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2018-19 Graduate Student Mentors (GSMs)

JEFFREY CHIH-YU TWU (ct2507@columbia.edu)
Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Jeffrey Chih-yu Twu is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology, where he researches border conflicts and nationalist movements in contemporary Hong Kong. His dissertation looks at the history of cartographic deliberations and corresponding transformations on the ground, especially in relation to changes in ecological, human, and political landscapes across Hong Kong’s riverine boundary with China. Through fieldwork in both the New Territories and metropolitan Hong Kong, Jeffrey observes how different demographics make sense of – and collectively reinvent – the bordering principles of spatial imagination and units of sociocultural community, from the era of British colonialism to the territory’s afterlife as a Special Administrative Region of China. In his writing, Jeffrey analyzes signs and sites of political specificity across a wide spectrum of grassroots mobilization and scholarly articulations, many of which characterize Hong Kong as a unique geopolitical entity both in light of, and in spite of, the territory’s increasing integration with Southern China. Paying close attention to escalating turmoil between China and its former British enclave, Jeffrey tries to interpret alternating spurts of optimism and resignation that dominate the Hong Kong society today. These debates on the region’s future autonomy and identity, Jeffrey argues in his dissertation, may be more fruitfully understood in relation to the outsized role played by Hong Kong’s narrow frontier with China. An ethnography of “fictional” state boundary lines and their tangible ramifications, Jeffrey’s dissertation investigates how emerging narratives of Hong Kong nationalism/nativism on the ground must rely on and give shape to cartographic inventions inscribed from above.

Before joining Columbia, Jeffrey studied comparative literature at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and English literature and linguistics at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. He taught Introduction to Literature at Hunter College, and served as a teaching assistant in various anthropology courses at Columbia. Jeffrey was also the course preceptor for the Senior Thesis Seminar in Anthropology and a writing consultant at the Columbia Writing Center. Jeffrey was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. He speaks both English and Mandarin Chinese.


ALEXANDER LASH (akl2150@columbia.edu)
Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Alexander Lash is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, where he researches the theater of the 16th and 17th centuries. His dissertation asks what it means that Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote their plays for playhouses that did not use sets or other visual markers of setting. Playwrights still tended to imagine rich fictional worlds, ranging from magical forests to the shops and streets found in their own London environment, and they developed a rich range of theatrical techniques to present these worlds onstage. Alexander's dissertation begins by looking at practical issues of staging plays - when do different actors enter the stage? where does the music come from? what props get carried on? - and moves on to ask how these theatrical decisions came to shape how audiences experienced the world around them.

Alexander was born in Seattle and raised in Sweden. He received his BA in English and Philosophy from Seattle Pacific University, a Post-Baccalaureate degree in Philosophy from the Sorbonne, and his MA in English at Fordham. At Columbia, he has taught University Writing and Literary Texts, Critical Methods (the introductory course to the English Major), as well as serving as a teaching assistant in courses on Shakespeare and on Gothic Fiction. This is his second year as a CUSP Graduate Student Mentor.


SAM PHELPS (sphelps@ldeo.columbia.edu)
Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Sam Phelps is a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. His research involves reconstructing past environmental conditions to understand the natural variability of Earth's climate and its influences and interactions with terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Specifically, his dissertation focuses on estimating atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the last ~20 million years using the molecular and mineral fossil remains of microscopic algae. This work aims to understand how phytoplankton grow and use carbon, and how we can use their organic products to evaluate the sensitivity of the climate system to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As part of his research, Sam has lived in France and Spain working with collaborators to learn state-of-the-art microscopy techniques. His dissertation research has been generously backed by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the Lamont Climate Center, the French Embassy in the US, and the Kenneth and Linda Ciriacks Graduate Fellowship in Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Sam was born in Providence, Rhode Island and raised in Burlington, VT, where he developed his appreciation for the outdoors. He did his undergraduate work at Brown University, majoring in geology. At Columbia, he has supervised summer projects of undergraduate and high school students, served as a teaching assistant for introductory climate and oceanography courses, and as a member of the Graduate Student Committee for the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. This is his first year as a GSM.


BENJAMIN SERBY (bjs2198@columbia.edu)
Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Benjamin Serby is a doctoral student focusing on US intellectual and political history since 1945. He grew up in the New York City area, and received his BA with highest honors from Brandeis University in 2010. His undergraduate thesis, "The Scientific Ideologist: Lewis Feuer and the Marxist Roots of Neoconservatism," explored the changing politics of the "New York intellectuals" from the Great Depression through the 1970s. Benjamin's research interests include the history of the American left; the relationship between social movements and social theory; the history of sexuality, gender, the family, and personal life; and the history of New York City. His dissertation is a study of the concept of "liberation" in the youth counterculture and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Ben's writing has appeared in The Nation and the blogs of The Society for US Intellectual History and the Gotham Center for NYC History. In 2016, he was awarded a History In Action HAPA grant to complete an online exhibition about the life and work of the historian Richard Hofstadter drawn from archival materials and previously unpublished documents. He was a 2016-2017 Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship in Museum Education at the Museum of the City of New York, where he taught young children about social movements and urban history, and developed public history content relating to the exhibition Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York City.


ANTHONY URENA (au2172@columbia.edu)
Graduate Student Mentor, Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program
Facilitator, CUSP Columbia Journey Seminar

Anthony Urena is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Columbia University. A Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow, Anthony’s research interests lie at the intersections of Health Inequality, Race and Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality, and Risk. His scholarship concerns itself with analyzing the fundamental social roots of disease risk perceptions among members of hard-hit communities.

His dissertation specifically examines how young Black and Latino men who have sex with men are making sense of the contemporary HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Through semi-structured in-depth interviews and participant observation, this project elucidates how an individual’s racial identity, socioeconomic class, and sexuality intersect at the individual, relational, and institutional level to both shape and challenge notions of HIV risk in their everyday life. This research has been supported by generous scholarships and grants from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, The Social Science Research Council, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

Anthony was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York by parents from the Dominican Republic. He holds a BA in both Sociology and Human Biology from Brown University. As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, he volunteered at several HIV/AIDS NGOs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to produce a comparative ethnography detailing the persistence of the epidemic in the city’s metropolitan and slum neighborhoods. At Columbia, Anthony has complimented his scholarship with a deep commitment to teaching and mentorship through his service as a Graduate Student Mentor and Instructor for the Columbia Summer Research Program, and as Preceptor for the “Modes of Inquiry - Senior Project Seminar” year-long course at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, as well as a Teaching Fellow for various introductory and advanced courses in Sociology.

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