lucerna is an open-minded journal that loves unique and creative pieces. Along those lines, if you ever have questions, don’t be afraid to ask the staff! Everyone is really friendly and wants to help you succeed!   

What are your professional plans or goals? 

I am a second-year student in UMKC’s BA/MD program. My professional goals are to graduate from medical school and hopefully match at a good residency program. While I am not sure what specialty I would like to pursue, I aim to become a helpful and humble clinician-scientist, both practicing medicine and (hopefully) working in my own research lab.  

Meet a Lucerna Author: Kai Milanovich

What is your Lucerna project about?

My project, “Performing Escape: Imagining Future with Plato’s Symposium,” spun out of a queer theory course I completed in the Fall of 2021. One theme of this class was focusing on the contingency of history and theoretical interventions into our understanding of time. Why must we understand time as linear, such as a story line—can these formulations be transfigured? One “queered” view of time comes in founding the construct of time on relationality and affect rather than on the movement of the planets. This conception of time relates to idealistic political questions, such as, “How might one’s relationship to the future—a world which is not yet here—shape their actions in forming that future?” The potency of our imagination is a vital condition to any political project because any world worth desiring must be creatively different from our current state.

Why are you interested in this topic?

This project focuses on several historically distinct moments in order to do the “imaginative work” of political thinking. If all social and political constructs are historically situated within contingent material conditions, then how does the dislocation of these constructs alter their constitution? What would it genuinely mean to bring old ideas into the present—not in a carbon-copy form that is ignorant to the diversity of contingent structural meanings—but in a way which was respectful to those ideas as they were? The clearest motivation for this project came as a method of creativity: historical situations are not only the failures of ancestors from which we vicariously learn, they are also sites for the generation of world-making knowledge.

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of this project was personal, in that it allowed me the time and space to think through how queer theoretic approaches to time altered conceptions of meaning making. Personally, this has helped me make clearer sense of what my past has meant to me, specifically realizing that part of growing up is learning always to relate differently to past moments so substantially that those moments fail to be recognizable any more. Challenges, on the other hand, were found in trying to make the project somehow pragmatic in a social/political sense. While it was a personally fulfilling project, it was a little bit straining to identify how such conceptions of meaning making could act as viable, let alone useful, supplements to any sort of political project.

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna?

Work with others! Students, professors, even people outside of academia to identify alternative viewpoints. Personally, I do much greater work whenever I can bounce ideas off people, hear new formulations of thought, and work to clarify where my confusions sit.

What are your professional plans or goals?

Currently I am applying to a number of graduate programs in philosophy. I’m primarily interested in bioethics and epistemology and am drawn to more of the applied side of philosophy. I graduated in December of 2021, though on the off chance that I decide graduate school somehow isn’t best for me, then I will likely continue my work at a local domestic violence shelter. This work has proven to be more rigorous, fulfilling, and insightful than most academic work I’ve engaged with yet, so the pull of the work has been quite strong!

To hear Kai and other UMKC students talk about their remarkable research, attend the annual Lucerna Symposium, 5-6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17, in Zoom. Click here to register.

Meet a Lucerna Author: Karah Chappel

What is your Lucerna project about?

My study, “Exploration of the Referral Process of Social Work Within a Policing Structure,” looked at the referral process to and from social workers directly employed by the police department in a large midwestern city. The goal of the study was to understand why social workers’ service persons were not being referred to music therapy and make recommendations as to how music therapists could better serve these populations.

Why are you interested in this topic?

As a music therapy major, I have a specific interest in trauma care, especially related to the criminal justice system. Music therapy is an evidence-based field; I wanted to continue building the research base that would support my future work in this area.

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?

Working with the chosen police department was a huge benefit. I was able to meet and interact with many personnel, which gave me a true appreciation for the policing structure and opened my eyes to all the factors at play in their work environment. It was challenging to stop writing! Because of the qualitative phenomenological approach, I collected a massive amount of data, and every time I rearranged the subjects’ answers or looked at them from a new angle, I saw new possible connections.

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna?

Go for it! When you are passionate about a project, no matter how niche the topic, it’s worth sharing with others. You don’t know who may read it and be interested. Plus, being published is a great way to start a career in many fields.

What are your professional plans or goals?

After graduation in May 2022, I will complete a six-month internship and then sit for the board certification exam to become a credentialed music therapist. I hope to stay in the Kansas City area and work in correctional facilities, nonprofits that serve offenders and victims of violent crimes, or a police department.

To hear Karah and other UMKC students talk about their remarkable research, attend the annual Lucerna Symposium, 5-6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17, in Zoom. Click here to register.