June 6, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 17

current issue
archive / search

    Strong candidates prompt additional Mellon award

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    This year, six students in the College––Diana Aramburu, Oscar Fernandez, Albertus Horsting, Malahkiakilolo Joyner, Erica Mcgeady and Marcelle Medford––have won Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowships. The fellowships, awarded to second-year students, are intended to encourage more African-American, Latino and Native American students to consider pursuing doctoral work and a career in academia. “We usually have five fellows,” said Elise LaRose, adviser in the College and administrator of the program. “But the pool was so strong this year, we asked the Mellon Foundation if we could have six.”

    Fellowship winners are awarded $3,000 for two consecutive summers of research and $10,000 in loan remission if they choose to attend graduate school. However, the most important aspect of the program is not the financial award, explained LaRose, but the support that comes from faculty mentors who oversee the fellows’ research. “That kind of care does a lot for students,” she said.

    The University was one of the first participants in the program, established by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1988. So far, more than 60 Chicago students have won fellowships. These include five students who were awarded fellowships in 2000––Jeffrey Gauthier, Julio Guerrero, Angela Hernandez, Christopher Loperena and Fernando Rochaix––and will graduate this week.

    Diana Aramburu, Comparative Literature

    “The University has always been a comfortable place for me,” said Diana Aramburu, a Comparative Literature concentrator from San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Many minorities, like me, come to college not having had a number of opportunities that other students have had. The University does a great deal to remedy this situation.”

    Aramburu has two mentors: Elizabeth Amann, Assistant Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures, and David Levin, Associate Professor in Germanic Studies and the College. Her research project, which she will begin this summer, centers on the function of theater and opera in the 19th-century adultery novel. “This is a topic on which there is a serious lack of literary criticism, but which is germane to a great deal of important 19th-century literature and social trends,” said Aramburu. After graduating, she hopes to pursue graduate work in comparative literature and eventually teach at the university level.

    In her spare time, Aramburu is active with University Theater as a performer, props manager and translator. “In the next couple of years, I plan to gain more experience in the theater, acting and possibly directing,” she said. “Besides that, I try to have as much fun as possible.”

    Oscar Fernandez, Mathematics and Physics

    Like many of the Mellon winners, Oscar Fernandez traces his love of education back to his family. “I’m very fortunate to have been pushed very hard by my mom and grandparents to excel in academics,” he said. “Receiving one of these fellowships encourages me to push myself even harder and find out what else I can accomplish.”

    Fernandez said he chose Peter Constantin, Professor in Mathematics and the College, to be his mentor because, “he is always willing to sit down and talk with me, even about philosophical issues.” A math and physics major, Fernandez has not yet decided whether his research project will focus on fluid mechanics, partial differential equations in physics or the mathematical aspects of general relativity.

    When not studying or working, Fernandez divides his time between “dorky things and non-dorky things,” he said. “The dorky things include reading articles from mathematics and physics journals in order to keep up with the latest research topics, learning other fields of mathematics, and attending seminars and talks by professors. The non-dorky things include playing computer games, watching movies, playing sports and probably my favorite hobby, playing and writing percussion music.”

    After graduate school, he hopes to become a professor of mathematics or physics. “Teaching has always been a passion of mine,” said Fernandez, who is currently a teaching assistant in calculus and a mathematics tutor in the Common Core Tutoring Program. “Plus I will get to participate in and learn about the exciting research being conducted right now concerning the very nature of reality.”

    Albertus Horsting, Fundamentals and Classics

    As a tutor in high school, Albertus Horsting realized that “teaching is something I both enjoy and am capable of doing well,” he said. “This really is the impetus to continue into graduate work. More than merely researching, I want to be involved in the development of other minds.”

    With the help of mentor David Martinez, Associate Professor in Classics and the College, Horsting is fleshing out his summer reading list for his research on education in Ptolemaic Alexandria. Far from being an obscure topic, “I believe my research will prove very timely for educators today,” said Horsting, who is concentrating in Fundamentals and Classics.

    “Alexandria was a city of mixed heritage. It surpassed Athens as the center of Greek scholarship, but it was situated in Egypt,” he explained. “Additionally, there were large Jewish populations there, equally active in intellectual pursuits. In such an intellectually heterogeneous city, the question of what one chooses to teach his children becomes difficult and interesting.”

