REACH Fellows present research during symposium at UNC Pembroke

Mason Schwenneker discusses his Pearl Harbor research during the annual REACH Symposium

What began as undergraduate research into the memory aspect of war through examining personal letters of eyewitness accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor evolved into a life-changing experience for UNC Pembroke junior Mason Schwenneker.


After months of research––and at the urging of his faculty mentor Dr. Scott Hicks––Schwenneker flew to the island of Oahu, Hawaii and toured the Pearl Harbor National Museum––the site of one of the great defining moments in history. There, he gained a deeper perspective of the surprise attack that drove the United States into World War II.


“That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Schwenneker said of his trip over spring break. “I love reading about World War II and Pearl Harbor, so it was interesting visiting this place that I’ve read about my whole life––standing above the sunken USS Arizona and watching the oil leak out––it was moving. I felt empowered.


“I also gained a new cultural perspective during my visit. We were in McDonald’s and a Hawaiian guy walks up and after I tell him about my research, he says, ‘don’t forget about the Native Hawaiians who were attacked that day,’” Schwenneker said.


Schwenneker’s trip was made possible, in part, by funding from the Mellon Foundation-funded REACH program at UNCP. He was among 18 student scholars who detailed their research at the recent REACH Symposium at the Livermore Library. After partnering with faculty mentors, fellows examined topics ranging from the emotional and psychological well-being of Indigenous youth to the sexualization and gender role ideologies men’s and women’s magazine covers. 


For Junior Teresa Fernandez––whose mother and grandmother emigrated to the United States from Paraguay––her research was personal. She examined the effects of federal anti-immigrant bills on first- and second-generation Latinos in the United States and how acculturation can influence their health.


“My research is based on my lived experience,” said Fernandez, a first-generation student recently elected SGA vice president. “I’ve looked at the quality of life of Latino immigrants, especially those who don’t live in a community with Latinos, and their poor health outcomes and how this can be remedied.” 


Through REACH, Fernandez was given the opportunity to present findings at the First Gen Summit at Babson College in Massachusetts last fall. 


Alongside his mentor, Dr. Laura Hakala, senior Brennan Walker took an inside look into the American Tract Society–an evangelical organization in 1825–which published Christian literature. His research examines three books published to educate formerly enslaved persons.


“We noticed the agenda they were pushing was Christianity and middle-class values,” Walker said. “My argument is that the organization reinforced harmful ideologies perpetuated during slavery. The literature was destroying the African American voice.”


The year-long research was a personal reflection for Walker, too. 


“For me, it was a great way to learn more about African American history and a chance to see what obstacles my people had to overcome to get to where we are today.”


Like Schwenneker, Walker said his REACH project evoked a sense of empowerment.


“It’s amazing coming from high school where I didn’t believe I was smart enough to do this kind of research,” said Walker, who is also studying history . “It’s so powerful to see me actually able to do research that is impactful and meaningful and can educate others.”