McNair Scholars explore undergraduate research

Posted on September 14, 2022

Two women walk side-by-side over a bridge with greenery around them.
Mulubrhan Kidanu and Alexis Bailey, both UNCG-McNair Scholars, walk side-by-side in the Music Building Garden, one of Mulubrhan’s favorite places on campus.

This summer, we have been featuring some of UNCG’s dedicated undergraduate researchers. Each student in the competitive UNCG-McNair Scholars Program is paired with a mentor, as they delve into a topic and hone their research skill sets. 

For this feature on McNair Scholar, we are featuring African American studies major Mulubrhan Kidanu and sociology major Alexis Bailey. 

Kidanu is gaining research experience with mentor Dr. Noelle Morrisette, associate professor in the Department of English. Bailey is conducting research with mentor Dr. Gwen Hunnicutt, associate professor in the Department of Sociology

“The McNair program at UNCG takes great pride in designing, developing, and creating academic and cultural experiences that prepare first-generation, low-wealth, marginalized, and minority undergraduate high-achieving students for doctoral-level studies through active involvement in research and other scholarly activities,” says Stephanie Macfoy, Associate Director of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program.

Let’s get to know these impressive undergraduate researchers in their own words. These Spartans embrace campus life and showed us a few of their favorite spots at UNCG, from the Jackson Library where Bailey works – and the swings outside – to the peaceful oasis of the Music Building Garden.

Mulubrhan Kidanu

A close-up image of a woman who sits in front of a pond.
Kidanu is pursuing a major in African American studies and conducting research in the English department with Dr. Morrisette.

Tell us about yourself – where you are from and how your origins led you to where you are today.

“I hail from Tigray, it is an ancient place that is home to the Axumite empire and palace of the queen of Sheba. I am proud to say that I am the daughter of Sheba. The people of Tigray are hardworking, generous, committed, honest  and resilient. All these traits I am proud that I have and because of those traits it has led me to become a McNair scholar and succeed while being a part of it.”

Describe your research project: 

“The main aim of my project is to educate and bring awareness to students as well as teachers about a revolutionary called Thomas Sankara who ruled Burkina Faso from 1883 to 1887. I chose this topic because I have found out that not many people know about his contributions to Burkinafaso as well as the African continent, even teachers in the AADS program. He did a lot for Burkina Faso as well as the African continent but my main focus is his advocacy for Burkinabe women as well as women worldwide, poor burkinabes, and the environment as well as his fight against imperialism. He heavily advocated for women at the time when it was not popular and he made sure to let them know that without them his revolution would not exist. In terms of Burkinabe women he made sure they could hold government positions, banned forced marriages and as well as polgamy, he made sure they had rights to inheritance when they got divorced.”

Two woman speak with one another in a library with books behind them.
Kidanu speaks with Bailey in the Jackson Library.

What interests you about your research topic?

“What interests me about Thomas Sankara is that he was someone who was an upright and honest person in a position of power. He loved his nation. He loved his nation so much that he named it the land of upright or honest people. He hated injustices of any kind and used his power to make sure those who were dealt with injustices got justice. I feel some sort of connection with him, his characteristics resemble that of mine.”

What have you enjoyed or appreciated in your journey to become a researcher at UNCG?

“The staff is super helpful and informative as well as the scholars. It felt like family.”

What are some of your favorite places on campus and why?

“Some of my favorite places on campus include the garden next to the music building. I love the design because it has a lot of plants and I hear the animals talking. It brings me calm and joy.”

Alexis Bailey

A woman smiles and poses on a swing on campus.
Bailey is a Sociology major who is conducting research in this same department with her mentor Dr. Hunnicutt.

Tell us about yourself – where you are from and how your origins led you to where you are today.

“I was born and raised in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. I am considered racially mixed, but my biological father was not present in my life. I can remember that it was very difficult for my mother; she worked long hours and I would get home from school before she would come home. I developed a knack for academics earlier in my childhood and I enjoyed learning new things.”

Describe your research project: 

“I titled my project: “Intersectionalities and the Pandemic: Challenges of Minority, First-Generation, Lower-Income Students During the Pandemic.” To make it short, I am looking at students who are more likely to face other challenges both in the educational field and outside of the classroom. I was inspired to do this project due to my own experiences throughout my undergraduate experience, and the struggles that I as well as others are expressing that we face.”

Two women speak with one another on a bench with trees behind them.
Bailey speaks with Kidanu on a bench near the Music Building Garden

What interests you about your research topic?

“This is a project that speaks to a lot of students, including myself. In a way, I am demonstrating that there are root issues in education and society and the combination of these issues on top of a pandemic is not benefitting the demographic in which I am researching. I enjoy the fact that the research I am conducting can benefit society and education, a sphere in which I hope to continue to give back to.”

What have you enjoyed or appreciated in your journey to become a researcher at UNCG?

“I enjoyed the challenges. It certainly has not been easy to be a full time student on top of conducting research, as well as working multiple jobs. I have constantly been pushed to new limits, forced to become better every single day. All of these things will benefit me in the future and even now, and I am thankful that research has expanded my knowledge and drive, as well as affirming my goals in academia.”

What are some of your favorite places on campus and why?

One of my favorite spots on campus is the swingset that is on the College Avenue side of EUC. It is a reminder that we are still young and able to enjoy ourselves, despite the amount of work we are investing in our degree. I absolutely love the library. It is set up for essentially any type of student and their studying styles.”

A close-up image of plants in water with two women walking side-by-side in the distance.
Kidanu plans to graduate in 2023, while Bailey is slated to graduate in Fall 2022.

Story by Rachel Damiani & Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications

Photography by David Row, University Communications


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