University of Iowa senior receives first Undergrad Library Research Award

UI senior Allexis Mahanna won the Undergraduate Library Research Award for studying migration influxes in two Spanish cities. The new award will continue each semester to incentivize undergraduates to participate in research.


Hayden Froehlich

Primary Investigator for Research on organization’s responses to migration in Spain, Alexis Mahanna, poses for a photo in the Office of Research by Undergraduates in Gilmore Hall on Tuesday, December 3, 2019. Mahanna won the Inaugural Undergraduate Library Research Award for her use of library resources while preparing her thesis before conducting research in Spain.

Riley Davis, News Reporter

Following a University of Iowa Homecoming Royalty win, Hawkeye senior Allexis Mahanna was recently awarded the first UI library research-based award for her efforts in and out of the classroom.

Mahanna received the Undergraduate Library Research Award for her global health studies thesis, which explored how organizations in Barcelona and Catalonia, Spain, handled migration influxes. The research aims to understand the country’s requirements in regard to what was occurring and whether government policy reflected public opinion.

A double major in global-health studies and ethics and public policy, Mahanna began exploring research-related opportunities during her first year at the UI, focusing on biochemistry before transitioning into human rights.

“I have always been really interested with refugee policy and refugees in general — that’s just been a long-standing issue that I’ve become interested in and I’ve been working on for the majority of my undergraduate career,” Mahanna said. “What I find interesting is the different opinions about migrants and why those opinions shift.”

Following a financial gift stemming from the Stanley Research Award in February, Mahnna spent the summer in Spain, interviewing locals and politicians about Barcelona’s claim as a “refugee city,” a label meant to protest Spain’s closed borders.

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Upon returning to Iowa, Mahanna sought as much advice as possible about how to use her findings, she said. She spoke with several librarians from Students Engage at Main, a resource within the UI Main Library for services pertaining to undergraduate research in order to understand how to create her own project.

“I was trying to analyze and transcribe interviews in a second language and then code them thematically to use them for quantitative information for my research, so it just felt like a lot, and I was a bit overwhelmed,” she said. “So, I went and asked a lot of questions, and [the librarians] were wonderful.”

Mahanna learned she was the research award’s first recipient before the Fall Undergraduate Research Festival in November and found it to be a much-needed confidence boost before her presentation.

 UI Libraries’ Undergraduate Engagement Department Librarian Jenay Solomon created the award and said that Mahanna was chosen by a review committee of five hand-selected librarians from departments across campus. The committee devised a rubric that weighed each applicant based on their integration, synthesis, evaluation, methods, and research strategy.

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“There were a total of 10 applicants that applied, so [each committee member] brought out the top five based on the rubric that we created, and she was consistently at the top of everyone’s list,” Solomon said. “All of the 10 that applied were really strong, Allexis just went above and beyond with how many resources she used and the amount of work that she did.”

Solomon collaborated with Iowa Center of Research for Undergraduates, embedding the Undergraduate Library Research Award’s application within the Fall Undergraduate Research Festival’s registration form to inform and involve more students. Students already presenting their research for the festival could then easily apply for the award as well, she said.

Mahanna said that Iowa Center of Research for Undergraduates’ Program Coordinator Melinda Licht supported her through her research.

“It’s always really exciting when you see one of your students who’s worked really hard be rewarded for that. I was really excited that she was going to be one of the people who applied for it and was so excited that she actually won it, because she had worked so hard and she was actually rewarded for doing it,” Licht said. “She definitely deserved it.”