The Chun and Wai Sim Ma Endowed Fund Graduate Fellowship

Wilson McNeilWilson McNeil, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, I would never have imagined that I would be getting my Master’s from such an incredible program at UC Berkeley. As I was choosing a graduate school, finances were an important consideration. I was concerned that I would not be able to attend my program of choice due to financial concerns. However, thanks to the fellowship I received, I was able to attend my dream program at UC Berkeley.

The Berkeley community has been so supportive as I have pursued my graduate education. I feel very lucky to have attended in-person classes, allowing me to connect with my professors and classmates. I have found fantastic mentors that have inspired me and guided my future career. I have also made life-long friends that I will keep in touch with personally and professionally.

After completing my Master’s degree, I plan to continue in the Ph.D. program. My research will focus on air quality and climate change. I plan to work as a research scientist after finishing my graduate education. I want to ensure a safe and sustainable future for the next generation.

Thanks to the help of the incredibly supportive UC Berkeley faculty, I have been granted several awards this year. I was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship that will allow me to pursue my doctoral education at UC Berkeley. Additionally, I have been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a research project in New Zealand. I am incredibly grateful for your fellowship that has allowed me to study at UC Berkeley and pursue incredible opportunities to advance my career.

Gabriela Cazares, ChemistryGabriela Cazares

I am so incredibly grateful to the Chun and Wai Sim Ma Endowed Fund for Graduate Fellowships for supporting my graduate studies. I was able to choose not only UC Berkeley but also the lab I aspired to join ever since I started thinking about a career in academia. Joining Dr. Kristie Boerings lab meant researching a combination of all the topics I love – physics, chemistry, and atmospheric science – but more importantly to me, it also meant choosing a caring mentor.

Although starting on my Ph.D. during a pandemic was difficult, I am lucky enough to have a solid group of friends and colleagues to get through it. My cohort started on our graduate school journey right as the pandemic began, so we went through our entire first year completely remote. To support one another, we made sure to hold weekly Zoom meetings to build friendships to get us through the year. Now we are in a more hybrid setting, but the relationships we built last year are still going strong and we continue to be there for one another as we get through our second year qualifying exams.

My lab mainly focuses on atmospheric reaction dynamics. I will be taking part in two different topics related to the atmosphere, one related to oxygen isotope effects in the stratosphere and another related to how the stratosphere is changing with our changing climate. After my Ph.D., I hope to continue in academia. After teaching the general chemistry lab I realized that I really love teaching at the university level. My goal is to one day become a professor in chemistry while continuing to investigate the effects of climate change in our atmosphere.

Since I am just getting started with my research projects, I don’t have any publications yet, but I am very excited to say that I got an outstanding teaching award last year! During the Fall of 2020, I had the privilege to teach the introductory chemistry lab course and, even though it was taught entirely online, I had so much fun sharing my enthusiasm for general chemistry to 60 students that semester, and the students appreciated it enough to nominate me for an award.

Typically in my free time, I like to dance. Unfortunately, it has not been safe enough to get back into it, but I am looking forward to eventually finding a new group here in the Bay.

The Dick and Beany Wezelman African Graduate Fellow

Sibahle Ndwayana

Sibahle Ndwayana, Geography

When I told my mom and brother that I got into UC Berkeley, they were both excited at the prospect of me continuing my education at the highest level. No one has had this kind of educational opportunity in our family’s history, so The Dick and Beany Wezelman African Graduate Fellowship, which makes it financially possible for me to attend Cal, is not only for me but my mom and brother. This academic journey is also so much more than professionalization; it’s the pursuit of questions and puzzles that animate everyday life and have a global impact. At this moment in time, being here at UC Berkeley feels like the right place to be.

The question of Blackness, Africanness, and its global connections have always animated my curiosity, and I have always encountered them in my research. The Berkeley Black Geography (bBg) initiative sparked my interest in pursuing a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. The bBg students had some of the same questions I had and sought them in exciting ways — the Blues epistemology particularly struck me within Black geographic studies. Music and sound form a big part of Black Geographies; in the Mississippi Delta, the Blues are a form of explanation of life and a sensual material force that animates social life. Similar to Clyde Woods, Angela Y. Davis reflects on Blues women as powerful articulations of alternative consciousness. Paul Gilroy highlights that music plays a huge role in African Diasporic questions of modernity. The same can be said for Achille Mbembe when he speaks of Congo’s internationalism seen through music. Black Sonic geographies map out a world that offers innovative ways of questioning the world around us. 

I was particularly excited by the warmness of the geography department to my ideas; it felt like a place I could call home for many years. From the moment I was first interested in 2017 to the moment I interviewed in 2021, I’ve always felt something about being at UC Berkeley and being part of the bBg initiative. The financial support of the fellowship is in part thanks to their support, trust, and hope in me. Your fellowship allows me to pursue my interests, and it’s even better that the spirit of the fellowship aligns with my interests.

I’m pursuing a Ph.D. in Human Geography with an interest in sonic analyses of Black geographies. I’m part of the Berkeley Black Geography initiative, which is student lead and department-supported. We are all interested in questions concerning Blackness and how it shows up in their worlds. My focus is yet to be determined, but I’m slowly developing questions that will look at the Lusophone commonwealth, and so I’m planning on learning Portuguese in the summer and next fall. 

I’m working with Professors Sharad Chari, Jovan Scott Lewis, Brandi T. Summers, and Daniel Fisher. They are part of my committee and are helping me shape my research — their support during the pandemic has helped me find my way. They offer me advice on how to think about my career beyond the doctorate and have always asked me to think about and pursue what is true to my heart. While I want to be an academic, I’m thinking about being impactful and not just about professionalization. I don’t have the answer yet since I’ve only been here for five months, but it’s something I think about quite often. I know and trust that the right people surround me and that I’m in the right place, so I’m trusting the process. 

Outside of school, I’m preparing myself for language classes by doing a lot of Duolingo courses. I’m also planning on learning how to play the piano, so I’m saving up to buy a keyboard piano to practice and let that be part of my research at some point. I have a bicycle that I use to get around, and I often ride it to places I want to see in the Bay Area; it’s become a hobby. 

The Helen Gan and Richard Aston Fellowship

Sarah LeeSarah Lee, Political Science

I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. My broad research agenda explores the relationship between politics and religion as seen in the contexts of comparative politics and international relations. My dissertation project analyzes the Chinese government’s selective repression of Protestant churches in China.

Based on three years of fieldwork in fifteen Chinese cities from 2016 to 2019, I explain the changes in Party priorities toward Protestantism, the local government’s implementation strategies of religious policies, and the religious communities’ adaptive response to the repressive environment. My research has been published in The Journal of Contemporary China and supported by the National Science Foundation and the Global Religion Research Initiative.

I have worked as a political department researcher at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Beijing. I received an MA in Political Science from U.C. Berkeley, an MA in International Relations from Peking University, and a BA in Government from Dartmouth College. I assure you that your donations are being put to meaningful research. Thank you.

Learn more about my work.