Undergraduates in the Reading Room: The Cuban Heritage Collection’s Undergraduate Scholars Program (2014)

May 21, 2013, 2:00pm-3:30pm

Moderator: Meiyolet Méndez (University of Miami)

Rapporteur: Wendy Pedersen (University of New Mexico)


  • Undergraduate Scholars: A Partnership to Promote Undergraduate Research using Primary Sources — Maria R. Estorino, University of Miami
  • Bringing the Archive into the Classroom and the Student into the Archive – Dr. Michelle Maldonado, University of Miami
  • Integrating Archival and New Media Work in the Undergraduate Classroom – Dr. Lillian Manzor, University of Miami
  • Too much or too little? Special Collections and the Embedded Librarian Model – Meiyolet Méndez, University of Miami

María Estorino…presented “Undergraduate Scholars: A Partnership to Promote Undergraduate Research Using Primary Sources.” As Deputy Chair and Chief Operations Manager of UM Library’s Cuban Heritage Collection, she described CHC’s  Undergraduate Scholars program administered by the Center for Latin American Studies, funded by a generous grant from the Goizueta Foundation. The focus of Undergraduate Research is defined as “research that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to a discipline.” The expectation goes beyond doing research in the archives and all the way into knowledge creation – common for students in the sciences, but undergrads in the humanities rarely have the opportunity to do original research.

Awards are given in the form of stipends to faculty for either course revision or development of a new course. Funding is awarded for the course and then a stipend for the following semester is awarded for three student researchers selected from that class. Those student researchers then devise independent projects with their faculty mentors. Results have been wildly successful, as exemplified by Dr. Maldonado’s talk below. (María was appointed the Esperanza Bravo de Varona Chair of the Cuban Heritage Collection in June 2013. Congratulations!)

Dr. Michelle Maldonado, Associate Professor of Religious Studies…spoke on “Bringing the Archive into the Classroom and the Student into the Archive.” Receiving an Undergraduate Scholars award, Dr. Maldonado revised her Caribbean Religions course to focus on African Diaspora religions with particular emphasis on Cuba. She noted that, as a theologian, her own experience with primary sources was not extensive so this was professional opportunity for her as well. She brought her class into the CHC on 5 occasions, where they first received instruction on use of the Library website and then specifically on the CHC site. (Not only does she admit to having learned a few tricks herself, but Maldonado was surprised at most students’ demonstrated lack of research skills.)

Subsequently, they got three lectures from librarians addressing various aspects of the Collection, paralleling points in the course curriculum. Students were required to produce an essay after each session on what they learned in the Archives. This process integrated library visits into the course, as more than an “add-on” BI session. Working with the physicality of original documents gave the students a more immediate sense of the reality in their subjects. A number of students came back for not one or two, but several individual research sessions. Dr. Maldonado selected 3 students to mentor from this class in the following semester and 2 of them won awards in the Humanities category of UM’s Undergraduate Research, Creativity, & Innovation  Forum.

Dr. Lillian Manzor, Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literature
told us about “Integrating Archival and New Media Work in the Undergraduate Classroom”. Manzor has led scholars, librarians, archivists and digital resource specialists the past 5 years to collect and develop multimedia resources to create the Cuban Theater Digital Archive, a digital partnership project between the UM Libraries and College of Arts and Sciences. CTDA provides resources for teaching and learning in the performing arts, also training for students in archival processing & research, metadata creation, filming, digital editing, and electronic publishing. The work archives materials that exemplify Dr. Manzor’s conception of the “embodied practices that shape theatrical production” and integrates service learning into the curriculum.

Meiyolet Méndez…related her experience in “Too much or too little? Special Collections and the Embedded Librarian Model.”  The question of one-shot instruction vs. embedded librarianship was tackled in an experiment working with two professors on two very different courses. Flexibility, broad collaboration and hybridity proved to be crucial elements for success; most sessions had to be tailored to the specific course.

In addition to Dr. Maldonado’s class mentioned above, Mei brought a history class into the CHC for 9 full class periods over the course of one semester. The undergraduates were offered meaningful guidance in how to find and appropriately use primary and secondary resources. A “show & tell” was prepared for each week’s lesson, often involving other library personnel brought in for their particular expertise. The libguide for this course was scrupulously updated after each session – and remains up. Students selected for Undergraduate Scholar stipends had 2 or 3 personal research consults over the course of the semester.


Alison Hicks (University of Colorado) asked Dr. Maldonado about selection of student scholars for stipend. In her case, 6 of the 35 fall semester students applied for the spring fellowship. Three were selected by the professor and two librarians. Two of them were able to use their registered independent study research as a senior thesis. Dr. Maldonado noted that whether or not the students later used the CHC archives, the overall quality of their research was much improved.

Kelsey Corlett-Rivera (University of Maryland) asked Dr Maldonado if all the students were seniors. They were a mixture of sophomores, juniors and seniors. The fellows selected were actually juniors.

Alison Hicks (University of Colorado) asked Dr. Manzor, María & Mei and the librarians about scaling – how they were able to give individual attention to that many students. “It’s hard, very time consuming,” was the definitive reply. Embedded librarianship being an iterative process, discussion and refinement follows every semester’s experience. The composition of the class is also a factor, in that a class of nine disinterested students are harder to teach than a class where six or eight out of twenty-two bring a different energy to the whole group. Testimony is Part of Assessment: the librarians obtain the final paper and conduct an exit interview with each student who has gone through this project, who is also required to submit a short summary of their experience. A profile of each Undergraduate Research Scholar is posted on the CHC website.