Nearly 500 students to graduate from UCI Humanities
Meet the Class of 2020
This spring, 468 students will graduate with a degree from the UCI School of Humanities. UCI will confer the degrees through a virtual commencement on June 13.
From studying the history of film to analyzing the world’s greatest thinkers and learning how to enact social change, these graduating students’ scholarly pursuits represent a wide range of humanistic disciplines. As humanities-trained leaders and thinkers, they are ready to tackle life’s most difficult questions.
Below are a few of our graduates’ stories.
Ingrid AllenWhat fuels Ingrid Allen is the ability to tell meaningful stories. In fact, storytelling is the common thread in Allen’s years at UCI. Two campus publications, Her Campus at UC Irvine and New University, were the launchpad for her to gain experience in journalism and marketing. She further refined her storytelling capabilities by working as a production technician for the Department of Film and Media Studies.
B.A. film and media studies, business innovation minor
When it comes to her crowning achievement at UCI, though, it comes to a tie.
One of her coolest experiences was working for the Austin Film Festival in 2019. As a script reader, she gained hands-on experience in the film industry, ultimately earning a badge to the festival, where she gleaned more insight. Her other transformative experience was a project that took her back to her roots as a storyteller and as a Chinese American. Working with the chair of the Department of Film and Media Studies, Fatimah Tobing Rony, Allen put months of research into her Campuswide Honors Collegium thesis. Her thesis, however, was far from ordinary. Instead of a longform paper, Allen created a documentary about the relationship between her mother and great aunt, both of whom emigrated from British Hong Kong. This project took her to Vancouver to film her great aunt for her incredible life story. Allen presented her short documentary virtually at the Undergraduate Research Spotlight in June.
“What I love about my major is that it gave me an understanding of film as a social, historical, political and artistic document capable of changing the world,” Allen says.
After UCI, Allen hopes to enter the publishing industry to continue telling humanistic stories on digital outlets.
By Audrey Fong
R.M. CorbinFor first-generation college student R.M. Corbin, a college degree wasn’t always an attainable goal. In fact, as Corbin explains, poverty made “anything that didn’t pay the rent a far cry for [his] family.” However, with some financial support from the university, Corbin was able to pursue his scholarly dreams.
“Stories have always been the most important thing in my life, even when my own narrative didn’t seem to make sense,” Corbin says. “Being an English major was the truest choice to myself, and I knew UCI was my school of choice when I first visited. The atmosphere, the faculty, the air of work taken seriously and selves taken less so. It’s been perfect.”
Adding to his perfect experience, Corbin tackled his undergraduate career with gusto, from having his stories published in New Forum, UCI’s undergraduate literary journal, to joining the Humanities Honors Program. It’s the latter, though, that Corbin credits with offering him “the most profound opportunity for personal work, creative freedom and intellectual transformation.” Working with Nancy McLoughlin, associate professor of history and the program’s director, and Jayne Lewis, professor of English, Corbin put together a thesis that centers on conceptions of loneliness in U.S. and Japanese literature during the years between the bombing of Nagasaki and the Manson Murders.
“Through my work, I’ve come to the very real understanding that I’m not alone with my stories. While loneliness has been my concern as a scholar, I have never once felt alone during my time at UCI. My family, my peers, my honors cohort, the incredible professors and mentors I’ve had the profound privilege of working alongside—they’ve all encouraged my success and fostered the necessary means to help me succeed in my post-graduate work. And to succeed as just a person, in the world.”
After graduation, Corbin plans on taking time off from academia to work and focus on his fiction. He hopes to apply to creative writing M.F.A. programs thereafter.
By Audrey Fong
Manny De LeonUCI attracts more Filipino American students than any other school in the UC system. “You wouldn’t think UCI would have the most,” says Manny De Leon, a master’s student in Asian American Studies. “You would think San Diego, or maybe UCLA. But no, it’s UCI, by a good margin.” As an undergraduate interested in learning more about the Filipino American diaspora in Southern California, De Leon wondered why. How did UCI become such a magnet, in a state where public universities already have some of the highest numbers and percentages of Asian American students in the country? As a fellow in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, De Leon began digging, talking to students past and present, interviewing current administrators and faculty members, and poring through the school’s archives. “It started out with the founders of Kababayan [one of the largest Filipino American collegiate organizations in the country] really trying to get young Filipino Americans throughout the South Bay to go to college,” he says. “And one of the schools they emphasized was UCI.” From there, strength built upon strength, as UCI created the UC system’s first multicultural center, the Cross-Cultural Center, in 1974; four decades later, in 2016, the school’s Department of Asian American Studies became the first in the nation to offer a 4+1 B.A./M.A. program. “That was actually one of the main draws for why I chose UCI,” De Leon explains.
