The 2019 DIA JumpStart Program

This summer, the Graduate School welcomed eighteen undergraduates as scholars in the DIA JumpStart Program. As part of USC’s Graduate Initiative for Diversity, Inclusion and Access (DIA), the program gives talented undergraduate scholars from outside institutions the opportunity to participate in summer research projects in various labs at USC. The program provides academic, financial and professional support, and opportunities for students who want to pursue a PhD degree after their undergraduate studies.  

“We provide exposure and access for our scholars to USC faculty, staff and resources,” said Ashley Brooks, Program Specialist for Diversity, Inclusion, and Access at the Graduate School. “Their research with faculty hosts are coupled with professional development workshops that address topics such as graduate admissions, fellowships, conducting research and Ph.D. student life.” 

Partnering with USC schools and programs, DIA JumpStart provides summer research opportunities that range from lab-based research to mentored participation in faculty projects. After the 10-week experience, students are expected to present their research. This year, the research projects covered topics such as neuroscience, cancer and child development.

“The goal of the program is to give our scholars a preview of the Ph.D. experience and to prepare them for the graduate admission process,” said Brooks. 

Kristelle Cefre

Many scholars in the program are from local institutions. However, the positive reputation of the DIA JumpStart program has reached students across state lines. Kristelle Cefre, a student majoring in psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, traveled to Los Angeles this summer to participate in the program. Cefre was hosted by the A-Z lab in the Brain and Creativity Institute and conducted research on dyspraxia, a developmental coordination disorder. 

“I loved the opportunity to immerse myself in a laboratory setting,” said Cefre. “I saw this as a chance to learn more about different topics, specifically in the neuroscience and the neurocognitive department.”

Through social and behavioral research, Cefre examined how the brain perceives and executes instructions by testing subjects’ motor and communication skills. As a team member in the Brain and Creativity Institute, Cefre had a hands-on experience and networked with professionals in her field. Exposure through the program helped Cefre define her career goal of becoming an occupational therapist. 

“USC is very influential, especially in occupational therapy. This realization helped me sharpen my drive to become an occupational therapist,” Cefre said. “I’ve felt inspired and passionate. It made me want to give my best and make sure the given expectations were fulfilled.” 

Giselle Ortez

Giselle Ortez, a student majoring in child and family studies at California State University Los Angeles, researched the influences of music on children’s brains. Hosted by Dr. Assal Habibi, Ortez studied social and cognitive brain development in the lab. She was also responsible for interviewing parents and administering assessments.  

“DIA JumpStart empowered me to pursue my next career goal. Whether it’s in the same field or not, the experiences and skills from this will translate.” Ortez said. “The program helped me with my own personal research goals. It made me think about how I would like to give back to my own community and collaborate in the future.” 

Scholars were not limited to the labs at the University Park campus. Diego Velarde, a student majoring in biochemistry at California State University Long Beach, worked closely with Dr. Ite A. Offringa in the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Health Sciences Campus. 

“It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had in my life because I’ve been exposed to an entirely new set of research,” Velarde said.  “At USC, the research is at a higher caliber and the amount of passion and dedication is refreshing.” 

Diego Velarde

Velarde conducted research on non-small cell lung cancer, a cancer that patients are treated for within the center. Having access to technology, research and mentorship helped Velarde pinpoint some of his career goals within cancer research which include becoming a professor and creating a research publication. 

“This program showed me how a research lab works and got me mentally prepared for a Ph.D. program because I now know what will be expected at a competitive level,” Velarde said.

The 2019 USC Annenberg Graduate Fellowship Research and Creative Project Symposium

Throughout the past year, Annenberg Graduate Fellows combined creativity and research to explore various topics in communications. Last week their work came to fruition at the annual USC Annenberg Graduate Fellowship Research and Creative Project Symposium where Annenberg Graduate Fellows showcased their innovative and cutting-edge communications research.

Ph.D. students preparing for E-poster presentation.

The Annenberg Symposium is the final event in a yearlong program for Annenberg Fellows in the School of Cinematic Arts, the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the Viterbi School of Engineering. Throughout the year, Annenberg Graduate Fellows have collaborated on projects and research.

“The symposium is important because it gives students a chance to collaborate with other students outside of their discipline,” said Kate Tegmeyer, Assistant Director of Graduate Programs. “This gives them a chance to bring outside perspectives and expertise to a project they might not have had otherwise.”

In their collaborative efforts, Ph.D. students presented research in film and animation screenings, as well as E-posters. A wide array of topics were displayed, ranging from the implications of “Google Doodles,” to examining the effects of music on human emotions. Students were proud to present their research to attendees, as they learned about various topics.

