Research is something I have always enjoyed doing, even casually. I often go down hours-long Wikipedia trails where I read everything there is to know about a particular subject, person, place, thing, you name it. (Of course, Wikipedia isn't the source one should use for academic papers, but it is fun to read.) I credit my high school for teaching me good research skills when I was a student - I'm not sure I would have understood how to research otherwise.
I've been a member of the Mellon Pathways Program since January 2021, when I first started attending John Tyler (becoming Brightpoint) Community College. When the Mellon Research Fellows (MRF) application opened in late March of that semester, I thought about applying but ultimately decided against it. For one thing, I knew I would have a relatively packed schedule in the fall semester - five classes, including a statistics class I knew would be rough. For another thing, I didn't feel confident enough to create an entire research project over the course of the fall and spring semester. I ended up not applying, feeling a little regretful when I saw that the application period was over.
Then a week or two later, Dr. Micol Hutchison, the then-program director, emailed me. She said that the MRF program had one spot left, and that I would be a good candidate for it - she had seen me during various Pathways events and thought I was smart enough to do it. I initially refused, but then after a conversation with a friend, I changed my mind and asked for the application link. I applied, had an informal interview with Dr. Hutchison and officially became a Mellon Research Fellow. I was excited to start my journey, but I didn't let myself worry about it - it was April, and the program wouldn't start until August, so I had time to think about what I wanted to write about.
August rolled around quicker than I thought, and suddenly I was afraid. The days leading up to my first meeting with my mentor, Dr. Jane Rosecrans, were filled with self-conscious thoughts about if I could really do this or not. My initial project idea was going to be an essay about education in K-12 schools on transgender identities and healthcare, and when I first told Dr. Rosecrans about it she liked the idea; prior to our first meeting, she sent me helpful links to laws and social policies in Virginia about trans healthcare. After a few meetings, I realized that my topic was a bit too nebulous and hard to do research for - not to mention that if my parents saw this project, they would know that I am nonbinary, as I'd planned to talk about my own experiences in this project. With that in mind, I decided to shift my topic to something I was equally as passionate about: the culture of celebrity worship on social media. Dr. Rosecrans loved the idea, and since then I've been researching and writing about this topic at length.
My final project is going to be displayed on a public Google site, with a combination of written paragraphs and multimedia components. It's still a work in progress, but by the time it's done, I know I will have something to be proud of. I couldn't have done it without the encouragement from my friends, mentor, and other advisors in the Pathways Program.