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Undergraduates advance research with ‘Sparked Synapse’ journal

October 20, 2009

During his sophomore year in the History Peer Mentor Program, Paul Bergelin, an Arizona State University history and Spanish literature major, noticed a lack of attention paid to the humanities and social sciences.

In response, he began to pursue the idea of creating a publication of outstanding undergraduate work by ASU students in these fields that would explore human narrative.

The result is The Sparked Synapse Project, a journal developed by Bergelin with the support of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Ambassadors that showcases exceptional undergraduate research in the humanities and social sciences. The journal encourages students to explore, broaden and redefine their conceptions of humanity with the tools provided by a liberal arts education.

"There's not too much appreciation given to the humanities and social sciences," says Bergelin. "The journal is my way of bucking that trend."

With a nod to ASU mascot Sparky, The Sparked Synapse Project's name embodies the intent of the journal: forging links between ideas that are transcendent in scope.

Exploring such varied topics as culinary tourism, ideals of beauty and body politics, and Nietzsche's philosophy in the context of the 1990s feminist punk movement, the journal reveals the diversity of the ASU student body and offers an intellectual space to recognize the talent and creativity of undergraduate students in the humanities and social sciences.

Bergelin, who also is a college ambassador, says his experience with that group encourages his desire to engage fellow students in pushing the boundaries of their education.

"ASU is full of potential energy to harness," says Bergelin. "You can take your education anywhere."

"Paul's initiative, ambition and creativity in this project – to highlight the great scholarship in the humanities and social sciences – is typical of the positive role played by the college ambassadors who reflect the outstanding students in Liberal Arts and Sciences," says Quentin Wheeler, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Shannon Keen, assistant director for student engagement and adviser for the college ambassadors program, applauds Bergelin's drive to create the journal. "The ambassadors are encouraged to work on independent projects which contribute positively to the goals and initiatives of the college," she says. "Paul started the journal as such an independent project.

"The development of this journal emphasizes that writing a paper is more than just an assignment. It introduces students to the process of how scholarly journals work from submission process to publication."

Bergelin and fellow student editors Hannah Bartle, Anna Consie, Lucas Lindsey, Max Pardo and Malvika Sinha rigorously edited each submission, providing critical feedback to the authors, and allowing the writers to revise their papers at various stages in the selection process. One of the last steps in that process was to forward the papers to faculty editors for final readings.

"Sparked Synapse isn't just about the finished journal," says student editor Bartle. "It's about all the creativity and hard work it represents."

Last fall, after putting out a call for papers, Bergelin was shocked at the high level of response.

"I had an idea that despite how romantic it was on paper, the whole endeavor was going to fail," he says. "But there was a real interest in the project. We received 35 papers. It was quite surprising.

"I hope this journal encourages students to add a sense of relevancy to their education that goes beyond the classroom," says Bergelin. "And in doing so, sparks a curiosity and new outlook on the world that persists long after they leave ASU."

The Sparked Synapse Project is accepting submissions for the next issue. For more information, contact the project at the An electronic version of the journal is online at

More information about the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Ambassadors is at

Written by Danielle Kuffler ( for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Carol Hughes,
(480) 965-6375