Student Achievements

May 2012: 

Jebbia Named USC Dornsife Scholar

Hearty congratulations to REL major Mary Ellen Jebbia (aka Jem), who was recently named a USC Dornsife Scholar! Jem is one of only ten graduating seniors to receive this new award, which is now the highest honor an undergraduate can receive from Dornsife College. The award will contribute $10,000 towards the cost of graduate education.

Jem will be attending the Divinity School at the University of Chicago in the fall.  You can read more about her activities as a REL major on these pages:

Congratulations, Jem, on this well-deserved recognition!


For more information on the Dornsife Scholars Program, see /dornsife-scholars-program/ . 

April 2012: We are delighted to share news of recent student achievements with you. First, we would like to announce that sophomore Karissa Masciel has won a Mellon Mays award. Senior Jennifer Escobar received the award last year and is currently completing research on Pentecostalism in Los Angeles. Karissa and Jennifer are both considering graduate school in religious studies. Secondly, we have confirmed that Jem Jebbia, who was accepted for divinity studies at Yale, Chicago, and Claremont, will be attending University of Chicago’s Divinity School in the fall. You can read more about Karissa, Jennifer, and Jem in the paragraphs that follow. Alex Tilsley also profiled Jennifer and Jem in her article on the Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work held Wednesday April 11:

Karissa Masciel, sophomore, is a passionate student of the intersections between religion, sociology, and anthropology, and she hopes to continue her research in graduate school. Her goal is to earn a doctorate degree and become a professor of religious studies. She enjoys doing work with the interfaith community, she teaches a class to high schoolers about religious literacy, and she is leading a conference for university students interested in multifaith leadership. This summer she plans to travel to Turkey to participate in an archeological research trip with USC. She also hopes to study abroad in Berlin next spring.

Jennifer Escobar is a senior. Initially drawn into religion by its rich history of community-building and social impact, she is now undertaking fieldwork in the local community. As a recipient of the Mellon Mays award, she is undertaking research in the sociology of religion. In particular, she is gathering testimonies from the Dream Center of the Angelus Temple. Jennifer is also an advocate for higher education and has experience interning at a non-profit. After graduating, she plans to take a year off in order to work and explore her interests while carefully choosing a graduate program where she can continue her studies in religion.

Mary Ellen Jebbia (Jem), a senior, is fascinated by the religious traditions of the Middle East and Asia.  She also has a deep interest in community organizing and advocacy. She will be pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School next fall.  As a graduate student, Jem intends to explore Islam, archeology, and Japanese religions. Jem is well-prepared for life in the Windy City: in the past she received two fellowships that allowed her to work with Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit group, in Chicago.

Profiles by Ali Mendoza

Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work Showcases Research of REL Majors

By Alex Tilsley

Parin Patel, a senior majoring in business and archeology (a major housed in the School of Religion), has spent the past two years analyzing and cataloguing artifacts from USC’s collection. Patel has focused on pieces that deal with Gandhara Buddhism, scrupulously examining every detail to decipher the meaning and significance of each artifact.

“It’s amazing being able to hold history in your hands,” Patel said.

Patel’s research, which was advised by religion professor James McHugh, was showcased this week at the Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work. Two other religion students, Jennifer Escobar and Jem Jebbia, also presented original research they have done as undergraduates at the School of Religion.

Patel’s project, titled “Remember What Siddhartha Said Under the Banyan Tree?: Safeguarding Material Culture in Modern-Day Anti-Buddhist Gandhara,” combined archeology and religion, as he worked both to understand and to catalogue the artifacts. He used Polynomial Texture Mapping to produce recreations of the artifacts, and has published high resolution photos of the artifacts using Inscriptifact.

He has also been working to understand the meaning of the artifacts by looking at the reliefs, reading related narratives in The Life of the Buddha, and researching comparable artifacts.

“It’s about putting the whole story together,” Patel said.

The project is still ongoing, and Patel hopes eventually to recreate a stupa, which is a structure used to house artifacts and burial remains.

Escobar’s research also deals with stories and narratives, but in a very different context. Escobar, a senior majoring in religion, has been analyzing testimonies given at the Dream Center of the Angelus Temple, where people who are in recovery programs offered by the church will get up on stage and talk about their road to recovery.

Many of the people who testify have dealt with drug abuse or similar problems. In her research, Escobar tries to analyze how these people understand their lives, their problems, and their process of recovery.

Though she has no conclusive results yet, as the process is still ongoing, Escobar said she has noticed a lot of similar language as she has read and coded the testimonials.

“Often,” she explains, “there’s a point where they come to the realization that God has changed their lives.”

Escobar, who has been working with Professor Donald Miller of the religion department and Dr. Richard Flory of sociology, is interested in this process of religious transformation, and hopes as she continues her research to better understand how this process is perceived by those who experience it.

Jebbia, also a senior, presented the research she has done for her honors thesis in a projected titled “To Intern or Not: Analyzing the Parallels of Pearl Harbor and 9/11.”

The project started, Jebbia said, because she was interested in undertaking research related to Muslim Americans and her adviser, Professor Duncan Williams, has done research on Japanese Americans. She realized there were similarities between these two groups, and decided to compare American sentiment toward each group before and after two national tragedies, Pearl Harbor and September 11.

Jebbia interviewed survivors of each disaster and examined legal cases and military decrees to compare and contrast the two events and the reaction they sparked toward each group.

As the title of her project indicates, the research focused a lot on internment. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government interned many Japanese Americans. This eventually led to the Civil Liberties Act banning internment, which meant the situation was different for Muslim Americans in the wake of September 11th.

“After 9/11 they didn’t physically intern the Muslim Americans … but instead they used technology and surveillance and other breaches of privacy,” Jebbia said. “Even though it seemed like it was improved, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Jebbia said the process of completing the honors thesis was a valuable experience, especially being able to work with primary sources. Jebbia, who is triple majoring in Religion, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Business Administration, plans to continue her study of religion at divinity school next year.

“I do want to go into academia,” she said. “But I like being able to focus not just on the study of religion but on applying that to my community and to the global community.”

Jebbia credits the religion major with opening doors for her, and says she really appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of religion as an area of study.

Both Escobar and Patel similarly praise the School of Religion for opening doors.

“I was always interested in religion and history, so it was great when I found archeology,” Patel said. He hopes eventually to pursue a joint MBA/MA in business and archeology at Stanford. 

Escobar said the religion program helped her improve her writing skills and learn to look at important issues through different lenses.

“When people hear that I am a religion major, they say, ‘Oh, so what are you going to do with that?’” Escobar said. “But it taught me how to deal with complex phenomena. It’s a hot topic, too, and I’m proud to be studying it.”

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  • University of Southern California
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