While conducting archival research at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection last summer, Jennifer Arnold ’19 (Waukegan, Ill.) stumbled across a pamphlet summarizing a speech by Fidel Castro, one given two years before he rose to power.

The discovery added to her search for insights into Cuban politics and culture. How did Castro garner so much support? How did his stances change over the years? Can you visually portray this using statistical models? Arnold, a history and computer science major, wanted to try. With support from Mac professors, she began analyzing Castro’s speeches by applying statistical models, including topic visualization modeling, which processes long sets of documents and identifies dozens of “themes” using data mining.

Arnold’s ongoing research is the focus of her Mellon Mays project, part of a program that aims to diversify the professoriate in areas where minorities have been historically underrepresented. Each year, the program selects five Macalester sophomores to begin preparing for graduate school. As a Mellon Mays fellow, Arnold designs her own project and receives funding for research and travel.

As a first-generation college student, Arnold initially had doubts about graduate school. But Macalester helped her envision it. “My work and the people I’ve met have encouraged me to pursue this,” she said. “Everyone has treated me seriously as a historian and researcher. I’m very eager to continue exploring my interests through this work and sharing it with others.”  —Alexandra McLaughlin ’16

November 2 2017

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