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Spring 2020 Graduates

Bachelor of Arts in American Studies

Avenilla, Julian Miranda*

Blohm, Tyler Peter

Espinoza Castillo, Esmeralda

Han, Philip Gene

Hester, Elliece

Howard, Keiron Dwhit

Kammer, Brian Michael

Krinsky, Joshua Evan

Kuo, Linda

Loventhal, Chad William

Martinez, Alexander Nikolai

Miller, Natalie Marie

Puentes Martínez, Erica

Solloso, Marcos J

Ugalde, Joshua Alexander

Vallinas, Santiago

Watson, Blair Lauren

Weinkam, Sierra Brook

Wright, Tiara Anyae

*Magna Cum Laude


Graduate Degrees

Mobley, Izetta Autumn (Ph.D.)

Benitez, Melissa (M.A.)

Sessoms, Christina (M.A.)


U.S. Latina/o Studies Minors

Arias, Javier-Alejandro

Espinoza Castillo, Esmeralda

Han, Philip Gene

Patel, Sahil Kalpesh

Puentes Martínez, Erica

Williams, Courtney Paige


A Message from the Chair, Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson

Dr. Williams-Forson

Remember this as you go forward, the present has a past, you have learned and been taught well, and with this knowledge you must continue to fight for freedom, because freedom is never free! Thank you for choosing American Studies as your educational launch pad. We honor you today knowing what you can do and must do to effect change in this place, this locale, this state, this nation, this universe. Go forward staying in the struggle for freedom whether you speak boldly, loudly, or under your breath….


Graduate Student Speaker: Izetta Autumn Mobley

Undergraduate Student Speaker: Julian Avenilla


American Studies Graduates


Javier-Alejandro Arias (USLT Minor)

Javier-Alejandro Arias is a Government and Politics Major with a concentration in International Relations and USLT minor.  He works closely with Breaking the Cycle Project at UMD. For his USLT capstone project, Arias researched why certain Central American and Mexican male youth in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County public schools chose to go to college and why others did not. He examined a number of factors, including public school curriculum, lack of funding, family, immigration status, and peer pressure to better understand the reasons why some students choose to attend college and why others do not. 

– Dr. Nancy Mirabal

Julian Avenilla

American Studies has given me the ability to love indiscriminately. Each class has revealed how the intersections of our identities create different experiences for every American. Hence, I feel empowered to love others, by listening to their stories, recognizing their individual challenges, and advocating against the discrimination that they face.  

A Banneker-Key Scholar, Julian graduated magna cum laude and has been awarded the American Studies department’s Outstanding Student Award. It recognizes the graduating senior with the highest cumulative grade point average. In Fall 2019, he was also recognized for academic excellence as a Dean’s Senior Scholar by the College of Arts & Humanities and as a Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar in Spring 2020. He won the Portz Outstanding Honors Student Award from the Honors College as well.

– American Studies Undergraduate Awards Committee

Tyler Blohm

Tyler drew from his father’s history as a minor league baseball player and his own knowledge of the game of baseball in order to investigate the inequalities present in the minor leagues for his capstone project. His work on the project and in class focused on the ways class and race play a role in these inequalities.

– Dr. Bayley J. Marquez

Tyler Blohm completed his senior year with an in-depth research project that examined “America’s Pastime” with a critical lens focused on the economic insecurity minor league baseball players experience in their day to day lives. The project was strengthened through the inclusion of multiple methods, including interviews and analysis of social media. Tyler brought enthusiasm and an emotional resonance to this important intellectual inquiry.

– Dr. Janelle Wong

Esmeralda Espinoza Castillo (American Studies B.A. and USLT Minor)

AMST and USLT has provided me with a home that I didn’t know existed. As a first-generation college student from an immigrant background, I didn’t know that it was possible to see myself in academia, not only in the course material but also as a scholar in the humanities. I am eternally grateful to the faculty in the USLT department for giving me the education and tools to empower myself and others. Thank you for helping me build a foundation for life. 


Philip Han (American Studies B.A. and USLT Minor)

Philip Han, an AMST major and USLT minor, is interested in immigration history, policy, and law. His USLT capstone paper examines how political rhetoric can impact thinking around immigration and documentation. He is looking to go to law school and hopes to be in a position to make change. 

