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Happy Birthday to Undergrad Journals that Spark Students’ Aspirations

May 1, 2024
Advisor and student of Undergraduate Research Journal
Faculty advisor Susan Varnot, left, works with Undergraduate Research Journal student staff member Sheila Chavez.

It’s a pair of special birthdays for UC Merced’s two student-run journals for undergraduates. The Vernal Pool , which publishes creative stories, poems and images, turned 10 this academic year. Meanwhile, it’s the sweet 16th for the Undergraduate Research Journal , which provides an early taste of the lifeblood of graduate and post-grad research — peer-reviewed publication.

Both journals publish once a semester and operate as classes offered through the Writing Studies and Karen Merritt Writing programs, with editorial teams that call for submissions, edit accepted works and present them in a professional-quality publication.

“It’s fairly well known that it’s difficult to get published as a student or even after graduation,” said Faryn Eastman, this semester’s editor-in-chief of The Vernal Pool. “So we serve as a stepping stone to give people that experience so they can put it on their résumé and see what it’s like and if they want to pursue it.”

The journals’ editors get together with accepted authors to prep the written pieces for publication. For young people accustomed to receiving papers graded by an instructor, peer editing can be an eye-opener. A person at the same stage of your life, more or less, is asking questions about tone, word choice and awareness of the intended audience. The research papers, additionally, must stick to strict style rules for elements such as references, citations and formatting.

“At the end of the day, the goal of the URJ is to inspire research and spread the word on the kind of research on campus,” said Evelyn Roque, current Undergraduate Research Journal editor-in-chief. “We guide students on getting in touch with faculty, to start becoming researchers.”

Two UC Merced students, editors-in-chief of undergraduate journals
Editors-in-chief: Evelyn Roque of the Undergraduate Research Journal, left, and The Vernal Pool's Faryn Eastman.

The editorial teams are a melting pot of backgrounds and aspirations, though writing and English majors are a common thread. Ironically, Eastman and Roque both major in management and business economics.

“It’s served as a place of community for me. Not just with the editorial team, but with all these people who have such amazing ideas and creative minds,” said Eastman, who feeds her creative soul by painting in watercolor and ink. She was the graphic design editor on the fall staff. “We’re all making something and I think that’s really beautiful.”

The staff of the journal, along with authors, alumni and supporters, enjoyed a birthday gala April 28 in the Lakireddy Grand Ballroom. The night was filled with readings, awards and laughter as attendees reflected on years gone by.

URJ was created in 2008. A co-founder was Anne Zanzucchi , now the associate dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. All accepted submissions are posted on eScholarship , an open-access repository of publications from the University of California.

Articles in Undergraduate Research Journal this academic year include “The Evolution and Spread of Antibiotic Resistance in Microorganisms ” by Sahil Malhi and Vihn-Dan Bao, “From Death to Life: the Ethics Behind Human Composting” by David Alexis, and “Diagnosis of Cancer Using AI Technology” by Emily Yu.

The Spring 2024 URJ more than tripled the submissions received for the fall. “I have an amazing team,” said Roque, who is interested in a career in technical writing and communications. She also serves as managing editor on The Vernal Pool board.

Art called
"FREAKshow" by Kaitlyn "Kate" Totter, published in the Spring 2024 edition of The Vernal Pool.

Writing Studies Professor Paul Gibbons co-founded The Vernal Pool (“I just happened to put my shoulder to that wheel,” he said.) and is its editorial team’s faculty advisor. The journal started as a faculty-run product, shifting to a student-directed editorial team when it became a course: Writing 131B. The Undergraduate Research Journal is Writing 131C. Writing Studies Professor Susan Varnot is the URJ faculty advisor.

Works published in The Vernal Pool’s 10 th year include:

• The opening of Sakura “Kora” Davis’s “I Love You”:

“I love you,” I whisper in the crisp autumn air. It’s twilight currently, the yellows and oranges of the leaves bouncing off the melting sunlight. The sun, a steam of pastels, is dripping into the horizon as a banner to this beautiful day. I finally felt like life could be good, I could feel happiness, I could be loved.


• The description of an old maestro’s last performance in Jenson Doan’s “Concerto to a Storied Crowd/Solo for a Clouded Screen”:

His music was renowned for being as opulent as a fist-sized diamond; as calming as soft waves across sandy beaches; so otherworldly, it must have been crafted from a piece of heaven.

That, however, had never been Layton Hartwell.

If he was anything like a diamond, it was only in his hard and unyielding nature, a product of a child under persistent pressure; if he was waves across a beach, it was only in his wearing away of everything and everyone around him, for none recognized the emotions he brought forth; and even a broken piece of heaven was, in the end, only a broken piece. For the first time and the last, he showed his edges.

• And Vicky Sarabia’s poem, “Close Enough”:

As if it already wasn’t close enough.
I stare and wonder if it was.
The makeup and photoshop.
It never really was.
So why find the need?
It is within the image we weave.
The art.
The figure.
The expression that withers.
So is it me?
Is “close” close enough?
I shouldn’t care what I do with my hair.
Soon we’ll disappear into thin air.
Why care about the things we shouldn’t?
The things we wish we could change but couldn’t.
Like they say, self-love is the best love, and I think it’s close enough.

At a recent meeting of The Vernal Pool editorial board, the agenda included “BBaD”: Bring Back a Decline. Editors put forward for reconsideration submissions turned down for the spring edition (please forgive them for turning “decline” into a noun). A short story and a poem were nominated. There was polite discussion (“It felt derivative.” “It has a strong message that speaks to me.”). There was a vote.

Both were restored (de-declined, perhaps?) and placed on the docket for the Fall 2024 edition. And so it goes.

“I think about the authors in the first Vernal Pool. What might they think about what we’re publishing now?” said Eastman, noting that the latest edition will include video and audio entries. “Where are we going to be in another 10 years?”