M.A. Asian American studies
Born in Manila, De Leon moved to the U.S. with his family when he was eight. As a child of immigrants, he wondered why more of their stories weren’t being taught in his AP and U.S. history courses in high school. At UCI, De Leon found an Asian American studies department that was both intimate—his cohort consists of five scholars—and renowned. Soon after, he became immersed in Asian American groups and events at UCI and beyond. At the Cross Cultural Center, he helped plan events and workshops as a graduate intern. In 2019, as co-programming director of the Southern California Pilipinx-American Student Alliance (SCPASA), he helped organize the group’s annual summit conference at UCI, which was centered on the theme of Kapwa. “It’s an indigenous Filipino value,” he says. “It’s hard to translate, but the rough translation is this sense of togetherness that’s not a ‘you and I,’ it’s an ‘us’ mentality.” Featuring workshops on everything from mental health issues in Pilipinx communities and de-escalation tactics for student organizers to the role of Filipino myths and monsters in Filipino American storytelling, the conference attracted 350 college and university students from across the state.
After earning his master’s degree, De Leon hopes to enter a doctoral program, with the ultimate goal of becoming a university professor. When he does, he’ll become the first and only of his clan. “Literally everyone in my family is in health care: nurses, medical techs. Everyone’s in medicine.”
Telling them about his goals, he remembers, wasn’t easy. “When I first told my mom that I was definitely not pursuing medicine, she discouraged me from pursuing the studies. For immigrant parents, they mean well, but for them, their mentality is all about survival.” To convince her, De Leon reminded her that she and the family had come to the U.S. so her kids would have the freedom to do what they wanted to do, be it in medicine or otherwise. “So, she got it,” he says. Even so, his family isn’t altogether clear on the research he’s conducted at UCI, or where all of that might lead. “I just tell them that I’m going to be a teacher at a university,” he says. “A professor. They get that. That, they understand.”
By Robert Ito
Kimberly EscalanteDuring her junior year at Anaheim High School, Kimberly Escalante was encouraged by her political science teacher, Michelle Majewski, to go to college. A UCI alumna, Majewski recommended Escalante visit the campus. “I liked Irvine,” Escalante says. “It was calm and peaceful, and I could see myself here.” Since first stepping foot on campus, the first-generation student has dedicated herself to pursuing a path in activism, philanthropy and community building.
B.A.s Spanish and political science
As a new freshman, Escalante participated in the Summer Institute for Sustainable Leadership where she learned the importance of coming together as a community to address sustainability and food insecurity. She credits SISL with encouraging her to seek out leadership opportunities such as the Summer Academic Enrichment Program and the Public Policy and International Affairs Program at UC Berkeley.
After dedicating three years of hard work into the philanthropic student group Helping Hearts, she was elected president of the club. As president, Escalante organized 40 public service events each quarter around homelessness and food security including hygiene-product and clothing drives. Concurrently with her work in this organization, she also volunteered for Laundry Love, an organization that provides free laundry service to low-income and homeless individuals. She further diversified her experience by serving as the philanthropy chair for the Social Sciences Dean’s Ambassadors Council and travelling to Costa Rica to learn more about the country’s culture and sustainability practices. Just last winter, Escalante utilized these experiences to co-lead eight UCI students on a service trip to assist homeless communities in Los Angeles as part of UCI’s Alternative Break Program, which places teams of college students in communities to engage in service and experiential learning during their winter or spring break.
If Escalante’s dedication to serving the community wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she also pursued a double major, gained valuable experience in communications as an intern for the School of Humanities’ Marketing and Communications team, and participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. The research she presented at UROP, which she conducted for the Humanities Honors Program, focused on women activists and revolutionaries in El Salvador from the Civil War to the present
“It’s important to give back, and I have the space and ability to help those who face challenges,” Escalante says. Passionate about making a difference in the world, she plans, after graduation, to work for a nonprofit organization and earn a master’s degree in public policy.
