Emerging Scholar Labs

Undergraduate Research Assistant (UGRA) Lab

The goal of the ACE! Undergraduate Research Assistant (UGRA) Lab is to create an environment for students to see first-hand what research is being done, how it occurs, and the impact/difference it has the potential to make. The lab allows students to build their research skills while learning about a variety of research techniques and methods. The UGRA Lab began in 2009 with just one student and now over 90 students have gained invaluable research experiences in the Lab. If you’re interested after reading the information below, email us at ace@gmu.edu to learn more.

Graduate Research Lab

The ACE! Graduate Lab works in the same way the UGRA Lab. While ACE! provides masters’ and doctoral CLS graduate students opportunities to hone their research skills through graduate research assistantships (GRAs), many more CLS graduate students work full time outside GMU, hold graduate teaching assistantships, or do not receive GRA positions. Graduate students receive mentoring and research training during the semester by working with ACErs! on existing research projects. Additionally, they build relationships with other researchers and can access resources to help them in their graduate program and in building their CVs. If you are interested in volunteering in the ACE! Graduate Lab, email us at ace@gmu.edu.

Emerging Scholars

Alexa BucknerAlexa Buckner

Alexa Buckner is a rising senior at George Mason University and is majoring in Criminology, Law and Society with a minor in forensic psychology and a minor in legal studies. She became interested in Criminology through viewing injustice in the criminal justice system through current events. She saw many examples of injustice happening around the world and had the desire to make an impact. Last summer, Alexa was able to start helping by working closely with Victim/Witness Advocates for the Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney. Alexa wanted to join the Surviving Solitary summer research project because she is drawn to topics involving the ethics and ramifications surrounding punishment in our legal system and aims to complete meaningful research as an undergraduate. Alexa is excited for this opportunity to expand her knowledge in the area and be a part of the research team.

Isabelle Tomita

Isabelle Tomita is a rising sophomore at George Mason University majoring in Criminology, Law and Society. She pursued this major as her dream is to understand prison and work toward criminal justice reform. She became interested in the Surviving Solitary project due to her interest in prison reform. As someone who suffered from a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury as a child, she is truly passionate about helping others and making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity for success. She strong believes in the power of redemption and second chances. This project provides the perfect opportunity to pursue her passion in serving those who have been underserved and her desire to fix the broken prison system through conducting research that will help advance society through prison reform.

Kate Mitcham

Kate Mitcham is a junior at George Mason University, currently majoring in Criminology, Law and Society with a minor in legal studies and social work. During her junior year of high school, she was accepted to shadow the district attorney, where she got to sit in on court proceedings. Following that, she got the opportunity to intern at a local law firm, where she learned firsthand what it was like to be a part of the criminal justice system. However, she noticed flaws and felt there were alternative ways to make the criminal justice system fairer and more just. During her sophomore year at George Mason, she read Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” and “The Sun Does Shine.” Both books took a hard look at the system and how it affects prisoners on death row and solitary confinement. Reading those books made Kate want to do what she could to implement the necessary change needed within the system, which led her to ACE! She hopes to learn more about what can be done to help prisoners and how she can accomplish this in her future career.

Kristina Wheeler

Kristina Wheeler is a senior in Mason’s Criminology, Law and Society program with a concentration in criminal justice. She chose this degree path as criminal justice was something that she enjoyed learning about during her final years of high school. She is interested in the Surviving Solitary summer project because of her background knowledge on the project. During her time at Mason, she completed numerous research papers and projects on solitary confinement and its influence on mental health. This research project is a significant opportunity for her to apply the knowledge she learned and be a part of a meaningful research project. She hopes to expand the research, gain valuable knowledge of solitary confinement, and practice skills used in criminal justice careers.

Sarah Abbas

Sarah Abbas is a Senior at George Mason University majoring in Conflict Resolution and Analysis, with a concentration in Law and Justice. Sarah chose to study Conflict Resolution and Analysis because she believes that analyzing conflicts goes hand in hand with leading constructive change. In her field of study, it is expected that before a resolution is proposed, one must extensively analyze the context, dynamics, perspectives, outcomes, and external influences, to ensure that the response effectively addresses the roots. This Summer, Sarah is participating in the project, Surviving Solitary: Living and Working in Restricted Housing Units to continue investigating the correctional experiences of both residents and staff. She is eager to continue to build her research skills within prisons as it is her goal to lead waves of change when it comes to the organizational improvement of correctional facilities. Sarah specifically hopes to use her education and experience to use a conflict resolution lens to push for the creation of an effective and restorative structure within criminal justice organizations. Prior to doing so, she is dedicating herself to researching structures and practices in various correctional institutions so can later go on to design informed conflict resolution-oriented approaches.


Shelby is a rising senior undergraduate student and member of the Honors College majoring in Criminology, Law and Society with a concentration in Homeland Security as well as a minor in Forensic Psychology. She will be continuing as a student at George Mason University after graduation this December as she is a part of the Accelerated Masters in Criminal Justice program. Shelby first became interested in studying criminal justice and forensic psychology during her senior year in high school while she interned with a criminal defense attorney and pursued coursework in the law and psychology fields. She was excited by the Surviving Solitary summer research project as it combines both of her fields of interest and offers the opportunity to conduct research on a vulnerable population in an area where such research is highly lacking. She hopes to be able to broaden her current knowledge of the effects of solitary confinement while adding to the literature that already exists to bring about vital reforms to correction facilities. From this experience, Shelby will be able to apply her findings to her later work in the criminal justice field during her graduate studies.

Andrey Arcidiacono

Andrey Arcidiacono is a rising sophomore at George Mason University with a Major in government and international politics. Through his experience with international relations he found an ongoing curiosity to understand how geopolitical circumstances affect the behavior of states and individuals. Understanding how the circumstances of people's environment effect their behavior is what sparked his interest in the Surviving Solitary Research Project. Through his work, Andrey hopes to broaden his understanding of qualitative research methodologies and apply skills developed through research to the careful investigation of any situation.

Emerging Scholars Gallery