Three Pomona College Students Win Library Undergraduate Research Awards

Library Undergraduate Research Awards 2021

Pomona College students Kristine Chang ’21, Sonam Rikha ’24 and Natasha Stange ’24 swept three out of four Library Undergraduate Research Awards this year, which honor students who demonstrate exemplary original research and scholarship as well as remarkable skill and creativity in the use of library and information resources via The Claremont Colleges Library.

Kristine Chang ’21

Chang, a cognitive science major and linguistics minor from San Jose, California, conducted research on the phonological (sound-based) and orthographic (writing-based) primes that help Mandarin speakers with the resolution of tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states. Chang explains that priming occurs when exposure to one stimulus (e.g., a word, sound, or image) influences how you respond to another stimulus. Primes are the first stimulus which affect how you respond to the second. TOT states are those moments when you know a word but can't quite remember it.

“I was fascinated that orthographic primes can influence Mandarin speakers' TOT states—there haven't been any TOT studies in English about purely orthographic primes, but the written structure of Mandarin makes this possible.”

Working remotely this past year wasn’t a challenge, she says, because she collected her data in the summer of 2019 from more than 100 people in Shanghai and Beijing.

Chang’s paper was titled: “The Tip-of-the-Mandarin Tongue: The Effects of Phonology and Orthography on TOT Incidence and Resolution” and her faculty sponsor was Lise Abrams, Peter W. Stanley Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science.

Sonam Rikha ’24

Rikha, an international relations major from Chicago, Illinois, examined China’s language policies and its relationship to language oppression in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan Prefectures. Rikha, who is Tibetan, says what stood out in her research findings was discovering that though China’s language and bilingual education policies in these Tibetan areas appear beneficial on the surface, these policies instead escalate linguistic erasure and structural violence in Tibetan communities.

The challenge in researching during a year of pandemic were that some texts were only available as physical copies at The Claremont Colleges Library.

“Since this academic year was remote, I couldn’t access some of those texts and had to find alternative sources. I think some benefits of conducting my research remotely was that I was able to utilize [The Claremont Colleges] Library’s online database and online resources to the fullest.”

Rikha’s paper was titled: “Language Oppression in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan Prefectures” and her sponsor was Assistant Director of College Writing and Language Diversity Jenny Thomas.

Natasha Stange ’24

Stange, a double major in economics and history from New York City with a field specialization in the ancient and medieval Mediterranean, explored the four major plagues that struck the ancient Mediterranean—the Plague of Athens (430 BCE), the Antonine Plague (165 CE), the Plague of Cyprian (250 CE) and the Justinianic Plague (541 CE)—and examined the social, political, economic, military and religious changes triggered by each epidemic.

Stange says that one aspect that stood out in her research was the huge influence climate and nature played in shaping living conditions and societies at that time.

“The ancient Mediterranean climate was temperate until around 150 CE, when fluctuating temperatures, droughts, volcanic eruptions and meteorites began to cause humans and animals to migrate on an unprecedented scale. Thus, natural disasters and climate change not only precipitated outbreaks and spread of infectious disease, but also exacerbated their impact by causing famine and economic hardship,” she says.

Today, however, Stange notes that, “Unlike in ancient times, we now live during a period where humans aren’t just affected by nature but where their activity has a growing impact on nature.”

While Stange was confined to her home during the pandemic, her summer research project gave her the opportunity to spend three months immersed in more than 100 primary and secondary sources. And the online portal of The Claremont Colleges Library gave her access to a “dazzling array” of resources, she says.

Stange’s paper was titled, “Politics of Plague: Ancient Epidemics and Their Impact on Society” and her faculty sponsor was Classics Professor Benjamin Keim.

Stange’s research, though a trip back into the ancient world, is relevant today in the time of COVID-19.

“While we’re fortunate that modern science was able to so quickly identify the [COVID-19] virus and develop multiple vaccines, we need to better understand how human activity contributes to the risk of future pandemics and what actions we can take to mitigate such risk.”

The Claremont Colleges Library offers four different award categories: $500 to a first-year, sophomore and junior (respectively) and $750 to a senior. Among the requirements, students must have utilized resources, services and/or staff at the Library. All undergraduate students at The Claremont Colleges are eligible to apply.