By Pat Harriman and Audrey Fong
Paulina GuajardoAfter graduating from high school in Tijuana, Paulina Guajardo found herself at a crossroads with her education. She had attended community college in San Diego but ended up returning to Tijuana instead to study dance – a field she didn’t feel passionate enough to pursue upon graduating. She was also wrestling with an abusive relationship.
B.A. philosophy, gender & sexuality studies minor
Upon leaving that relationship, Guajardo had a clearer idea of what she wanted and decided to pursue philosophy. From there, she returned to community college and established a new and healthy relationship with someone who encouraged her to apply to the UCs. Though they had broken up, she had wanted to share the news with him when she was accepted to UCI. It was at that time she learned he had passed away just two weeks earlier.
“It was the most bittersweet moment of my life,” Guajardo says. “Being here at UCI, I was still struggling with this pain and sought friendship and companionship, but it was difficult to make friends since there was a cultural and generational gap.”
Even though she struggled initially, Guajardo is glad she chose UCI, saying, “I was lucky to find a philosophy department where epistemology is strong.” As a domestic abuse survivor, this was especially important for her work on feminist epistemology, “which investigates the ways in which we know we are in an oppressive state, who gets to say something valuable about it, and especially how society inflicts testimonial injustice to women who speak up about the violence they live.” Establishing herself among her peers as a passionate philosopher, she was elected co-president of the Philosophy Club and chief editor for Falsafa, the undergraduate philosophy journal. She cites the mentorship she received from women in the department - especially from Annalisa Coliva, chair of the Department of Philosophy, Gloria Simpson, the department manager, and Miriam Torres, the department coordinator – with transforming her undergraduate experience.
Upon graduation, she plans to take a year off to travel, see her friends and work on applications for graduate school.
By Audrey Fong
Matthew KnutsonMatthew Knutson has been playing video games since the age of five. Before coming to UCI, he became interested in game culture, with an eye to what he was learning in classes on queer and critical race studies. Even so, he never thought he could make a career out of analyzing video games, let alone write a doctoral dissertation based on one of his lifelong favorites (“Super Smash Bros,” the immensely popular multiplayer game from Nintendo). “It didn’t dawn on me that you could study video games until I was 27,” he says. Indeed, when he started looking at Ph.D. programs after completing his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English, Knutson, a devoted fan of Tennessee Williams, figured he’d focus his studies on literature of the American South.
Ph.D. visual studies
And then Knutson discovered the the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies. With its mix of faculty from the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Department of Art History, the program seemed like the perfect fit for someone interested in doing a deep dive into the world of gaming. “It’s an interdisciplinary program that includes faculty from a lot of different disciplines related to visual culture, and it was one program where I thought the types of research I was interested in would be welcome, and I could find a foothold,” he says. Entering the program in 2014, Knutson soon changed his focus from the textual, narratological questions of video games to issues of temporality in competitive gaming: how time works differently in different games and for different players, for example. A dissertation chapter about queer temporalities in the video game “Life is Strange” was recently published in the academic journal Game Studies.
Knutson’s arrival at UCI could not have been better timed (speaking of temporality). Less than two years after he began the program, UCI became the first public university to create an official esports program, offering scholarships to team members, and opening a 3,500 square-foot esports arena on campus. “UCI has led the way in esports among the UCs, just the way it’s led the universities in the nation,” he says. “It’s established itself as a hub of esports scholarship, and gaming scholarship in general.” Knutson was part of a committee that helped craft a code of conduct for the arena, and recently taught a course at the Laguna College of Art and Design that discussed, among other things, issues of race, gender and queer identity in game design. He’d like to see more inclusivity in all aspects of gaming, and less “gatekeeping” among some sectors of its players. “The core of the community is prone to gatekeeping, maintaining this idea that this is a small subculture that other people can’t understand,” he says. “‘These women and minorities and queer folks are encroaching on our space.’ But gaming has proliferated quite a bit. Among people under 25 or so, about 90 plus percent play games in one form or another.”
After receiving his doctorate, Knutson will begin teaching at the University of Central Oklahoma as an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication. In the meantime, he’s working on a research project about gaming competitions in 1980s arcades, and is in talks with an academic press to submit a book proposal based on his UCI dissertation.
