Undergraduate research and interdisciplinary academic engagement are hallmarks of a Loyola Marymount University education. “The more I do research, the more I love it,” says sophomore Veronica Backer-Peral ’22, a double major in history and film production. “I could see myself doing this as a career.”
Backer-Peral is off to a roaring start: Her history research project won second prize in the humanities category at a 2019 Harvard University conference. Backer-Peral says the experience was important to her and she picked up valuable experience hearing the speakers, mostly in the sciences, talk about their research. LMU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (now called the Independent Undergraduate Research Program) supplied the impetus for her to take part in the symposium, and the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts helped pay her expenses.
Her project explored the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and on the Middle East. She used her research and filmmaking skills to produce five scripts depicting varying times that changed the focus of each country’s history. On her poster, she included a diagram that compared and contrasted democratic/authoritarian and secular/religious roots of recent conflicts, bringing insight to the causes of continuing conflict as well as analyzing Cold War strains, petroleum politics, and Palestine-Israel relations. “One visitor to the conference was studying my poster, then he thanked me for my work,” she says.
Backer-Peral had already learned important lessons about research and history during a spring break class trip to Germany where they studied the Holocaust and engaged with primary materials and sites. The class toured Wannsee House, where the plan for the “Final Solution” was drawn up by the Nazis, then they went to a nearby town. She was struck that it was only a 10-minute walk from the town to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. “I was freezing and I realized how people in the camp suffered with far less,” she says. “It was hard to deal with the emotions and the violence of what happened there.”
She is deeply involved with her next project, applying computer science to history by creating a giant database that depicts cross-sections of European history. And she hopes to involve her filmmaking skills to further her storytelling in tandem with deep research.
“Justice requires nuanced and reasoned understanding,” she says.