Skip to Main Content

Library Undergraduate Research Award

2023 Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2023 Award Winners:

The Birds and the Bees Team ( Cassie Blake, Avery Munn, Samantha Rojas, & Maren Rule)

Aashna Nilawar

Cassie Blake, Avery Munn, Samantha Rojas, & Maren Rule



The Birds and the Bees

Abstract: Talking to their kids about sex and sexual health can be an awkward and nerve-wracking experience for many parents and guardians. Making these conversations open, supportive, and safe spaces can help decrease a child's risky sexual behavior, make them more likely to practice contraception, and can help foster a trusting relationship with their parent(s) or guardian(s). The team of Cassie Blake, Avery Munn, Samantha Rojas, & Maren Rule created a Birds and the the Bees website to share information about how to talk to a child. One of their priorities was to highlight the importance of starting sexual health education at a young age and gradually introducing more complex information as children grow older. They accomplished this by organizing their site by age groups (3-7, 8-12, 13+). Underlying their website is extensive research gleaned from library databases such as PubMed and Internet sites such as Planned Parenthood and the Trevor Project. In their research essay team members noted that "Planned Parenthood provided general information about how to talk about various sexual health topics, and websites like The Trevor Project gave us a better idea of how to tailor sex education to specific LGBTQ+ groups." The website also offers links to further resources such as state laws regarding sex education in schools. 

According to Professor Michele Parker, the website grew out of a "quarter-long team project where students created a media dissemination piece on a topic of their choice to a target population of their choice. The main goal of the assignment was to learn how to condense scientific literature and communicate it to the general public." The review committee for the Undergraduate Research Award believes this team of students did an outstanding job fulfilling this charge. They were impressed with the quality of the research that underlays the project, the scaffolding of information appropriate for different ages, and the links to further resources. In addition, the team did not shy away from challenging topics such as contraception, sexual diseases, or the unique sexual health needs of LGBTQ+ children. Professor Parker concluded her letter of support by noting "their hard work, project management, and seamless teamwork created a wonderful product for parents who are nervous to discuss sex with their children." Committee members heartily agree with this conclusion and believe Cassie Blake, Avery Munn, Samantha Rojas, & Maren Rule are very deserving of this award. Congratulations!

Aashna Nilawar


The Myth of Meritocracy: The Indian Caste System's Effect on Indian Immigration and Naturalization in the Early 20th Century United States

The Myth of Meritocracy explores the impact of the Indian caste system on immigration and naturalization in the United States from the 1910s to 1940s primarily and secondarily investigates the effects of the 1965 U.S. immigration reforms on South Asian immigrants. In addition to the obstacles faced by all Asian immigrants, South Asian immigrants faced unique challenges tied to their caste that influenced their immigration and naturalization experiences. To bypass early 20th-century racial restrictions to naturalization, South Asian immigrants argued that caste, Aryan ancestry, and their colonial subjecthood made them akin to “free white persons” outlined in U.S .naturalization law and they should, therefore, be granted a pathway to citizenship. Ultimately these efforts to evoke "whiteness" failed.

The author used a wide range of resources to support her argument. As Aashna Nilawar explained in her research essay for this award, she "conducted a comprehensive study of diverse primary sources. This included an examination of Hindu scriptures to understand the religious origins of the caste system, census records to gain insights into the demographic classification of individuals with South Asian heritage, and Supreme and local court cases to explore South Asians' challenges to race-based exclusionary policies and the efforts to weaponize caste distinctions to claim whiteness. Additionally, newspaper clippings from the period were analyzed to offer a timely perspective in the attitudes surrounding South Asian immigration." In her letter of support, Professor Sonia Gomez emphasizes the value of this research by writing that "Nilawar’s work is a significant analysis of the process of racialization for upwardly mobile immigrant groups. South Asians, specifically Indian-Americans, are at once excluded and included, which has had profound effects on their sense of identity, political values, and relationship to the American racial hierarchy." She added that this is "a well-researched, well-written, and valued contribution to U.S. immigration history." The Undergraduate Research Award review committee concurs in this conclusion. Committee members were very impressed with the quality and depth of her research and believe she is richly deserving of this award. Congratulations Aashna!