    Eventually, Horsting plans to expand his research to non-literary texts, such as papyri fragments. “Often, these are records of the most mundane sort of events,” he said. “In these fragments of day-to-day life, I think it will be possible to better understand what a schoolboy’s day might have been like so long ago.”

    Malahkiakilolo Joyner, International Studies

    Malahkiakilolo (Kia) Joyner, who comes from Merrillville, Ind., initially planned to study pre-med in college. “After working in the hospital and taking a few science courses, I realized medicine was not for me,” she said.

    Now an international studies major, Joyner plans to spend this summer “practicing Portuguese and building my knowledge base of the history of slavery and race relations in Brazil via books in English,” she said. Next summer, she will travel to Rio de Janeiro to begin her research on democracy and race relations in Brazil.

    Joyner’s mentor is Dain Borges, Assistant Professor in History and the College. “I don’t think I could have found a better person to work with,” she said. “Professor Borges has worked with many of the well-known Brazilian sociologists and historians who study race relations, both in Rio and in Chicago. He is extremely knowledgeable in his field and seems to be very excited about sharing that information with me.”

    In addition to her academic work, Joyner is active in the Organization of Black Students and Sistafriends, tutors at Ariel Community Academy and the Sue Duncan Center, helps plan events for the mentoring program Fortitude and is working to establish a new cultural center on campus. “Spare time? What spare time?” she said.

    Erica Mcgeady, English Language & Literature

    Erica Mcgeady came to Chicago from Oklahoma, where her tribe, the Kiowa nation, is based. “Because my mother did not go to college and struggled financially as a single mom with two kids, she always stressed the importance of education,” said Mcgeady, who graduated first in her high school class. “I was sure I would go on to a good university and eventually to graduate school.”

    Earlier this year, Mcgeady took a fiction course taught by William Veeder, Professor in English Language & Literature and the College. She chose him as her mentor not only because of her interest in writing and analyzing fiction, but also because, “I have never seen a professor more excited to come to class and teach his students,” she said.

    Beginning next summer, Mcgeady will begin work on her research project, an investigation of American and Irish short fiction. “I want to discuss how environment affects both the writers and their works––for example, Flannery O’Connor and her unique outlook on rural America, or Sherman Alexie and the reservation he grew up on,” she said.

    After graduation, Mcgeady plans to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing, possibly at the University of Iowa, the University of California, Berkeley, or Cornell University. “Being a minority can be isolating, but seeing other minority students doing so well boosts your own expectations,” said Mcgeady.

    Marcelle Medford, Sociology

    As a “military brat,” Marcelle Medford said, she experienced all kinds of educational environments: a racially mixed school on a German army base, an all-black middle school in North Carolina, a Florida high school where Confederate flag T-shirts were commonplace.

    After talking with her mentor, Omar McRoberts, Assistant Professor in Sociology and the College, Medford decided to focus her research on the way black students develop at predominantly white universities. “It does definitely influence your day-to-day interactions,” said Medford, a sociology concentrator. “Minority students are like all the other students here––education is your priority. But as far as feeling culturally comfortable goes, there are certain limitations.”

    Medford, whose family originally comes from Trinidad, plans to earn a Ph.D. in sociology, possibly at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, or the University of Wisconsin. “I’m going all the way. Last year my mom made me do a life plan, so I’ve had it set in my mind for a while,” she said.

    For Medford, McRoberts (A.B., ’94) is the ideal mentor––not just because his research interests include race and urban sociology, but because he, too, won a Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship as a Chicago undergraduate. “Having experienced the benefit of having a mentor, I wanted to make sure others had the same opportunity,” he said. “It’s really an honor to have seen the program from both sides.

    Medford said, “I’m interested to see where the Mellon program takes me. I think the objective of the program is very important: to get more black professors in universities. I want to be able to contribute to that, just like Professor McRoberts.”

    “Beginning when I was in graduate school, I’ve heard the refrain about the paucity of minority candidates for faculty positions,” said Kenneth Warren, Professor in English Language & Literature and the College and the program’s faculty adviser. “This program is one of the best ways of addressing that need. It is creating the next generation of minority scholars in the humanities and social sciences.”