– Dr. Nancy Mirabal

Keiron Howard

Keiron Howard wrote an important and revealing senior paper that began from the observation that a disproportionate number of African American men serve time in prison and asked what effects does their incarceration have on their families? The most revealing insights came from interviews with people who had experienced a family member in prison. They gave stark descriptions of the impact of incarceration on the family and the community, but they also suggested good, practical measures that could reduce the negative effects. I remember Keiron’s passion for the topic of his senior research project and his determination to help people understand the challenges that mass incarceration brings to whole families and neighborhoods. In good American Studies fashion, his paper gave voice to community members who had experienced a family member in prison and allowed them to generate good ideas and remedies for mitigating the hardships that fall on family members. I am so proud of Keiron for the insights his research brought to this topic. Keiron Howard (#59) was a defensive lineman for UMD’s football team. He played all four seasons and in every game his senior year.

– Dr. Mary Corbin Sies

Brian Kammer

American Studies has opened my mind to so many new topics and allowed me to better understand the world around me. I am thankful for all my professors who have supported me along the way. #IAmAMST


Joshua Krinsky

One of the greatest perks of being an American Studies major is that it truly provides students the opportunity and flexibility to pursue their individual academic goals and learn about topics they are interested in. Personally, I thoroughly researched and wrote in-depth about educational inequality, a matter I am incredibly passionate about, in addition to taking an independent studies course on the 2020 presidential election, a topic of my choosing, which allowed me to hone my analytical, argumentative and communicative skills.

Josh Krinsky is an AMST major and a Communication minor. He is interested in pursuing education and becoming a high school teacher. He’s also interested in politics and could foresee a career in politics and/or journalism He has recently published an editorial on President Trump’s and Vice-President’s Pence response to Covid19 and its impact on his generation.

– Dr. Nancy Mirabal

Linda Kuo

Linda has been awarded the Savneet Talwar prize for the Department of American Studies best scholarly paper written during the senior year. In “Construction of Labor in Kpop Media and Asian American Racialization,” Linda Kuo examined how representations of ‘Asian’ labor in Kpop genre reality TV shows relate to the construction of Asian American labor regarding the model minority framework. The Undergraduate Awards Committee commended her for delivering a detailed, complex, original, and nuanced argument based on deep readings of key scenes in seven Kpop reality survival shows.

– American Studies Undergraduate Awards Committee

Linda is committed to studying fandoms and fan culture, particularly kpop, through theoretical analysis and critique of the racial projects involved in media culture. Her work also demonstrates a care and attention to the agentic and transformative potential within fan engagement.

– Dr. Bayley J. Marquez

Chad Loventhal

Chad’s love for football led him to investigate the role of head injuries in the game for his capstone project. He draws on the personal experiences of close friends to frame his study and ground himself in a critique of how football has dealt with player injuries at all levels, from high school to the NFL.

– Dr. Bayley J. Marquez

Alexander Martinez

Alex is the co-winner of the department’s Undergraduate Service Award, given to the graduating seniors who best exemplify American Studies scholars’ dedication to service on campus and in the broader community. The awards committee was impressed with his passion and commitment to working with children through America Reads, Camp Kesem, and at Farquhar Middle School in Montgomery County.

– American Studies Undergraduate Awards Committee

Natalie Miller

Natalie cares deeply about the mental health challenges faced by collegiate athletes. Her capstone project uses social media narratives and blogs to examine how college athletes are making their mental health struggles visible and advocating for each other.

– Dr. Bayley J. Marquez

Sahil Patel (USLT Minor)

Pursuing a USLT minor has shaped my outlook and understanding of how public policies and the media can directly affect the experiences of minority groups throughout the U.S. After pursuing my medical degree this fall, I plan on providing for minority communities and putting the knowledge I’ve gained into practice.


Erica Puentes Martínez (American Studies B.A. and USLT Minor)

Senior Erica Puentes Martínez, a double major in American Studies and African American studies, with a minor in U.S. Latina/o studies, has been named one of the University of Maryland’s Undergraduate Researchers of the Year for 2020. Puentes, who was nominated by six faculty members from the departments of American studies and African American studies, was one of seven undergraduates from across campus selected to receive the award, given annually by the Office of Undergraduate Studies to recognize exceptional accomplishments in undergraduate research. 

