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RA Spotlights: Izzy, Sean & Marissa

Feb 15 2018

With the new year, CESTA is delighted to welcome a wonderful new cohort of Research Assistants (RAs) and to welcome back many returning RAs. We look forward to seeing the fruits of their work as well as leveraging the new insights and ideas they bring to our team. As Week 7 of Winter quarter is right around the corner and our RAs have already impressively settled into their projects, we feel it is time to introduce them. In light of that, we will be introducing our new CESTA Research Assistants and their projects over the next few weeks.

Izzy Ampil

Portrait of Research Assistant Izzy Ampil

Izzy is a freshman from New York considering a major in Earth Systems or Human Biology and a minor in Art Practice. At CESTA, she is working on Land Talk, led by Professor Deborah Gordon and Erik Steiner, co-director of the Spatial History Project. Land Talk maps the world through interviews with people who have known a particular place for twenty years or more in order to present stories of changing environments in an accessible way. Izzy’s role involves developing the project for greater outreach; she is currently working to help integrate Land Talk into high school curricula and find patterns among the conversations that can be used for environmental research and journalism. She is excited to explore technologies for data visualization and text analysis, and she hopes to see Land Talk implemented in more conversations about climate change among people with a diverse set of beliefs.

Beyond CESTA, Izzy is happiest pursuing her passions for the arts and the outdoors, as well as meeting people who share these loves.

Sean Volavong

Portrait of Research Assistant Sean Volavong

Sean is a junior majoring in Urban Studies from Van Buren, Arkansas. At CESTA, Sean is working with Professor Ocean Howell from the University of Oregon on the project Imagined San Francisco. Over the next two quarters, he will georeference historical San Francisco urban development maps and use PHP and Vue.js to create a digital web interface that explores the different avenues of urban development San Francisco has chosen and could have chosen over time. Through this project, Sean aims to better understand dilemmas involved with regional and urban development from the influence of political stakeholders and those involved in the urban planning process.

Sean plans to join the urban planning field after Stanford, thus he views the opportunity to work at CESTA as a chance to improve his GIS and coding skills while learning about the sociological issues that follows the same themes of his academic career. He is excited to see how GIS and related technologies can advance the urban planning field as they become increasingly relevant.

Aside from CESTA, Sean has immersed himself in the world of public service by completing several Cardinal Courses and had his two previous summers funded by the Haas Center for Public Service. One of those summers he lived in the Marin Headlands National Park for 10 weeks!

Marissa Gerchick

Portrait of Research Assistant Marissa Gerchick

Marissa is a sophomore majoring in Symbolic Systems with an intended concentration in Computational Social Science. Specifically, Marissa is interested in the intersection of technology and human decision-making and is also considering a minor in Political Science. This interest in finding connections between technology and traditional humanities is what drew her to CESTA.

At CESTA, she is a Research Assistant at the Literary Lab, a collective that uses computational tools for literary analysis and criticism. She works on projects analyzing the corpus of the New Yorker Magazine and traces answer patterns in police recruit surveys.

Marissa can also be found playing club lacrosse, writing for Stanford Politics, and volunteering with service initiatives like Stanford’s Dance Marathon. In her free time, she loves to write, read, nap, or energetically research conspiracy theories!


From the writer’s desk
I’m Axelle Talma, a sophomore majoring in International Relations with minors in Psychology and German Studies. I’m working here as a Communications Assistant, which involves assisting in the day-to-day intercommunications between the RAs, staff and faculty, organizing weekly meetings, contributing to CESTA’s social media presence, and posting on this blog ! I’m beyond thrilled to be working with CESTA and very eager to keep on discovering the world of digital humanities.