2020 Scholars

The 2020 cohort of Mellon Public Scholars represent a variety of approaches to community-engaged research, each informed by their unique training, experiences, and vision of public scholarship. Their projects demonstrate the vital role of the humanities by bringing creative methods to pressing social issues: they consider songs as pedagogical tools, dance as cultural resilience, poetry as a voice, and community celebration as cultural literacy practice.

View the 2020 Scholars Project Showcase

Melinda Adams

Melinda Adams (Native American Studies), Digital Storytelling through Fire: The Revitalization of Northern California Cultural Burns

Dago Te’, Shi Melinda Adams yinishye’, Hello my name is Melinda Adams. I am from the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and currently a PhD student in the Department of Native American Studies. My proposal for the Mellon Public Scholars Program is to develop a digital storytelling campaign on the revitalization of cultural burns with the Tending and Gathering Garden, two acres of Patwin (Wintun Nation) land managed by the Native American community of Davis/Woodland and the Cache Creek Nature Conservancy. Cultural burns are small area fires conducted using Traditional Ecological Knowledge. These low temperature burns not only improve the ecosystem, they also provide socio-cultural medicine, which strengthens the intergenerational bonds between Native American tribal members. With support from the Mellon Public Scholars Program, this work will serve as a platform to educate our university and community on the importance of Native Peoples and our role as ecological and cultural warriors.

Faculty Mentor, Benjamin Houlton (Director, UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment)


Ben’s research interests include ecosystem processes, climate change solutions, and changes to global carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus cycles for enhanced energy and food production.

Julio Aguilar

Julio Aguilar (History), A Palpable Past: Histories of Water in the Mining City of Potosi, Bolivia

This project brings together environmental and public history in order to disseminate historical visual and written records on water struggles of the colonial city of Potosí (present-day Bolivia) and opening a public space for reflection on current water crisis. This public history initiative is a collaboration with local historians and historical archives of Potosí and Sucre. The initiative resituates the place of humanities in contemporary debates about environmental challenges in Latin America and the Andes.

Charles Walker Faculty Mentor, Charles Walker (History, Director of the Hemispheric Institute on the Americas)


Walker holds the MacArthur Foundation Endowed Chair in International Human Rights. He has published widely on Peruvian history, truth commissions, and historiography, in English and Spanish.

Eli Alston-Stepnitz

Eli Alston-Stepnitz (Sociology), Trans Health Storytelling with Sacramento Gender Health Center

Working with Gender Health Center staff, Eli will collect digital stories of Sacramento-area transgender folks. These narratives will be developed in consideration of the structural barriers that constrain trans folks’ agency to access mental health services voluntarily, and in response to state and nation-wide mental health awareness campaigns that do not approach mental health with consideration to these structural factors, nor in an intersectional way. These stories will address the complex experiences of trans people accessing health resources, in their own voices.

Faculty Mentor, Stephanie L. Mudge (Sociology)


Mudge is a historical, political, and economic sociologist specialized in the theoretically-driven analysis of Western politics, economies, and expertise.

Anthony Burris (Native American Studies) Developing a California Native American Interpretive Framework at Marshall Gold State Historic Park with California State Parks

California State Parks is developing a pilot interpretive framework for Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma, California. With Governor Newsom’s apology for California Native American Genocide in California, California State Parks is in the beginning stages of reviewing interpretation at Parks with an Indigenous nexus. This project will be the first of several reviews of other Gold Rush-era parks through current interpretation and education standards. Anthony will assist the Tribal Affairs Program, Interpretation and Education Division, and the Cultural Resources Program at Gold Fields District with engaging and consulting tribes whose history, culture, and traditions interact with Marshall Gold Discovery Park.

Faculty Mentor, Beth Rose Middleton (Native American Studies)


Middleton’s research centers on Native environmental policy and Native activism for site protection using conservation tools. Her broader research interests include intergenerational trauma and healing, rural environmental justice, indigenous analysis of climate change, Afro-indigeneity, and qualitative GIS

Jordan Dahlen

Jordan Dahlen (English/Creative Writing), A Voice Inside

The aims of “A Voice Inside” are to foster and develop poetry within the families impacted by the carceral system here in California. Citing a combination of research and precedent, “A Voice Inside” offers poetry workshops to incarcerated youth as well as their families.

Faculty Mentor, Katie Peterson (English)


Peterson is the author of four collections of poetry, This One Tree (2006), Permission (2013) and The Accounts (2013), the winner of the 2014 Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas, and A Piece of Good News, forthcoming in 2019. Her edition of the Brief Selected Poems of Robert Lowell was published in 2017.

Wayne Jopanda

Wayne Jopanda (Cultural Studies), Illustrated Lesson Plans for Liberation: A Multimedia Project Documenting the Journey of Filipino Trafficked Teachers

This project builds on seven years of work with Filipina trafficked teachers on a community-engaged research project that documented their experiences and transformation from trafficking survivors to community organizers of GABRIELA D.C. This summer the teachers and I have decided to collaborate on a multimedia illustrated video that showcases their collective journey of persistence, healing, and transformation from trafficking survivors to migrant rights activists, in collaboration with UCLA Asian American Studies artist Angel Trazo.

Faculty Mentor, Robyn Rodriguez (Asian American Studies)


Interests: Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, Welga Digital Archive, collaborating on a K-12 curriculum highlighting Filipino Americans’ contributions to the farmworker movement..

