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Graduate Student Mentors (GSMs)

Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Nemira Gasiunas is a PhD student in the philosophy department at Columbia University, working in the philosophy of perception. Her dissertation concerns the conscious perception of relations of comparison. What is it to perceive comparisons between properties - to perceive one thing as redder than another, or longer than another, or the same shape as another? What can our comparative perceptions tell us about the nature of the mind? How can these questions be applied to illuminate the natures of aesthetic experiences?   

Nemira was born in Manchester, England, and received her Bachelors degree in French and Philosophy from the University of Oxford. She spent a year studying at the Sorbonne as an Erasmus Scholar, and has taught English and French in francophone Senegal. During her time at Columbia, she has taught a class on the Philosophy of Psychology, and served as a teaching assistant for classes on Metaphysics, Ethics and Aesthetics. She has also been involved for a number of years in the Columbia University Outreach program, taking a weekly philosophy class into the Manhattan Free School. This is her second year serving as a GSM. 

Nemira has a lifelong love of literature, travel and visual art. In her spare time, she takes full advantage of being an inhabitant of New York City.

Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Research Advisor, CUSP Summer Fellowship Program

Amanda Gilliam is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, and was a recipient of the prestigious Senior Fellowship, an award given to 10 seniors to design their own independent, interdisciplinary thesis projects in lieu of senior year coursework. Her thesis, “In Their Own Words: Stories and Poems from Prison,” featured over 200 pieces of student-inmate writing completed in a creative writing program that she created, implemented, and taught at threw New Jersey state prisons for men, women, and youth. A paper inspired by that experience, “The Search for the Real in U.S. Prison Literature,” was presented at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in 2007.

Her dissertation-in-progress, “Fit for Citizenship? Race, Respectability, and the Politics of 'Obesity,'” explores the ways in which “overweight” and “obesity” are socially produced as distinct problems of the urban poor of color and the ways this racialization of fat may serve to designate fat African-Americans, in particular, as unfit, undeserving, and ineligible for citizenship. Amanda is completing fieldwork that examines how Black people in Washington, D.C. use practices of weight management and bodily presentation as evidence of self-control, reason, and responsibility to gain access to social and political power otherwise denied them. She has presented her work at numerous conferences, most recently at “Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue” at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia in the fall of 2010.

In addition to her research, Amanda is a three-time recipient of the John W. Kluge Fellowship where she serves as a Graduate Student Mentor with the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program (CUSP). As the CUSP Independent Research Advisor, she develops curricula, facilitates seminars, and mentors an academically diverse and highly motivated cohort of undergraduate students as they design and pursue their own independent research projects. She has previously held teaching assistant appointments in the yearlong Senior Honors Thesis Seminar in Anthropology, as well as the two-semester course Film and Culture. After obtaining her PhD Amanda plans to attend law school and seek a cross appointment in law and culture.

Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Michael Christopher Low is a Ph.D. candidate in International and Global History at Columbia University in New York.  His research interests include the Ottoman Empire, the Arabian Peninsula, Islam, and colonialism in the Indian Ocean.  His research languages include Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Ottoman Turkish. 

 Over the course of the past year, he has conducted archival research in Istanbul and London for his dissertation project, “Governing Islam: The Muslim Holy Land and the World of Empire, 1858-1916.”  This project examines the global struggle between British India’s extraterritorial influence over the pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ottoman state’s deployment of its stewardship over the Muslim holy places as a cornerstone of its project of Pan-Islamic legitimacy.  Taking this inter-imperial contest as its point of departure, this research also sheds new light on conflicted Ottoman notions of centralization and the “civilizing mission” in the Arabian Peninsula and Red Sea, the internationalization of pilgrimage regulation, Indian Ocean steamship travel, passport and mobility controls, and international public health reforms and quarantine measures.  

The project has received generous support from the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, the Institute of Turkish Studies, and the David L. Boren National Security Education Program.

 Michael’s research and commentary has also appeared in International Journal of Middle East StudiesJadaliyyaOttoman History PodcastWorld History Connected, and in a number of books and encyclopedias.

 Select Publications:

“Mecca: Pilgrimage and the Making of the Islamic World, 400-1500,” in Aran

MacKinnon and Elaine McClarnard MacKinnon, eds., Places of Encounter: Time, Place, and Connectivity in World History (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012).

Contributing author in Dona J. Stewart, The Middle East Today: Political, Geographical,

and Cultural Perspectives (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).

“Empire and the Hajj: Pilgrims, Plagues, and Pan-Islam under British Surveillance, 1865-

1908,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 40, no. 2 (May, 2008). 

Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Matt Swagler is a Ph.D. candidate in African History at Columbia University. After growing up in Rochester, NY, he received a Bachelors degree from Brown University for an independent major in "Politics and Art." He has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Paris, Dakar, and Brazzaville. 

At Columbia, Matt is currently completing his dissertation, “African Youth Radicalism in a Time of Global Revolt," which examines political activism in Congo-Brazzaville and Senegal between 1958 and 1973. After the end of formal colonial rule in 1960, new governments in both countries immediately faced opposition from youth and student organizations who called for “real” independence, and protested against lingering foreign domination of the economy, politics, and education. These fiercely autonomous local movements formed their demands based on local conditions, yet they also drew on their engagement with international Communist, Black Power, and Third World networks.

Matt’s research and teaching interests include gender and sexuality in African and United States history, the politics of popular music and spoken performance, social movements in Africa and the US, Third World Marxism, and the relationship between African radical traditions across the diaspora. He has presented guest lectures for the Center for Economic Research and Social Change (CERSC) and the Centre d’études des mondes africains (CEMAf) at the University of Paris I. Matt also occasionally writes on African politics and social movements for Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Review. As much as possible, Matt can be found engaged in campus and community organizing in New York, or off playing music.

Pandora O'Mahony-Adams
Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar



Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program


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