Ironically, as Knutson has become more immersed in studying video games, he’s had less time to actually play them. “I play ‘Rocket League,’ but not competitively,” he says. “I wish I was involved with the ‘Rocket League’ club, but being a parent, I don’t really have time to go to campus and hang out with those undergrads. It’s more like, I’ll play that game after the kids have gone to bed.”
By Robert Ito
Jairus Cedric Villangca PaceloSitting in his high school classes, first-generation college student Jairus Cedric Villangca Pacelo dreamed of attending a UC – which he considered the top tier for education. Admitted to UCI as a drama major, Pacelo knew he wanted to add another major and was drawn to the School of Humanities because it gave him a chance to “study humans, society and culture, and how to become a better human being.” As a gay Filipino cis-male, gender and sexuality studies immediately caught his eye.
B.A.s gender & sexuality studies and drama
“Gender and sexuality studies is important because it’s a site where we can undo what we’ve taken for granted and build a community with other folks who have questions about why things are the way they are,” Pacelo explains. “GSS is a game-changing major – it’s a timeless, evolving study that asks, ‘How can we undo years of violence and add to our movement of change?’”
Pacelo’s interest in building communities defined his undergraduate career and he took pride in his work for Sierra Hall in Mesa Court, Student Parent Orientation Program and Anteater Mentorship Program. Reaffirming his passion for community building, Pacelo taught a course on the queer Filipino experience through UTeach, a program that empowers undergraduates to create and teach their own courses to other undergraduates. Through this experience, Pacelo not only felt more equipped to build communities and bridges through storytelling, but also more confident in using his voice.
“Before college, I had too many voices influencing who I was, what I wanted, and how I felt about myself,” Pacelo says. “But, deep down, I knew my voice was down there. It’s a voice that is now hungry to say something, that wants to tell stories and proudly say it.”
Although COVID-19 has uprooted Pacelo’s post-graduation plans, he knows that, now more than ever, he is driven to use his voice to drive change for a better world. He hopes to pursue a career in social media and storytelling by way of acting, writing and directing.
By Audrey Fong
K. PersingerBefore K Persinger started at UCI, they had already earned four associate degrees from Saddleback College. After discovering comparative literature and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o’s Decolonizing the Mind at Saddleback, Persinger was determined to continue their education and dreamed of having Ngũgĩ as a professor, bumping UCI up to their top choice for transfer.
B.A.s comparative literature and anthropology, archaeology and gender & sexuality studies minors
At UCI, Persinger dedicated themselves to not just one major, but two majors and two minors – all while balancing a 30-hour work week and grappling with a disability that causes them chronic pain and fatigue.
“For me, these subjects are deeply intertwined, and they make sense together and mutually inform my understanding to the point where I can’t imagine having picked only one,” Persinger enthuses. “Even though it’s a lot, I am grateful to be studying so many things I’m genuinely passionate about.”
As a member of the Campuswide Honors Collegium, Persinger conducted research under Adriana Johnson, associate professor of comparative literature, and presented their research on climate change at the John Hopkins University Macksey Sympsosium. Persinger was also a student-scholar with the Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries 2019 summer cohort. In this program, Persinger co-lead an oral history project and had the opportunity to help youths at the LGBTQ Center Orange County share their stories.
"Ngũgĩ is an incredible academic, activist and professor,” K says of their experience taking a class from Ngũgĩ. “Something I particularly appreciated was his use of storytelling in lecture. One of the things I remember Ngũgĩ saying during lecture was that 'humans are a storytelling animal, we relate to each other through narration,' and that's stuck with me. Partly because it both emphasizes the stakes of studying literature and because it helped me to recognize the throughline of the different disciplines I was interested in."
Ultimately, Persinger’s hard work paid off as they will be graduating summa cum laude and were invited to join the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society in addition to being selected for both the Howard Babb Memorial Essay Prize 2020 and the School of Humanities Undergraduate Award in Comparative Literature for 2019-2020. After graduation, Persinger plans to take a gap year to apply for graduate school and to work on their poetry.
By Audrey Fong
UCI's virtual commencement takes place Saturday, June 13 at 10 a.m. with the School of Humanities' reception beginning at 10:30 a.m. Both can be streamed here.