Seton Hall University

Seton Hall HASTAC Scholars are Changing the Way Science & Humanities Interface  

Picture of HASTAC scholars community

HASTAC Scholars from left to right: Ashley Wilson, Robert Del Mauro, Luis R. Alicea.

For the first time ever, three Seton Hall students have been selected to join the Class of 2017 – 2019 in the HASTAC Scholars fellowship program: Luis Raul Alicea, Robert A. Del Mauro and Ashley Wilson. Seton Hall joins the ranks of over 200 colleges and universities around the world as an Institutional Member of the HASTAC community.

HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) is an international and interdisciplinary community of artists, scientists, social scientists and technologists who are exploring new methods of teaching and learning. Only 800 graduate and undergraduate students from across the globe have been selected as a HASTAC Scholar since the inception of program in 2009.

Mary Balkun, chair of the English department and Marta Deyrup, head of technical services at the University Library, were integral in introducing the HASTAC Scholars opportunity to campus. Balkun explained the HASTAC scholars are receiving both technical and monetary assistance from the University to ensure their success.

"Marta Deyrup and I, as co-chairs of the Digital Humanities committee, are excited that three Seton Hall students have been selected as HASTAC Scholars because it opens up a wide variety of opportunities for them," explained Balkun. "It puts them in contact with other students working in the digital humanities around the world; it gives them access to information and events organized by HASTAC, a premier organization in digital humanities; and it involves them in cutting-edge projects and scholarship. These three students are our first HASTAC Scholars, but we hope for many more in the years ahead."

Luis Raul Alicea, a Ph.D. candidate in organic chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, is building on his existing relationship as an instructor with Upward Bound to implement a project that will fuse together hip-hop music and science in collaboration with his advisor, Cecilia Marzabadi, chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry. Alicea has worked with Upward Bound since October 2012, teaching physics, biology, chemistry and earth science classes to the high school students participating in the program. His students will use their knowledge to craft clever rap lyrics to perform at the Science Genius competition in October.

Alicea was inspired to approach teaching science by incorporating rap and hip-hop music by his mentor, Christopher Emdin, from the Teachers College at Columbia University. Alicea explained that Emdin has found that hip-hop education has been proven to increase student attendance, motivation and content knowledge. "The idea behind hip-hop education is that you meet students where they are and are able to better reach them – hip-hop music and culture is an important part of many students' lives, so it is a good place to start," added Alicea.

Alicea is an experienced adjunct professor of chemistry at New Jersey City University, Kean University and Mercy College. Despite his access to these universities, Alicea chose to attend Seton Hall "because of the unrivaled quality of education and the award-winning faculty in the chemistry and biochemistry department." When asked about the value the HASTAC Scholars program is adding to his studies, Alicea explained:

"To me, the value of the HASTAC program is the opportunity to bring different disciplines - science, technology and, in this case, music -together," said Alicea. "Scientists should learn from arts and humanities as well as science; everyone should learn from each other. HASTAC brings everyone to the table."

To further engage the Seton Hall community, Alicea invited Felicia Mensah from Columbia University to present a seminar Curriculum Reform for STEM College Teaching via Culturally Relevant Teaching in November 2017. Alicea has further plans to invite other industry experts to present on similar topics relevant to his research.

Ashley Wilson '17 returned to Seton Hall - after receiving her undergraduate degree in art, design and interactive multimedia - to pursue a master's degree in strategic communications in the College of Communication and the Arts. Eager to utilize her research and writing skills, Wilson jumped at the opportunity to become a HASTAC Scholar. Her research project focuses on how virtual reality can change the way people in different cultures view their perceptions of others. Participants will better understand diversity and privilege while also developing more empathy. Wilson has teamed up with Renee Robinson, professor of communication, to implement this project.

"Asking Renee Robinson to be my advisor in this process was a no-brainer," Wilson explained. "She is extremely knowledgeable in computer-mediated communication and she inspired me to think outside of the box for this project. She urged me to link my personal interests and talents into an academically stimulating direction for research."

This is Wilson's first time working with virtual reality technology. However, she is no stranger to utilizing technology to navigate complex problems. She is an experienced media and communications professional and works with individuals and companies as a freelance photographer and creative consultant. "In a time where technology is constantly changing, it is important to show organizations what you bring to the table and how you can transform how they do business," said Wilson.

Wilson is passionate about diversity and inclusion and is looking forward to utilizing her HASTAC Scholars research project to further promote diversity on Seton Hall's campus. "I want to help others understand the changes they can make in themselves to be more inclusive. Rather than tell them what to do I want to make sure they can see it and experience it for themselves."

Only 11 percent of the HASTAC Scholars Class of 2017 – 2019 are undergraduates, including Robert Del Mauro, a senior economics major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Del Mauro is spending his final semester at Seton Hall preparing his project, which focuses on oral histories.

"I have a particularly interesting oral history to tell," Del Mauro said. "I was raised Roman Catholic but found out in 2003, during conversations with family members, that most of my ancestors were Jewish and survived the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War II. Many of my family members on my mother's side bravely resisted the Nazi regime. It is exciting to know that my identity as a political activist mirrors the identify of my ancestors."

Del Mauro is recording a series of podcasts about his family's oral history and is creating a website to post the podcasts. He will then utilize the extensive HASTAC network to circulate the website and invite listeners to comment on his podcasts or to share their own oral histories. As he collects more stories, he will organize them into different themes. The point, he explained, "is not to separate the storytellers by heritage or ancestry but rather to emphasize how we are all human and to promote a concept of inclusivity."

Del Mauro asked Ki Joo (KC) Choi, chair of the department of religion, to advise his research and construction of his stories. "Since religious identity is so central to the stories I want to tell – and likely the stories others will want to tell as well - I wanted to work with an advisor who had experience with religion, a topic I have not had the opportunity to study in depth," said Del Mauro.

To construct his website, Del Mauro has partnered with Space 154, Seton Hall's on-campus digital creation space. The staff at Space 154, which supports active learning by providing an open and informal environment for students and faculty to explore 21st century tools and technologies, is assisting Del Mauro with designing his website for this project. Once completed, Del Mauro will be responsible for updating and hosting the website. As previously mentioned, Del Mauro will rely heavily on the existing HASTAC network at first to collect other oral histories. As he collects those oral histories and organizes them, he wants to prove that "the boundaries and boxes that we simplify people to fit into are not always accurate."

The HASTAC scholars will premiere their research at an event on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 in Space 154 on the ground floor of the Walsh Library. Students interested in learning more about the HASTAC Scholars fellowship program can go to:

Faculty interested in learning more about the Digital Humanities Committee should visit:

Categories: Campus Life

For more information, please contact:

  • Laurie Pine
  • (973) 378-2638