One project titled “Paper Crowns,” was a short film by Sean Smith (School of Cinematic Arts) and Briana Ellerbe (Annenberg) that analyzed the diversity in children’s media. Inspired by Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem “Life doesn’t frighten me at all,” the film tells a story of a girl named Charly Gold, who must decide if she will fight for her dream of being a poet or let it die in the “land of broken dreams.”

“Growing up we never saw television or film characters, superheroes or lead actresses, that reflected our image,” said Smith. “We need more diversity in children’s media and creative ways to tell those stories. It’s not just about putting minorities on-screen, it is also about creating positive images and experiences that represent us as more than a stereotype.”

Sean Smith presenting “Paper Crowns.”

There were many powerful projects like “Paper Crowns.” Students worked for the majority of the school year in preparation for the symposium. Many students, both undergraduate and graduate, attended the symposium to see their peers’ research. It also gave attendees the opportunity to ask any questions about pursuing a Ph.D.

“The symposium is also a great opportunity for students across the university to come see their student colleagues’ research, whether it is an undergraduate who is considering a masters or Ph.D., or a current Ph.D. who is curious about the research being conducted outside their discipline,” said Tegmeyer.

The “Snap Yourself” photo booth.

The symposium ended with a light reception, and presenters and attendees took home photos from the “Snap Yourself” photo booth.

Black History Month: Campus Resources That Support Students of Color

February is recognized as Black History Month. Since 1976, February has been designated as the annual celebration of the achievements of African Americans and their prominent role in American history. Black history is not limited to one person, country or experience. Many schools and universities develop programs to educate their students about the richness of Black history, as well as using the month as an opportunity to showcase current achievements within the Black community.  Here at USC, the Center for Black Cultural Student Affairs (CBCSA) partners with student organizations, resource centers and local community leaders to coordinate events for Black History Month. Though CBCSA coordinates these events, its main role is to serve as a resource for Black students on campus.

CBCSA was created in 1977 through the work of student activists who recognized the need for services and resources for Black students at USC. Since its creation, the primary goal of CBCSA has been to retain Black students at USC by giving students the opportunity to develop academically, culturally, socially and professionally.

“I think it’s important because students need to be able to see people that look like them, especially at places like USC,” said Dr. Rosalind Conerly, director of CBCSA.

Dr. Rosalind Conerly, Director of CBCSA

A Southern California native, Dr. Rosalind Conerly, has passionately served students in CBCSA since 2012 beginning as the assistant director.  She is a first-generation college student with a bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Conerly also has a Doctorate of Education degree from USC Rossier. She leads the center with Assistant Director Dr. Theo Fowles.

“We provide a safe space for students to have conversation and get feedback from one another where they may not be able to do that in the classroom,” said Conerly.

CBCSA also has a legacy of involvement with the Black community here in Los Angeles.  The first director of CBCSA, Mr. Willis Edwards, established the Beverly Hills chapter of the NAACP.  Because of Edward’s legacy of involvement, CBCSA works hard to keep their bond with the Black community in Los Angeles through events and by supporting Black owned businesses.

Student’s enjoying CBCSA’s annual Labor Day BBQ

In her role, Conerly sits on many committees at USC advocating and sharing the narrative of Black students. She and her team work tirelessly to empower students, advocate on their behalf, educate administrators on students’ needs and provide the necessary resources for students.

“I’m also able to do what I call consulting with a lot of faculty and administrators in academic units who are trying to figure out how to better engage with their Black students,” Conerly said.  “Because we are not attached with an academic discipline, we are able to see students across disciplines.”

CBCSA provides a large assortment of student development, engagement and cultural programs for Black students. The Black and Latinx New Student Symposium is a one day orientation for all incoming students, undergraduate and graduate, to learn about campus involvement opportunities and resources.  Weekly “Real Talk” is a facilitated discussion hosted in the center for students to openly discuss topics like social justice and campus climate. Through these programs, CBCSA aims to create and maintain a space for Black students to feel included, confident and secure.

Sistah Circle’s End of Semester Brunch

In addition to their programming, CBCSA supports student organizations for Black graduate students. The Black Graduate Student Network (BGSN) focuses on connecting Black graduate students across departments and disciplines.  Grounded in Black feminist thought, Sistah Circle provides a space for Black women in various graduate programs. There are also academic and department specific Black graduate student organizations such as the Black Graduate Business Leaders, Black Law Student Association, Black Social Work Caucus and Rossier’s JENGA.

