George Mason University

News at Mason

Excelling as a student, growing as a person

May 15, 2018   /   by Damian Cristodero

Gabriela Larkin, a junior Latin American studies major, presented two research projects at this year's National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Photo provided.

Gabriela Larkin, admittedly, was nervous.

The George Mason University junior was preparing to make two presentations at this year’s National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and the unknown was always in the back of her mind.

“When you go to those kinds of conferences, you don’t know who is going to be sitting in that room,” Larkin said. “Maybe there will be somebody who knows more about this.”

Larkin did well with her oral presentation on Ecuadorian artist Camilo Egas and her poster presentation explaining the migration of Ecuadorian women after that country’s 1999 financial crisis.

It was no surprise Larkin, a Latin American studies major, focused on Ecuador, where she lived until 1999. She came to the United States that year to pursue her education. She also has become a U.S. citizen.

“I’m very passionate about looking at ways to see my country differently,” she said of Ecuador. “I have that pride, too.”

Larkin, 36, a single mother of two—John, 16, and Esperanza, 11—with a full-time administrative job at an international NGO, was one of 22 George Mason students who presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Central Oklahoma.

She was, however, the only Mason student to make two presentations.

Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR) paid for the students’ event registration and hotel rooms. Larkin said Mason’s Latin American Studies Program paid for her plane ticket.

“It’s a networking opportunity students wouldn’t have otherwise,” Karen Lee, OSCAR’s assistant director, said of the annual conference, which includes participants and faculty from around the country.

“I took it as a growing opportunity,” Larkin said. “It helped me not be afraid to speak in public. How am I going to present myself? I need to be organized and responsible for what I say in public.”

“She just went above and beyond finding primary sources, and doing high-quality research in two languages, English and Spanish,” Mason associate professor Michele Greet said. “She’s just naturally curious and a go-getter.”

After her divorce, Larkin said she realized she had to get her bachelor’s degree “because every single job I applied for said you have to have a bachelor’s.”

So Larkin, with an associate degree from Northern Virginia Community College, enrolled at Mason in 2015. She said she takes six credits in the fall and spring semesters, attending only evening classes on Tuesdays because of her obligations to her children and her job.

Homework is done on weekends and at the end of her busy days.

As a nontraditional student, Larkin said she has received unwavering support from the university.

“Every single professor I have met has been incredible,” she said. “And I have met such wonderful people. Sometimes I feel that I’m still catching up. I got my high school degree in Ecuador, so sometimes I feel I can’t understand some aspects of education here. But the professors have been amazing.”

Larkin hopes to pay that forward by working in the Latin American community.

“I feel very committed, and I think my degree would help me,” she said. “It has given me the tools to not only understand people from Ecuador, but from other communities in Latin America.”

Other Mason students attending the National Conference on Undergraduate Research:

John Austin, engineering; Muneeba Azam, criminology; Sabrine Baiou, criminology; Kaley Regner, criminology; Julia Cipriani, dance; Sofie Massa, dance; Michelle Dickerson, bioengineering; Cydney Dennis, bioengineering; Madeline Evans, environmental and sustainable studies; Sara Huzar, political science; Aurora Johnston, environmental and sustainable studies.

Sabrina Lamont, microbiology; Mario Martinez, psychology; Elizabeth Matthews, history; Peter Nieves, environmental and sustainable studies; Allison O’Neill, biochemistry; Nadine Rozell, education; Kartina Sipin; global affairs; Preethi Srikanthan, global affairs; Dylan Van Vierssen, music; Adam Schuman, music.