The University of Chicago News Office
June 5, 2002 Press Contact: Julia Morse
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Six top students awarded Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowships, designed to foster next generation of minority professors

Six University of Chicago students–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, College adviser and administrator of the program. “But the pool was so strong this year, we asked the Mellon Foundation if we could have six.”

The University of Chicago was one of the first institutions to participate in the program, established by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1988. So far, more than 60 Chicago students have won fellowships–including Omar McRoberts (A.B.’94), now Assistant Professor in Sociology and mentor to Marcelle Medford, one of this year’s winners.

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, said LaRose, but the support that comes from faculty mentors who oversee the fellows’ research: “That kind of care does a lot for students.”

“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 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.”

Diana Aramburu, comparative literature

Diana Aramburu, a comparative literature major from San Juan, Puerto Rico, has two mentors: Elizabeth Amann, Assistant Professor in Romance Languages and 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 nineteenth-century adultery novel. 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

A math and physics major, Oscar Fernandez will work with Peter Constantin, Professor in Mathematics and the College. He 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. After graduate school, he hopes to become a professor of mathematics or physics.

When not studying or working, Fernandez divides his time between “dorky things” (reading mathematics and physics journals, learning other fields of mathematics, and attending seminars and talks) and “non-dorky things” (computer games, sports, and playing and writing percussion music).

Albertus Horsting, fundamentals and classics

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.

Malahkiakilolo Joyner, international studies

Malahkiakilolo (Kia) Joyner, an international studies major from Merrillville, IN, plans to spend her 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.

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 and 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.”

Mcgeady, whose mentor is William Veeder, Professor in English, is interested in pursuing a research project on American and Irish short fiction. After graduation, she plans to pursue an MFA in creative writing, possibly at the University of Iowa, Berkeley or Cornell. “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.

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,” McRoberts said. “It’s really an honor to have seen the program from both sides.”

Medford, whose family originally comes from Trinidad, plans to earn a Ph.D. in sociology, possibly at Columbia, Berkeley, or Wisconsin. “I’m interested to see where the Mellon program takes me,” Medford said. “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.”
Last modified at 12:07 PM CST on Thursday, June 06, 2002.

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