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Newsletter: Student Spotlight: Jakob Coykendall

Student Spotlight: Jakob Coykendall

by Jenn Beck, Human Resources and Communications Specialist
and Cat Hildebrand, Library Technician, Collection Services
Jakob Coykendall
UNC Student Jakob Coykendall

Jakob Coykendall is a senior at UNC, majoring in Asian Studies and minoring in Sociology and Communication. Jakob works for the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) and is a member of the McNair Scholars program.

Being in the McNair program means that Jakob performs their own original research project. Their project, titled: “Exploring the Impacts of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ Intimate Relationships,” involved interviewing community members from the UNC and Weld County communities about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, no good research project happens in a vacuum, so Jakob has enlisted the help of Darren Ilett, the World Languages & Cultures librarian.

Jakob previously met Darren through the GSRC’s mentoring program and through research workshops. Jakob interviewed a few different faculty members before selecting Darren as their research advisor.

While Jakob’s research project is outside of their major in Asian Studies, it was a shared love of languages that sold them on Darren: “Within my major, I’m studying Japanese and Chinese, which is very different from queer communication…actually, that’s one of the aspects that drew me to Darren because he’s a German [language] genius, and we both really like languages.”

While some faculty advisors are more hands-on, Darren encourages Jakob to take the reins on the project. Darren is there to offer support and answer questions as needed. “He’s just a wealth of information,” Jakob says.

Darren and Jakob met once a week to do a progress check-in. While McNair has its own timeline for how research should be done, Jakob sped up the process after receiving an invitation to present (virtually) at both UNC’s Research Day and at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April.

“One piece why I think the Libraries provides me with such a support system is that I’m a First-Generation scholar. The Libraries are just so important for First-Generation scholars."

- UNC student Jakob Coykendall

Since Jakob has had such a positive experience with the Libraries – not just with Darren, but with other faculty and staff – they consider the Libraries a valuable support system. “There [are] multi-faceted layers of support that come from the Libraries,” they tell us, “both the resources available…and the space that [they] provide.”

Jakob backtracks for a moment to say, “One piece why I think the Libraries provides me with such a support system is that I’m a First-Generation scholar. The Libraries are just so important for First-Generation scholars.” Before coming to UNC, Jakob didn’t know how to conduct proper research. Now that they have the tools and resources necessary to do the kind of research they need for their project, Jakob feels less apprehensive and approaches things differently: “Now when I’m doing research, you know, I just get like, giddy,” they say with a chuckle. “I know what to do, exactly where to start, and how to go from there.”

Jakob has also learned more about research bias throughout this process. They plan to include a personal statement in their project so they can be honest about the types of biases and stakes they have in this research. Jakob told us, “Personally, I would rather just be upfront and own that rather than beating around the bush because all researchers have bias[es].”

While Jakob is excited to complete their project and present on it, they admit to feeling a little intimidated: “I feel a responsibility to treat my research participants well, with respect and ethically. Because I am part of the queer community this is also very personal to me, and I want to represent my community well and in a non-biased manner. So, I feel pressure from that, but I am using that pressure to motivate me to do well.”

Yet, amidst the chaos, Jakob never feels like they’re doing anything alone. Jakob feels close with their McNair cohort and mentions that their family is amazed by their growth. Jakob is constantly discussing the project with their colleagues, and Jakob’s friends support their work. Jakob admits they hope to inspire others – especially other First-Generation students – to conduct their own research. In a way, Jakob’s project is Ground Zero for future research in this area. Very few – if any – studies like this have been done since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Other scholars may look to Jakob’s project before conducting their own research.

As for the future, Jakob fully intends on attending graduate school and plans to seek a master’s degree in communication. They admit to considering a master’s degree in library and information sciences because of the impact that working with the University Libraries has had in their life.

For now, though, Jakob hopes to make themself and their community proud as the project reaches its final stage.

Each issue of the Check it Out: The Library Lowdown features a UNC student that highlights the impact University Libraries has on our campus community. Please e-mail Jennifer Beck if you would like to nominate a student to be featured. Be sure to include a brief description of the student and their experiences.