On March 22, nearly 200 graduate students, donors, faculty and staff celebrated the distinguished fellows who hold prestigious multi-year fellowships as well as the generous supporters who help sustain the excellence of graduate education at Berkeley. Throughout the evening, Alumni House buzzed with deep conversation, laughter, and applause. Many graduate students met — some for the first time — the donors who make their fellowships possible — and the donors, in turn, learned about advances in their fellows’ research.

While mingling over wines donated by Trefethen Family Vineyards and sweet and savory bites, guests heard Fiona Doyle, Dean of the Graduate Division, and Abby Rincon, Assistant Dean for Graduate Diversity, extoll the high caliber of Berkeley’s graduate students and recognize donors to the Graduate Division’s matching gift programs. About $16 million in University fellowships is supported by private philanthropy.

Catherine Ma (BS ‘75, MS ‘77), who created the Chun and Wai Sim Ma Endowed Fund for Graduate Fellowships, exclaimed “These leaders of our future are full of spunk and energy – they give me so much hope and pride!”

The high point of the evening was watching the winning entries of a two-minute video competition in which students describe their work and the value of their own fellowship support.

First-place contest winner Kaveh Danesh is studying constraints facing the poor, including illness, under-education, incarceration, and intergenerational transmission of poverty. The Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Study has enabled him to to study across disciplines — such as public health advocacy and investigative journalism — and to broaden his perspective on how economic questions are approached in other contexts. Without fellowship support, “I’d be less focused on research and less able to explore Berkeley’s unique strengths across disciplines,” Danesh said. “This is a very compelling place to study complex social problems — there’s always another student to talk to, another professor to meet with, another question to ask.”  He has applied to medical school with the long-term goal of treating poverty through both economics and medicine.

Marcos Martinez Chacon, the second-place video contest winner, is holder of the Merit Fellowship at the Investigative Reporting Program in Berkeley’s Journalism School, where he’s focusing on political reporting.The Merit Fellowship has opened doors to new opportunities and allowed me to learn from the best journalists in the world,” said Marcos, who met President Obama when he was honored by the White House Correspondents’ Association last June. Before coming to Berkeley, Marcos covered politics and government in northern Mexico. He continues to report on that region’s political corruption, in addition to social movements in California, including the fight for legal protections of domestic workers’ alliances against abuses suffered in the workplace. “Without fellowship support, it definitely would have been harder to continue my path as an aspiring investigative reporter,” he noted.

In a tie for third-place in the video contest, Laura Lee Dev showcased her research on medicinal plants in the Peruvian Amazon, and how the use of these plants is changing in new social and ecological landscapes. She appreciates how the G. Fitzgarrald Martin Fellowship enables her to spend more time in the field and be more independent. “I switched research projects a year into my PhD studies in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management,” Laura said. “The fellowship enabled me to do this more easily and to pursue research that I was more excited about.”

Adam Jadhav, the other third-place video winner, noted that his Berkeley Fellowship “creates the economic breathing room for me to purchase books and travel more for my research — as I did during my first winter break to visit my future field site in Mumbai.” His doctoral studies in Geography uses the lens of political ecology to examine development, neoliberalism, fisheries, and agrarian/peasant transformations in India. He is also investigating relationships among environmental change, agricultural development, and right-wing populism in the U.S. rural Midwest. “The fellowship’s extra comfort means that I spend less time worried about finances and am able to be more proactive about self-care.”

Such conversations kept the annual celebration going long past the intended hour. As caterers cleared tables, Berkeley students, donors, and other guests continued exchanging ideas and information.

Ma, now a water engineer, cited an old Chinese saying: “When one drinks water, one must be mindful of its source.” By creating an endowed fellowship, she said, “I pay humble tribute to my parents, who gave me life, and also to my alma mater – this fantastic institution of higher learning. For me, it’s simply completing the ‘mindful water cycle.’ What a joy!”

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About Kirsten Mickelwait

A proud third-generation Cal alumna, Kirsten is a Bay Area-based writer who regularly produces content for colleges and departments across the Berkeley campus. Particular passions are higher education, health care, climate change, and the arts. She fondly remembers her days in Wheeler Hall as an English major.