Philosophy Equity Scholars

The Department of Philosophy is currently home to five graduate students who have been awarded research assistantships over the past two years courtesy of the ‘Equity Scholars’ program in College of Liberal Arts. These students have received mentorship to assist them with their research goals, both within PHIL and CLA, and financial support.

The Philosophy Equity Scholars, pictured below from left to right, are Ning Shao, Frank Mendoza, Esther Sims, Victoria Cinquegrani, and Chavva Olander.

Ning Shao became interested in philosophy after reading her high school teacher recommended that she read Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World—a book that explores the history of philosophy through the perspective a young girl who was asked by a philosopher: ‘Who are you?’ Later, Ning was inspired by the works of David Lewis and by her meetings with Dr. Ivan Ivanov, who encouraged her to continue on in philosophy. Ning also met her partner at the beginning of her philosophical journey and together they have pursued a shared passion for analytic philosophy and similar areas. Ning states that she loves the community she’s found in the department here at CSULB, saying that the friends she’s made among her peers and the excellent faculty members, especially noting the devoted and caring Dr. Cory Wright, have made her feel like she is part of a family—something that’s become very important to her as an international student. Ning credits the EQS program for giving her the financial support and extra time to focus on her work. Ning wants to pursue a PhD in philosophy and hopes to make contributions to civilization and the welfare of mankind through her philosophical research and teaching.

Initially, Frank Mendoza began from reading texts by the French existentialists Sartre and Camus; but it was an introductory philosophy class at Santa Ana College—with the tough but fair Carlos Brocatto—that ignited his interest to pursue philosophy seriously. Frank cites the opportunity to explore his interests deeply as having a profound impact on his well-being. Having also completed his undergraduate degree in Philosophy here at CSULB, Frank was grateful for the comfort and familiarity that came with beginning the MA program, and has found it to be full of kind and welcoming people so far. Mentorship from Drs. Max Rosenkrantz and Kyle Banick have also pushed him to further sharpen his skills. Frank says that being selected for the EQS program has allowed him to give full attention to his work rather than to fret over finances, and he hopes he will make his department proud with his efforts. Frank wants to pursue a PhD in Philosophy; but in the event that that somehow doesn’t work out, he is glad that he was able to pursue something he cared about and which challenged him, noting the intrinsic value inherent in such opportunities.

Like Ning, Esther Sims became interested in philosophy during high school while writing a report on Machiavelli’s The Prince. Esther was intrigued by the experience of agreeing with the premises but not the conclusions, analogizing it to a good horror movie. Esther also cites Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus as being influential in her decision to pursue philosophy. She thinks that it alleviated the disorientation she felt around questions she had about the world, and subsequently realized that philosophy could also actively create the world rather than merely describe it. In philosophy, Esther has found a way for others to be able to recognize her. She worries that it creates a separation between those lucky enough to have the opportunity to access it and those who do not, but she desires to teach in the community colleges to help erase that accessibility divide. She is grateful to the Philosophy Department, especially the professors and fellow graduate students, for making her feel welcome as a trans person in an elite discipline; without the EQS, Esther says that she’d have been unable to pursue a graduate education.

Victoria Cinquegrani became interested in philosophy by taking courses with Drs. Jeff Helmreich and Aaron James during her undergraduate studies in Philosophy at UC Irvine, where she pursued the Law, Society, and Public Health Policy program. Victoria enjoyed the methodological challenges of arguing for views that she did not necessarily agree with, and gained valuable practice in developing her analytical skills. Her research concerns the ways legal and natural rights are forsaken in depictions of social injustice, and she has a particular interest in better understanding the suffering and persecution of Armenians under Turkish ideological authority. Victoria is extremely grateful to have been selected for CLA’s EQS program, and hopes to take advantage of the faculty mentorship that will help propel her forward and grow academically. She believes that Philosophy here at CSULB will help her further sharpen her the analytical and argumentative skills that are necessary to pursue a JD in law school.

Chavva Olander says the critical tradition of philosophical inquiry, along with its creativity and rigor, have enriched her life in ways far beyond mere occupational concerns. She says the philosophy program at CSULB teaches philosophy as a practice as well as a subject of study, and that it has provided her support and guidance for in her philosophical efforts—particularly in working with Dr. Marie Jayasekera last year—as well as important opportunities to participate in the discourse in philosophy outside the university. Like Ning and Frank, Chavva affirms that the financial support provided by the EQS program has given her the gift of time to focus on research projects and participate in conferences. She is grateful to the program for introducing her to a group of driven and impassioned students, and faculty whose personal stories and academic pursuits are sources of inspiration.

We are grateful for the college’s investment in the lives of our graduate students, and to CLA Dean Deb Thien and EQS coördinator Mariya Mileva for their support. It will be exciting to see these students achieve their goals and make a positive impact on our world.

Interviews by Tracie Hoops
Photo by Debbie Hildreth Pisarcik