Gaining Perspective and Empathy Through Research
In conversation with Sebastian Zegarra-Pardo, History major and EURēCA! scholar.Nov 3, 2023
Sebastian Zegarra-Pardo is a History major and EURēCA! scholar working with Professor Marjorie Levine-Clark. Here Sebastian talks with EURēCA! Ambassador Jessica Valdez about gaining empathy and perspective through historical research, balancing life as a student scholar, and the excitement that comes from sharing your research with other people.
Jessica Valdez: To start, what brought you to CU Denver?
Sebastian Zegarra-Pardo: Colorado, technically. My partner and I lived in Vegas. I just hadn't grown used to it, so she said, ‘let's go to Colorado because it's beautiful and there's a lot of opportunity for outdoor activity.’ I was in the process of pursuing a degree at that time, so I transferred to CU Denver.
Jessica: Following that, how did you choose your major?
Sebastian: History? Yeah, obviously the money. The potential for millions…
I like philosophy, I spend a lot of time thinking about questions that I'll never have an answer to. It's really interesting analyzing historical events. It's like practical philosophy - you can observe the past and how it shapes societies and institutions.
Jessica: What do you hope to do after you graduate?
Sebastian: I'm going to grad school through the Master of Arts in Teaching + Teaching Licensure program. Then I want to teach K-12, I’m planning on high school. I'm going to see how that goes, because I'm still trying to see if my temperament will fit the job. I'm very idealistic, but I'm also open to other career opportunities, so we'll see.
Jessica: How would you describe your research to someone not familiar with it?
Sebastian: Broadly speaking, my research is the socioeconomic differences in 20th Century Britain. As a history major, I try to tell individual narratives about people in the broad context of the politics and everything that's happening.
My summer research [as a EURēCA! Summer Fellow] was on the gender effects of the economic crisis during the depression in Britain. I told the story through primary sources of poor mothers who were among the people affected the most by the depression. Not only did they not have job opportunities, they were often excluded from applying for state welfare benefits. It was pretty bad.
Jessica: I feel like we don't think about the depression happening on that side of the Atlantic, we only focus on the US side.
Sebastian: That's the other thing, I knew nothing about British history. My mentor is a British historian, so it's a catch up race a little bit. If you want to tell a story about something you're interested in you have to have a handle on the broader history of the time, that's been fun.
Jessica: What do you see as being the future impact of your research?
Sebastian: I would be really happy if somebody looked at my research and took away a greater sense of empathy and understanding.
You sort of have this abstract notion of poverty or what it must be like to be down and out, but when you read the sources of what people's day-to-day lives were like, it really hits you. You really understand that there's this ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality that doesn't really apply to people like this. Maybe this research will create an impetus for helping and becoming more socially involved. History, with my topic, is consciousness raising.
Jessica: Hopefully, like you said, you can help people to be more aware. I think people get discouraged they can't fix the entire problem, but if you help a few people that makes a difference.
Sebastian: For sure. You shouldn't discount one person that's impacted, and how much of an effect that can have. I take comfort in that, I think.
Jessica: What are some of the challenges that you face?
Sebastian: Personal lifestyle, working full time. Sometimes I work over 50 hours a week for my job since I'm not getting loans and have living expenses. It's been pretty hectic with my personal life, and then trying to find the time for the research that I want and need to do has been challenging.
During the summer I faced the same challenges and one of the ways I met it was by changing the goal posts a little bit. I knew I wasn't going to be able to achieve this goal that I had set out. So, I revised it to something I knew I could attain. That way I was at least delivering on something that I could promise, and that felt good, and it worked out.
Jessica: I think that's a really good point, adjusting the goals too. Sometimes when you set something too far out, then it just becomes discouraging.
Sebastian: Yeah, exactly.
Jessica: Since you presented in the summer, do you have any tips for people presenting?
Sebastian: I would say know your bullet points and be prepared to discuss the main points of your research. I found when people asked questions that you didn't expect, if you did the research and the work, you'll be able to confidently answer what you know, or say that’s something you could look into.
Jessica: Yes, definitely. People ask questions and you're like, ‘I didn't even think about it from that angle.’ Did you enjoy presenting?
Sebastian: Yes! It was the best part in my opinion. I really liked it because everybody seemed genuinely interested. They have so many posters to choose from so if they came to yours, they really wanted to engage with the topic.
Jessica: How did you find your research mentor?
Sebastian: She actually reached out to me. I had never taken any of her classes, but Bill Wagner, my professor from theory in practice and seminar classes recommended me since Marjorie was looking for someone to mentor.
Jessica: That's really cool! What's your relationship like with your mentor?
Sebastian: The structure is pretty loose, she's very easy going. She's been super understanding with me for the past few months. I would say that when we were doing the summer project we were meeting once a week and that was more regular. Now we meet maybe once a month. I really enjoy our working relationship, because we have a pretty open rapport.
Jessica: One last question for you, what advice do you have for students interested in undergraduate research?
Sebastian: I would say that research is iterative. Don't be afraid to revise your topic or thesis. As you do more research, new ideas will emerge. As you pursue them, it's a distilling process. Then over the long run, you will be left with what originally attracted you to the topic. Don't be afraid to go back and revise, it's a cycle. That can feel a little frustrating because you feel like you've made progress toward a dead end, but it's part of it. So don't be discouraged by that.
Jessica: That's really good advice and a really good point.
Sebastian: I'll also say that having a good mentor-mentee relationship is highly advisable. Obviously, they're a professional, and they can guide you because they've been down that path. Not only is it a great opportunity for that reason, but they'll help guide you when you feel like you're not researching well, and they'll help you get back on track.
Jessica: That's awesome. Thank you.
Are you interested in pursuing a research or creative project? Set up an appointment with an undergraduate research advisor to learn about the EURēCA! Program and the many ways to get involved in mentored learning at CU Denver. Visit our website to get started: https://www.ucdenver.edu/lynxconnect/undergraduate-research