What's it like to be a MURAP student? Sebastian Mejia, 2019

Sebastian Meji

My name is Sebastian Mejia, and I was part of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program cohort in the summer of 2019.  At Florida State, I obtained a B.S. in Latin American & Caribbean Studies, another B.S. in International Affairs with a concentration in History, and a Minor in Portuguese. I graduated in Spring 2020. I took several Latin American & Caribbean History courses and wrote an honors thesis with Dr. Hicks as my advisor. I also took one of the History department’s senior seminar courses with Dr. Herrera.

I learned about the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) from a peer in the Service Scholars Program who had attended a conference where a presenter spoke about their experience in the program. MURAP is hosted by the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. The program is dedicated to diversifying the professoriate via training rising seniors in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts.

For the application, MURAP asks that you write about your research interests and a possible research project that you can realistically undertake. Additionally, they ask about your commitment to diversity, your commitment to pursuing a Ph.D., and your interest in teaching at the university level.

I wrote broadly about my interests in settler colonialism, decolonization, and indigeneity and proposed investigating how individuals re/connected with an Indigenous community that they have ancestral ties to. I stated how I wanted to examine the motivations behind this phenomenon and the different paths pursued. My research interests and proposal stemmed from course readings I had done in the past – specifically, on Social Revolutionary Movements in Latin America, Brazilian Literature and Film, and Latin American Geography.

While my proposal was not fully developed, once I was paired with my faculty mentor, my project evolved so that it included everything necessary to carry out a qualitative study. By the end of the program, I had written an original research paper that I presented at a conference hosted by UNC – Chapel Hill. 

On a day to day basis, MURAP held classes that improved our writing and presentation skills. Twice a week we received GRE preparation that formed me into a stronger test taker and a more competitive candidate for graduate school. We also attended graduate student panels to learn what graduate school is like, especially for students of color. For me, receiving personalized writing assistance and having the ability to speak with graduate students were some of the more invaluable aspects of this program.

Additionally, every week a faculty mentor would present their research to the cohort. It was enlightening being able to engage in research I usually would not be exposed to, such as Black German Studies, Communications, and Ethnomusicology. The weekends included excursions to learn about the racial and cultural history of Chapel Hill and neighboring cities. We also toured Duke University where we were able to obtain an application fee waiver.

There was also plenty of time for cohort relationship building with trivia night at Linda’s, attending the local farmer’s market, and exploring the Research Triangle.

I applied to MURAP with the intention of learning what research looked like in the humanities. I left the program with new confidence in my abilities as a researcher, as well as a peer community I could rely on. MURAP is designed to prepare students from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds for graduate school. I left feeling as though they did an excellent job.

This fully-funded program gave me financial security while I developed my research skills and formed life-long relationships. I was paired with a professor who instantly took an interest in my research and helped me cultivate an original research paper. The time I spent with my cohort was as impactful as the program itself. They were from institutions from all over the country: CUNY, DePaul, Purdue, Smith, Swarthmore, UT Austin, etc. I was exposed to various fields that were outside my academic periphery which pushed me in my own interdisciplinary research. The relationships I made during my time at MURAP were fruitful and continue to provide a support network that I rely on. I recommend this program to any student whose race, ethnicity, or other identity is underrepresented in academia. It is truly a transformative experience for undergraduate researchers looking to prepare for graduate school and become part of a community that will engage you intellectually.

To find out more about the program visit http://www.murap.unc.edu or contact murap@unc.edu. The application window is open from November 9, 2020, to February 8, 2021.