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Finding the Future at the College of Creative Studies

Summer Undergraduate Fellowships guide student discovery and creative projects

When Mai Rajborirug landed in Santa Barbara in April 2016, he was startled by how small the airport was compared to the bustling one he left in Thailand. Mai stepped off the plane, walked 1.5 miles to campus, and continued straight into his 11 a.m. campus tour, where he was captivated by his guide’s description of the College of Creative Studies (CCS). He knew exactly what he wanted. The last CCS talk was across campus at 12:30 pm. It was 12:25. He ran.

At the talk, Mai learned about a small college for self-directed undergraduates within UC Santa Barbara. The College of Creative Studies provides a rigorous program, an experiential learning environment and an intellectual community for self-directed students. This close cohort is encouraged to produce and create original work, commit to goals and embrace failure as part of the learning process.

Mai had found his place among passionate and radically curious students at CCS.

Donor-supported Summer Undergraduate Fellowships enable full-time student research and creative activities without overlapping jobs or classes. Sydney Hunt ’19 received a summer fellowship in 2017 to study the genetics of the deadliest animal in the world. If scientists could learn to make mosquitos repulsed by humans or hypersensitive to repellants, the spread of infectious diseases could be slowed.

One day, Sydney prepared two test tubes of flies in a dark box: a mutant group that can’t detect citronella, and citronella-sensitive wild fruit flies. To her surprise, both groups avoided the repellant. Sydney told her advisor that she made a mistake, but he encouraged her to repeat the experiment. Forty test tubes later, Sydney had an epiphany: fruit flies’ sense of smell is dependent on light. Without Sydney’s discovery, scientists could have missed 12 hours of a mosquito’s experience, and a genetic modification could have been half-effective.

“Summer fellowships facilitate a love of research and the environment in which scientists are created,” said Sydney. “You become a grad student for months. It made me realize: yes, this is right, this is what I love to do.” Her discovery led to two papers.

CCS Summer Undergraduate Fellowships teach emerging scientists hard skills like research methods and publication preparation as well as soft skills like professionalism, relationship-building, and the confidence to follow the science or creative endeavor

Two years after discovering CCS, Mai Rajborirug ’19 received a CCS Summer Undergraduate Fellowship to conduct research with Dr. Paolo Luzatto-Fegis, whose lab tests new models of wind turbine farms. Mai works directly with Dr. Luzatto-Fegis and meets weekly to analyze data and test his mentor’s model.

“Professor Luzatto-Fegis makes me feel like I’m an important part of the research, and I learn a lot from him,” Mai said. Through Dr. Luzatto-Fegis, he has learned to ask questions and follow his research interests.

As a temple boy in Thailand, Mai learned the benefits of meditation from monks. After graduation, Mai plans to enter a Ph.D program for connective neuroscience, but first, he’s joining a Harvard professor to research the impact of meditation on cognitive and behavioral functions.

“Most professors don’t have enough money to support students,” Mai said. “This fellowship does that. I am an international student, so tuition is higher for me. In research, we also learn to be grateful.”

Mai, Sydney, and their classmates are grateful for the CCS donors who made their experience possible. Summer Undergraduate Fellowships build a strong tradition of giving back to the next generation of researchers and creators. Last summer, donors made life-changing experiences possible for 36 students – the highest number of fellowships in CCS history. Summer 2018 fellowships were comprised of 100% donor support and for the first time were open to all 8 majors through the launch of The Create Fund.

No donor understands the importance of building scientific community more than Professor Emeritus Francesc Roig, who began mentoring CCS students in 1985. Professor Emeritus Roig influenced generations of CCS students and now contributes to a donor-supported summer fellowship for physics in his name.

“Students have the opportunity to see real life research and work alongside professors with international recognition,” said Professor Roig. “There are not many places where undergraduates can do that. CCS donors allow students to have this experience.”