– The College of Arts & Humanities

Marcos Solloso

Switching over from a business background, I did not know what to expect. However, what I came to find was a diverse and curious group, pursuing interesting and thought-provoking fields of research. The interdisciplinary experience has sharpened my critical thinking abilities and is essential for anyone. Thank you all Amsters!


Joshua Ugalde

A four-year member of Maryland’s wrestling team, Joshua drew from his knowledge and experience of high school and college athletics to write a senior capstone project to explore the current topic of toxic masculinity. He drew upon three bodies of evidence to research his topic: his own experiences as a Latino athlete who knows his way around a locker room, interviews with a Latina community member who considers herself a feminist and critic of toxic masculinity, and films that portray toxic masculinity from a “boys will be boys” perspective.

– Dr. Mary Corbin Sies

Santiago Vallinas

I am proud to be an American Studies graduate from UMD. The knowledge I have gained from the faculty has changed the way I experience the world. I am excited to keep exploring this field of study as I advance both my education and career. 

Santiago’s project employed an intersectional approach to understanding the use of dating apps by today’s college students. By paying attention to race, gender, and sexuality he discussed many of the ways dating apps are pushing our understandings of how people meet others.

– Dr. Bayley J. Marquez

Blair Watson

Blair Watson (#22) played for UMD’s Big Ten Championship women’s basketball team. During her senior year, Blair was the strongest defensive player on the team. When she wasn’t shutting down the opposing team’s top player, she was busy sinking three-pointers from her favorite spot in the corner. Here is the highlight video for Blair’s senior year.

– Dr. Mary Corbin Sies

Blair cares deeply about educational inequality particularly in the local contexts of Washington DC and Baltimore. Her capstone examined the way social structures influence educational inequality for Black students and what might be done to alleviate those inequalities. 

– Dr. Bayley J. Marquez


Sierra Weinkam

Sierra is the co-winner of the department’s Undergraduate Service Award, given to the graduating seniors who best exemplify American Studies scholars’ dedication to service on campus and in the broader community. The awards committee applauded her tireless dedication to educating the campus and members of the Greek system about violence against women and sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention.

– American Studies Undergraduate Awards Committee

Courtney Paige Williams (USLT Minor)

Courtney Paige Williams is an English Major and USLT minor. Her USLT capstone project examined the politics of Voluntourism in Latin America. She examined how projects that promote volunteer opportunities in Latin America were more suited to the needs of US volunteers as opposed to the communities they visited. Labelling them a form of tourism, Williams researched how these nuances impacted volunteers and the communities they were expected to serve. 

– Dr. Nancy Mirabal

Tiara Wright

Tiara’s senior thesis project was a timely and revealing investigation of issues of race, power, and sexual abuse in the US gymnastics community. Most particularly, Tiara’s work documented the effects on young gymnasts of the criminal behaviors of Dr. Larry Nassar, a high-ranking doctor involved in treating athletes at the highest levels of US gymnastics. Tiara is an All-Around member of the UMD gymnastics team. She matched the Maryland Gymnastics record on bars where she earned a 9.950. In her Senior Day showcase, Wright led the Terrapins to a season-high team score 196.975, the highest team score since 2004. 

– Dr. Mary Corbin Sies and Dr. Rob Chester

Graduate Students


Izetta Autumn Mobley (Ph.D.)


Melissa Benitez (M.A.)

Molly Benitez conducts research on non-traditional workers in skilled blue-collar trades. In addition to the MA in American Studies, they have earned a Certificate in Women’s Studies and been awarded a dissertation writing fellowship from the American Association of University Women.


Christina Sessoms (M.A.)

To my friends and family, thank you for supporting me in this big accomplishment! The numerous words of encouragement and support have never gone unnoticed nor unappreciated. To the department faculty and staff that I have had the pleasure of working with over the past few years, thank you for advocating for me and cultivating new ideas that have contributed to my growth as an emerging scholar. My time here at Maryland has certainly been transformative! Next up… My PhD! Whoo hoo!