REACH Fellows at UNC Pembroke outline research proposals

Brenda Chavez Soriano
Brenda Chavez Soriano was among the REACH fellows who recently gave a presentation outlining their research for the 2023-2024 academic year

UNC Pembroke undergraduates Ahelayus Oxouzidis and Unmai Arokiasamy have been interviewing Lumbee elders this summer as part of a community-driven oral history project they will develop this academic year.

Oxouzidis and Arokiasamy will be compiling and archiving an oral history of the Lumbee Tribe as part of a comprehensive research project. The pair are among 18 REACH fellows paired with faculty mentors to shape their individual research projects.

“One of our goals is to correct and redo work from the Farm Security Administration, whose purpose decades ago was to give a face and a voice to people from underrepresented communities,” Oxouzidis said. “However, their images and notes about the Pembroke community and surrounding areas caused misrepresentation. We want to build relationships with our narrators (Lumbee Tribe) to ensure the creation of an ethical Indigenous archive.”

REACH fellows recently met to outline their research proposals with topics that range from Pearl Harbor, labor exploitation of U.S. and migrant children, retracing Chicana history in the South and whether climate change affects family planning.

The presentations were the culmination of a four-week Summer Research Exploration program. They attended lectures by visiting scholars and UNCP faculty, visited the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, reviewed interviews collected as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, contributed to a new database cataloging the representation of race and ethnicity in the Project’s life histories, and transcribed an interview they conducted with a Lumbee elder for a new archive.

De'Maurion Shelley will examine historical perceptions of gender among American Indian communities.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Shelley, a second-year fellow. “It has helped me grow as an individual and a professional. REACH has taught me how to do research outside the classroom.”

Senior Angelina Henhawk will analyze the determinants of social and emotional well-being among American Indian youth. After graduation, she plans to return home to Buffalo and become a youth director. 

“This research will give me experience working with Indigenous youth, especially in an area like Pembroke,” Henhawk said. “I’ll have the opportunity to create my programs with the kids here and develop programs I can incorporate in the future.”

Funded by the Mellon Foundation, REACH aims to increase the number of future scholars among American Indian, African American, Hispanic American and other underrepresented minorities interested in advanced study in the humanities. The program provides funds for research, travel and graduate school entrance exams.

Dr. Michele Fazio, who serves as program director, said she looks forward to tracking students' progress and offering them guidance in the coming year.

“I’m excited about all their work, especially the oral history project with the Lumbee Tribe,” Fazio said. “We are creating a community-driven archive that centers on lived experience, and the tribe will maintain who has access to it.”

“Reciprocity comes to mind when I think about this project. Students are working to preserve Lumbee culture and history while developing multiple research skills and a deeper appreciation for the humanities,” Fazio said.

The 2023-2024 fellows are De’Maurion Shelley, Unmai Arokiasamy, Mason Schwenneker, Angelina Henhawk, Jenna Humble, Kiki Cohen, Aaliyah Valdez, Brennan Walker, Ahelayus Oxouzidis, Genesis Gregory, Teresa Fernandez, Heather Lowry, Brenda Chavez Soriano, Diana Evans, Tiffany Smaw, Kayla Wingfield, Christopher Green and Elizabeth Chavis.