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Spark: An Introduction

Written by Maija Brown with contributions from the SPARK Editorial Board:

Kassandra Chhay | Sean Golden | Ngawang Gonsar | Kristen Reynolds | Thomas Seweid-DeAngelis

About SPARK

Welcome to the inaugural issue of SPARK! A spark is a small and powerful force of energy created when different elements strike against one another. Sparks are mobile. They move and jump freely from one place to another. A single spark can disappear in a moment. Yet, when it lands in the right place, that same spark can ignite big ideas and be a catalyst for lasting impact.

SPARK amplifies the research, experiences, and voices of COSP Scholars. The editorial board is proud to launch the digital publication, SPARK, as a way to generate conversations about the scholarship of domestic graduate researchers who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC). Each of the research stories, shared in this issue, stimulates new ways of making academic scholarship relevant to our communities and beyond. Collectively, these research stories are animated by the multifaceted ways COSP Scholars are transforming what scholarship looks like, how knowledge is produced, and for whom scholarship is directed. 

What’s in This Issue

Creative scholarship abounds! In the podcast, A(broad) in Education, Tiffany Lachelle Smith invites listeners into the suitcases of Black educators teaching in different locations across the globe. In collaboration with SPARK, the latest episode,  “(Dis)Covering Routes: An Inside Look at the Exodus of Some Black Teachers and Why They Choose to Leave the United States,” Smith imaginatively narrates her 27-hour return travel back to the United States after spending a year conducting research in the United Arab Emirates. Traveling from the Dubai Airport and landing in St. Louis, Missouri, Smith marks the different layovers and stops in her research journey while contemplating returning to the United States in the midst of racial unrest and a global pandemic. 

Teresa Mccarrell’s graphic comic visually explores her emerging research on microbes called photoferrotrophs, found in some of our ten thousand lakes of Minnesota. These microbes provide a window to study processes that sustained life in our ancient biosphere and potentially reveal mysteries about life on Mars billions of years ago. Through the graphic comic format, Mccarrell engages with new modalities of communicating scientific research.

Other pieces featured in SPARK kindle the relationship between community engagement and approaching research through a social justice lens. Vinicius Taguchi’s piece, “Building Better Cities, But for Whom?” bridges his work as a civil engineer with the social justice practices he cultivated as a part of the Japanese American Citizenship League. Using the German concept of sehnsucht, a longing for the future, he calls on readers to consider what part they can play in building a better tomorrow. In “The Heist,” Delaine Anderson examines the binary-gender and racial wage gap in Minnesota. Through a seamless combination of personal reflection on her own experience of wage theft and data visualization and interpretation, she uncovers the insidious costs of wage theft for Minnesota women and invites readers to stand up against this inequitable practice in their own workplaces. 

Stories in SPARK reflect on the research experiences in graduate education. V.N. Vimal Rao’s piece, “From Happy Hour to Co-Author,” uses home as a metaphor to address how peer collaboration and informal learning spaces create opportunities to enhance research and instill a sense of belonging. As a founding member of Link Tank, a graduate student group “linking people and ideas,” Rao illuminates the ways interdisciplinary collaborations inform his core values as a researcher.

Lastly, SPARK features work that is committed to making scientific and medical research accessible to broad audiences. Researcher Sze Cheng takes readers through a journey to understanding the fundamentals of cancer, a family of diseases resulting from uncontrolled and uninhibited cell replication. Cheng eloquently details the molecular mechanisms termed ‘hallmarks of cancer’ in the body, identifying what is known and yet to be discovered by the scientific community. Cheng ends the piece by narrowing down to the mTOR pathway, a critical piece of the puzzle in cancer research, on which she spends her time as a translational researcher.

Guiding Principles

Initiated by the COSP Writing Initiative in 2020 and led by the SPARK Editorial Board, SPARK is committed to developing BIPOC writers through a collaborative approach to publishing research. Our editorial process is intent on not reproducing the systemic violence(s) often encountered by writers who come from underrepresented identities in predominantly white academic institutions. We hold a fierce respect for the writers’ intentions, and the integrity of ideas, experiences, and creative form each writer brings to our community. The COSP Writing Initiative and the SPARK Editorial Board center a non-violent approach to providing feedback that honors the writers’ ownership of their work while working to align each piece with the vision of SPARK. We place an equal value on the writers’ experience in the publishing process and the final publication.

Enjoy this issue! 

Acknowledgments

The COSP Writing Initiative would like to thank the SPARK Editorial Board for their hard work and dedication; the COSP Scholars who trusted their creative work and research with our publication; Shakita Thomas Kpetay for content creation for the SPARK website; Drew Swenhaugen for early consultations; Dr. Paul Ching for the workshop, “How to Tell A Story About Your Research”; Dr. Kirsten Jamsen; Liang Xiong, GSDO Office Manager; COSP Writing Consultants, Thomas Seweid-DeAngelis, Ngawang Gonsar; Dr. Cori Bazemore James, Director of Retention and Success; the Graduate School Diversity Office; University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing Services; Molly Schwartz, Graduate School Communications, for the building and design of the SPARK platform.