Yared Portillo

Yared Portillo (Education), The Fandango as Multimodal Cultural Literacy Practice for Transnational Mexican Youth

This project centers the development of community-based workshops on the fandango, the communal celebration of Son Jarocho, a participatory music from Veracruz, México where Indigenous, African and Spanish roots intersect. This is a collaborative inquiry into how we shape and reshape our community’s political, cultural, social, and transnational literacy practices through learning, teaching, and making music together, in that way opening up a space of conversation around the lives of our Mexican and immigrant community in Sacramento.

Faculty Mentor, Jessica Perea (Native American Studies)


Interests: Native North American music cultures; Alaska Native, Circumpolar Inuit, and African-Native American cultures, histories, and politics; Indigenous aesthetics and methodologies; sound and media studies; critical race and gender studies; jazz and popular music studies.

Angelita Repetto

Angelita Repetto (Sociology), Organizational Evaluation in the Arts with California Arts Council

The California Arts Council (CAC) is a state agency dedicated to advancing California through the arts and creativity. The CAC recently completed an organizational strategic framework that, among other priorities, foregrounds racial equity and better aligns the grant-making practices of the CAC with their strategic goal of serving California’s communities in a more equitable way. Drawing on an updated field scan of California’s nonprofit arts network, Angelita will work together with CAC staff to identify new opportunities for outreach. In consultation with the external program evaluation findings, she will assist the CAC in devising and implementing new internal processes focused on racial equity.

Erica Kohl-Arenas Faculty Mentor, Erica Kohl-Arenas
(American Studies, Imagining America)


Erica Kohl-Arenas is the Faculty Director of IA and Associate Professor in American Studies at UC Davis. She is a public scholar with interests in cultural organizing, social movements, private philanthropy, and the politics of brokering institutional change. Based upon her years of experience as a community development practitioner and ethnographic and qualitative researcher, Erica’s scholarship has focused primarily on the relationship between grassroots social movements and the politics of institutionalization and funding.

Jen Soong

Jen Soong (English/Creative Writing), Participatory Journalism with Capital Public Radio

Capital Public Radio is the NPR affiliate serving California’s Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. Seven frequencies, hundreds of thousands of listeners, and one mission: to build stronger communities. Working closely with Senior Community Engagement Strategist jesikah maria ross, Jen will assist in developing and assessing engaged journalism projects at CapRadio that focus on underserved audiences and/or underreported issues. This involves doing issue research, generating story ideas, organizing listening sessions, assisting in community media trainings, evaluating impacts, producing a variety of communications pieces and coordinating public events.

Faculty Mentor, Maceo Montoya (Chicana/Chicano Studies)


Maceo Montoya is a writer and visual artist who teaches courses on Chicana/o culture, the novel, creative writing, and community muralism. Montoya is an affiliated faculty member of Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer (TANA), a community-based arts organization located in Woodland, CA.

Hayley Steele

Hayley Steele (Cultural Studies), Beyond Colonial Ecocide: Strategies for Centering Indigenous Voices in Climate Media

Working with indigenous climate activists across organizations, this project will develop reciprocal frameworks for the creation of climate media that centers the voices of indigenous peoples and communities, while incorporating voices and directives from youth climate activists from around the globe.

Faculty Mentor, Larry Bogad (Theatre & Dance)


Bogad is the Director of the Center for Tactical Performance and an activist within the movement to divest from fossil fuels. His work in new media includes the board game, the mixed media performance Economusic: Keeping Score, and the immersive theatre game Santiago 9/11.  He is the host of The Plague, a podcast that explores the way contemporary socioeconomic practices and performances make the coronavirus more virulent and dangerous.

Katelyn Stiles

Katelyn Stiles (Native American Studies), Tlingit Performance on Camera: Cultural Resiliency through Dance and Film

This is a community based collaboration with the Sheet’ka Kwaan/Naa Kahidi Dance Groups in Sitka, Alaska to video document Tlingit performance and create a digital knowledge source for preservation, education, and creative innovation. This project is rooted in my responsibilities as a Tlingit woman and guided by Indigenous methodologies.

Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie Faculty Mentor, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American Studies, Director C.N. Gorman Museum)


Interests: Visual Sovereignty, Photography, Video, Serigraphy, Traditional Native American Techniques

Christina Thomas

Christina Thomas (Native American Studies), Numu Hoobea: Songs as Bridges between Tribal Communities and Higher Education

How mu? Nu Dawa Kutsmana mee nanea’a. Nu Numu, Newe, Hopino namayua’a. Nu Kooyooe Tukadu meno’o nu Daviswaetu. Greetings how are you! My name is Christina Thomas. I am Northern Paiute, Western Shoshone, and Hopi (Tobacco Clan). I grew up on the Pyramid Lake Paiute reservation located in Northern Nevada and now reside in Davis. I am a first year PhD student in the Department of Native American Studies. My Mellon Public Scholar project will be working on documenting and recording songs of the Great Basin. As a “traditional” Numu (Paiute) singer I will be recording songs in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Reno. In addition to recording songs I will be transcribing with musical notation, and then translating songs to English and in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Once translations and liner notes on the songs are complete, it is with high hopes to find a distributor to print the songbook and audio recordings to be able to redistribute to Native American communities throughout the Great Basin. With support from the Mellon Public Scholars Program this work will help to (re)vitalize our songs and dances to share with communities to save a part of our culture that is in danger of being lost if not documented and shared for the next seven generations.

Martha J Macri Faculty Mentor, Martha J. Macri (Professor Emerita of Native American Studies and Research Professor in Linguistics)


Research interests: linguistic prehistory of the Americas; Mesoamerican scripts, especially Maya and Isthmian; Native American language revitalization; Cherokee language