To increase diversity in higher education, the Ford Foundation offers predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral fellowships. The goal is three-fold – increasing university’s ethnic and racial diversity, maximizing the educational benefits of diversity, and increasing the number of professors who use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.
We talked to three University of Illinois graduate students from across campus who received a Ford Fellowship to learn more about the program.
Rico Kleinstein Chenyek is an MD/PhD student in the College of Media. Rico's major focus of study is in the social and cultural studies of science, medicine, and technology, with minors in American Indian & Indigenous studies, Latina/Latino studies, and gender & women's studies. Their interests include transnational third world feminisms, queer of color critique, critical indigenous theory, and disability studies. In particular, Rico's research focuses on networks of alternative medicine with respect to indigeneity, latinidad, and conventional medical systems in the U.S., Bolivia, and Peru.
Vanessa Rivera-Quinones of Carolina, Puerto Rico, is a fourth-year PhD student in Mathematics. Vanessa is developing mathematical models to better understand the evolution of virulent diseases. Her current project models the epidemiology of a lethal fungal parasite in Daphnia dentrifera, commonly known as the waterflea. She wants explore how community ecology, including conflicts among competitors and predators, shapes how disease spread among hosts.
Elena Catalina Montoto-Blanco is a second-year PhD student in Chemistry. She studies ways to design new or better active materials for battery systems and specifically works on polymers in flow batteries. Flow batteries show promise as a source of large-scale energy storage. As energy production keeps steering towards sustainable sources such as wind and solar, the energy created by those sources has to be stored in great quantities for when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining.
In addition to their own research, each Ford Predoctoral Fellow is selected for their potential to impact and advance diversity in academia.
As a Latina woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, Vanessa is dedicated to helping other underrepresented students succeed. She is particularly active in STEM-Fem Alliance, a Univeristy of Illinois student organization she co-founded to empower underrepresented women in science, technology, engineering, and math. “I look forward to the day when diversity in STEM, including ethnic, gender, and many other modes of difference, is no longer an aspiration but a reality,” Vanessa said.
“Being part of the fellowship program has also inspired me to continue mentoring undergraduate students in research,” Elena said. Since beginning her fellowship this year, she has mentored three undergraduate students who have wanted to start doing research with her research group. “My hope is that they will enjoy research as much as I do and possibly begin their own path to graduate school,” she said.
She’s also had the opportunity to help fellow Underrepresented Minority (URM) students with advice in the application process for grad school. “I was happy to be able to offer any assistance and/or commentary on things that worked well for me in the application process. The aim of the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship Program is to diversify the pool of underrepresented minority students going from PhD programs to the academic track, and being a fellow, I was able to do just that,” Elena said.
For Rico, the shared community of Ford Fellows and the resources the Foundation provides have proven invaluable to their experience. “In my participation on the Ford listserv and in the annual Ford Fellows conference, I have gained necessary tools to effectively promote diversity in and beyond institutions of higher education,” Rico said. “The Ford Fellowship Program has allowed me to promote diversity through providing access to a supportive community and network of other Ford fellows – past and present – that demonstrate by example the work of upholding commitments to diversity.”
The Predoctoral Fellowship provides three years of support, including a $24,000 annual stipend and a full tuition waiver. The Dissertation Fellowship is for one year and provides a $25,000 stipend and full tuition waiver. The Postdoctoral Fellowship is also for one year and offers a $45,000 stipend. All Ford Fellows have access to Ford Fellow Regional Liaisons, a network of former Ford fellows who mentor and support current fellows.
“The Ford Fellowship Program has impacted my research by giving me the gift of time. Having the fellowship has allowed me to focus on my research and other professional development opportunities that otherwise I wouldn't have time for,” Vanessa said of the fellowship. She has also valued the opportunity to keep teaching while on fellowship. “This has allowed me to develop both as an instructor and a researcher by giving me the flexibility I needed to pursue both,” she said.
For all three Fellows, the stability and support of the program has been key and has afforded them the opportunity to give back to the campus community by volunteering with registered student organizations and other programs on campus.
Vanessa works with the local chapter of the Association of Women in Mathematics on projects like the Sonia Math Day for Girls and the GEMS workshops. Elena is involved with the Illinois chapter for Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the Illinois American Chemical Society’s Women Chemists Committee.
“My most valuable opportunity as a Ford fellow has been the flexibility with which I have been able to tailor my graduate education. There are many ways to be a successful graduate student, and I am grateful to have been supported throughout my journey of finding the one that fits right for me,” Rico said.
For additional information on the Ford Foundation’s fellowship programs, see http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/FordFellowships/index.htm.
Interested in applying for a Ford Fellowship? Mark your calendar for the Graduate College’s annual Ford Fellowship Information session, which will be held on October 6, 2017 from 2 – 4 p.m. The information session will cover the mission of the Foundation and how your application can address it, the details of the application process, and the services and resources that the Office of External Fellowships offers to U of I applicants. This is an outstanding opportunity to apply for a prestigious fellowship that will admit you to the community of Ford Scholars. Please register online for the event.
Ready to get started on your application now? Check out our series on crafting a great fellowship proposal or schedule an appointment with one of our helpful staff in the Office of External Fellowships.
Caitlin Edwards is the Communications Specialist at the Graduate College. She recently completed a Master's of Science degree in Tourism Management at the university and will be pursuing her PhD in RST this Fall. Her research focuses on consent in leisure and tourism activities, particularly at Regional Burning Man events. In her free time, you can find her traveling, cooking, and exploring with her handsome pug, Torbin.