URAP Team Examines Life of Peruvian Political Figure

Dr. Wallace Fuentes works with student in intensive research of Magda Portal

"During my interview, I thought, 'this is exactly me; this is what I want to do,' and it still is," says Katie Kurtessis '11 about her phone interview with Dr. Ivonne Wallace Fuentes. The interview determined whether Roanoke College history professor, Wallace Fuentes, would select Kurtessis to be her student URAP partner.

URAP, the College's Undergraduate Research Assistants Program, pairs a faculty scholar with an incoming freshman. The student commits his or her years at Roanoke to research that comes from the faculty member's academic interest or dissertation. This particular team's research is devoted to writing an intellectual biography of Magda Portal, a Peruvian poet known for her involvement in the Peruvian political party American Popular Revolutionary Alliance and her position as its only female founding member.

"I want to incorporate Magda's poetry and politics into her life story and recuperate her role as a political organizer and party theorist," says Wallace Fuentes. Her devotion to Portal's legacy led Wallace Fuentes to Peru in the summer of 2007 to visit Portal's niece, who keeps a collection of the revolutionary's private images and documents. Wallace Fuentes photographed the pieces individually and Kurtessis is making an index of the findings.

The student researcher's work includes what she calls "small things" like putting Portal's files on a disc to send to Peru for donation to archival collections and working on creating a Wikipedia Web page about Portal. But the bulk of her role in the research involves reading; Kurtessis has read Wallace Fuentes' nearly 500-page dissertation along with supplementary materials, a lot of which are in Spanish. Proficiency in Spanish was one of Wallace Fuentes' leading qualifications for potential freshmen applying for her URAP project. Her finalists participated in a phone interview, part of which also took place in Spanish.

"I knew this opportunity was one that I would never have at any other undergraduate school, and it became the final pushing factor to come to Roanoke," Kurtessis says. "I definitely feel like I'm able to pursue studies at a higher level than I would've expected coming in to my freshman year, and it's great to have something challenge me and keep me engaged with my work and classes."

With the research, Wallace Fuentes allows and encourages Kurtessis to follow her own path of interest with the research, whether it's the political, gender or literary aspect. "I'm happy at how closely our relationship resembles the graduate relationship that I just left," she says. "I expect that Katie will have ideas that'll floor me, and I look forward to that."

The team is looking to have a manuscript completed by 2011, the year Kurtessis expects to graduate. Its tentative title is Becoming Magna Portal: Poetry, Gender and Politics in Peru, 1920-1940.

Wallace Fuentes earned her bachelor's degree in history and international studies from Southwestern University, and her master's and doctorate in history from Duke University. Since coming to Roanoke, she has taught courses on the revolutions, politics and history of Latin America. Kurtessis is a double major in international relations and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American studies. She is a member of the College's Ultimate Frisbee Club that participates in tournaments in the southeast.


Shena Sanchez

About the Author

Shena Sanchez is a 2008 graduate in English from Virginia. She was a student writer in the College's PR office and was very active on campus in several organizations, including Alpha Sigma Alpha and InterVaristy Christian Fellowship.