“There are more black graduate students than undergraduate students,” Conerly said. “We work hard to figure out ways to support graduate students knowing that they can’t make it to the center and events all the time.”

During Black History Month, CBCSA partners with its undergraduate counterpart organization, the Black Student Assembly (BSA) to put together one calendar of events for February.

Graduates waiting to cross the stage at CBCSA’s African American Cultural Celebration.

“It also encourages other students to come out to these events because they are not just for the black community, they are for the USC community,” Conerly said.

This year, CBCSA hosted their second annual F.R.O. (films representing ourselves) Fest, a film festival that gave black filmmakers a chance to showcase their work. Other events for the month include a gala, basketball tournaments, lectures, panels and game nights.

“We make Black history month very impactful by showcasing our Black community here at USC as well as our alumni,” Conerly said. “It’s our launching pad for everything else planned later in the semester.”

For more information about CBCSA, please click here.

The 2019 Black History Month.


Horrors Beyond Halloween

Halloween has changed and evolved throughout the centuries. However, the spookiness and horror of the annual holiday remains the same. Millions of people spend time and money to experience fear in haunted houses and movie theatres during the Halloween season. After a moment of horror, people have the luxury of returning safely to their homes knowing that whatever they just witnessed was pure fiction. Unfortunately, there was a group of people who lived a Halloween horror story every day for many years experiencing fear, trauma and pain that go beyond a brief fright in a haunted house. A PhD student at USC dedicates her time and research to understand the fear and traumas World War I soldiers overseas.

Jenna Ross

Jenna Ross is a fifth year PhD student in the history department of USC Dornsife. Her research is centered on the experiences of fear in the trenches of WWI amongst soldiers. Prior to studying at USC, Ross lived in Italy for three years. During that time, she traveled throughout Europe visiting small towns and villages. Her curiosity about WWI was sparked when she noticed the frequency of WWI memorials in every town she visited.


“It was something uncanny about the first World War and I wanted to explore it,” Ross said.

During the beginning stages of her research, Ross came across a 1917 article by a psychiatrist who wrote about the fear of soldiers. Contrary to popular publications during the 1910’s, the psychiatrist explained how fear was normal, necessary and beneficial. This article was the catalyst to Ross’ intellectual pursuit.

Ross’ research is transnational. She travels to England, France and Germany to visit

The Imperial War Museum, London.

various archives such as The Imperial War Museum in London. To prevent misinformation, Ross solely reviews diaries, letters and court martial records from 1914 to 1918.

“Second hand information takes away the initial feelings and information,” Ross said. “I [want] to get as close to the actual source as I can.”

Many soldiers wrote every day during the entire war, revealing the dark things that haunted them on a daily basis.

“I’ve spent thousands and thousands of pages with these men,” explained Ross. “I feel like I know them just like I know my own friends.”

The majority of the battles during WWI were fought in complete darkness, either at dusk or dawn. The only source of light were large fireworks called star-shells that gave temporary brightness on the battlefield. These men heavily relied on their five senses, training and fellow soldiers for survival.

A will for a soldier written in his Soldier’s Small Book.

During her research, Ross encountered a major who vividly reflected on a battle in a letter. This major and his men heard a sudden crash, which followed with rapid fire of machine guns. He instructed a line of his men to look over the top of the hill while the rest of them prepared and positioned themselves for battle. Soon after, screaming was heard from the hill. In the bursts of light from the star-shells, the major saw that his line of men running back towards them. What they saw caused such a fright the major had no choice but to retreat to a safer place in the darkness. The source of fear was never identified.

“You get [stories] like that a lot where they’re eerie and haunting,” Ross said.

This Halloween night, there will be tons of objects and people portrayed in costume. Many people choose the patriotic route and dress as the soldiers who protect and serve our country. However, where do you draw the line between honor and mockery? The average citizen who has never stepped foot on a battlefield cannot fathom the fear and trauma. Ross has learned through her research that many men who have served in wars did not have safe spaces to discuss the things that they experienced in fear of

A muddy French court martial for desertion in the presence of the enemy.

being seen as unpatriotic. People dressed as soldiers for Halloween are not aware of the severity of battlefield traumas and this lack of knowledge creates a level of insensitivity.

“I don’t think dressing as a soldier is a complement especially since it’s often sexualized,” Ross said. “The [mindset] is like ‘Oh, women like soldiers. I’m going to dress as a soldier!’ Well do you want to have all the mental trauma that’s associated with it?”