Students from the Raab Writing Fellows Program at UCSB, with Program Director Ljiljana Coklin at far right. | Photo: Kaitlyn Soto

If you ask any writer for a piece of advice, the most resounding and familiar answer will always be to “Write about what you love.” And every year, for the undergraduate students of the Raab Writing Fellows Program at UC Santa Barbara, growing writers have the opportunity to do just that. At a recent showcase in which the students of the fellowship program shared their projects from the school year, we had the opportunity to take a closer look at what these writers are most passionate about.

The program is funded by Dr. Diana Raab, a well-known author, poet, blogger, and speaker from the Santa Barbara area. With the intent of empowering young students through writing, the Raab Writing Fellows Program gives a select group of UCSB undergraduates the opportunity to seek mentorship and pursue research for a writing project of their choice.

“Global Perspectives” students from the Raab Writing Fellows Program at UCSB | Photo: Kaitlyn Soto

The program is a year-long research seminar taught by Ljiljana Coklin, who also served as one of the many writing faculty mentors for some of the students on their individual projects. “The Raab Writing Fellows Program provides a rare space on campus where students receive expert guidance, resources, and continued support in their exploration of writing and topics of interest,” Coklin said.

“Research Group” students from the Raab Writing Fellows Program at UCSB | Photo: Kaitlyn Soto

This year, 19 students had the opportunity to explore their diverse passions through different forms of writing such as academic research, creative fiction, personal essays, and more. At the showcase, students gave in-depth recaps of their projects with topics ranging from “The Embattled Feminine Gaze: A Study in Reylo Discourse” by Phoebe Pineda to “Minority Languages & the Survival of Cultural Identity” by Sydney Fry, “The Rhetoric of Belonging at UCSB” by Robbin May Balagtas, “Behind the Shades: A Close Look at the Blurred Lines Between Joan Didion’s Fiction and Nonfiction” by Elaina Smolin, and “Hyperreality in a Globalized World” by Leila Katibah.

Many of the students were inspired by their personal interests, such as Vivian Bustamante, who did a study on the connection between fan art content creators and the stories they love with her project “Fandom Lore: Finding Identity in Fiction.” Another student, Hannah Meyers, created a travel zine about her time in Europe with “Happy, Free, Confused, and Lonely: A Gaucho’s Guide to Studying Abroad in the Netherlands.”

“Its premise is ‘how to spend 48 hours in a city,’ as that’s how much time many students spend when traveling on the weekends during their time abroad in Europe,” said Meyers about her zine. She plans on handing over a copy of the project to the UCSB Education Abroad Program Office so that future EAP students can access it. “Nothing really prepares you for all the ups and downs of traveling and living abroad, so I want[ed] this project to be useful in giving students a better understanding of what to expect.”

“Reflection and Resilience” students from the Raab Writing Fellows Program at UCSB | Photo: Kaitlyn Soto

Other projects were inspired by students’ majors and personal backgrounds. Minyi Jiang, a Middle East Studies major, did her research project on “The Influence of Chinese Maoism in Iran,” while Maya Salem wrote about her experience learning about her immigrant family’s history in Lebanon with “Myth-making in Civil War: Broken Hourglass.”

For some students, the program was a way for them to pursue creative endeavors through storytelling. Sofia Mosqueda wrote a young adult fantasy novel inspired by Mesoamerican and North Indigenous culture and mythology titled Of Earth and Sky — the first of her upcoming trilogy.

“I think storytelling is such a powerful way to connect with people and invoke deeper reflections of the world around us, so I especially hope readers curate that same curiosity that I had while researching for the book,” said Mosqueda. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity of creating a fictional world reminiscent of the Indigenous Americas, and I hope readers find themselves immersed in my story and even inspired to learn more about such beautiful cultures.”

“Understanding Ourselves Through Storytelling” students from the Raab Writing Fellows Program at UCSB | Photo: Kaitlyn Soto

Another student, Reed Gaynor, wrote a story about the immigrant experience of his real-life neighbor and family friend Carlos in his novella Pura Vida, after being inspired by UCSB’s creative nonfiction writing class to apply for the program.

“When I look back on the things I accomplished during college, this will be the number-one thing I remember,” Gaynor said. “I am so fortunate I found Professor Coklin and the Raab Writing Fellows Program. This experience will be something I remember for the rest of my life, and I can’t wait to see my first novella sitting on my bookshelf!”

To learn more about the 2023 Raab Writing Fellows’ projects, visit


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