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Meet Our 2016-17 Dissertation Year Fellows

UC San Diego has awarded five Presidential Dissertation Year Fellowships to graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees in various fields. The University of California system-wide fellowship provides a $22,000 stipend and $500 research and travel allowance to support students in the final stages of doctoral work. One of the UC’s fellowship programs for diversity, the Dissertation Year Fellowships recognize outstanding students who demonstrate a strong potential for university teaching and research.

Additionally, each year UC San Diego awards one doctoral student the Fletcher Jones Fellowship, a program supported by the Fletcher Jones Foundation of Los Angeles. The fellowship provides students with a $25,000 stipend to ease their financial burden and allow them to devote more time to their final year of doctoral study.


This year’s Presidential Dissertation Year Fellowship Recipients are:

Alisha Caliman, Biomedical Sciences

Alisha Caliman completed her undergraduate degree at Spelman College before coming to UC San Diego to pursue research on sickle cell, a disease which impacted several of her friends. After beginning graduate school, she shifted gears from experimental to computational research, and became interested in studying immunological disorders such as sepsis and multiple sclerosis. She is currently completing a dissertation on her use of computational techniques to identify proteins which can be targeted by drugs to treat these diseases.  After graduating this spring, she hopes to begin a career in science communication through nonprofit or science-policy work. “There is a real disconnect between the public and scientists and I would like to bridge this gap,” she said. 

Jahmese Fort, Communication

Jahmese Fort earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College and is now pursuing a doctorate in communication at UC San Diego. Fort’s research focuses on notions of citizenship held by marginalized groups in America. More specifically, her work looks at the U.S. Census and why some groups choose not to participate. Rather than simply being apathetic, she found that some people boycott the headcount as a means of political activism—to affect how the government allocates resources and funds. “Words like ‘apathetic’ and ‘poor citizen’ are often used when interpreting why someone chooses not to participate in a civic activity,” she said. “But when you look at the context for the decision, a different picture emerges. My research suggests we need to broaden how we think about civic participation.”

Francisco “Xavier” Beteta, Music

A true renaissance man, Xavier Beteta’s resume before coming to UC San Diego included bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Cincinnati, a law degree from Chase College of Law, part-time music faculty positions at the University of Cincinnati and San Diego State University and hobbies including reading, poetry writing and tango dancing. Beteta, who is originally from Guatemala City, decided to attend UC San Diego to participate in its experimental music program. “It is regarded as one of the top programs in the nation,” he explained. He is now composing a piece for his dissertation that explores the development of musical ideas from inspiration to fully orchestrated passages.

Diego Cortes, Communication

After coming to the United States from Colombia at the age of 20, Diego Cortes obtained a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and a master’s degree in Latin American studies from UC San Diego before continuing on to its doctoral program in communication. He is currently conducting research about inclusion, community radio stations and indigenous people in Cauca, Colombia. Cortes hopes to pursue a career in education and study stories about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in American pop culture. “Ultimately, I would like to have the experience to teach in Latin America,” he said. 

Stephanie Gomez Menzies, Literature

Stephanie Gomez Menzies completed a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and American studies at Wellesley College before attending UC San Diego to obtain a master’s degree, and is now a doctoral candidate in literature. Her specializations include Caribbean studies, performance studies and critical global citizenship studies. “My passion for theatre and performance has spurred my interest in liminality and consequently, pushed my research into exploring the limits of the ‘human’ in relation to citizenship,” she explains on her website. Menzies’ dissertation focuses on the concept of “global citizenship,” and the gap between its goal to cultivate human rights and the inability of Latin Americans to participate in the discourse. She examines the resurgence of Sophocles’ classical myth of antiquity, “Antigone,” in Latin America, and the ways in which Caribbean artists utilize elements of its narrative to perform political resistance.  


This year’s Fletcher Jones Fellowship Recipient is:

Amy O’Keefe, History Amy O’Keefe obtained her bachelor’s degree in history from Brigham Young University. Her dissertation focuses on the ways in which transnational Christians in China envisioned the modern Chinese Christian family, especially how they envisioned and promoted family religiosity. Following graduation, she hopes to continue her studies on Chinese history, and transform her dissertation into a book manuscript, as well as teach Chinese and East Asian history. In addition to her studies, O’Keefe is the mother of three children, one of whom has autism. “My passion for helping my kids learn, grow and create includes wonderful and challenging dimensions of neurodiversity,” she said. “I’d like to write a children’s book about a kid with autism to help raise awareness and to teach skills of acceptance and support.”


Each year, academic departments are invited to nominate up to two students for both the President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship and the Fletcher Jones Fellowship. For more information about graduate fellowships, eligibility and applications, visit grad.ucsd.edu/financial/fellowships.


By Laurel Wilkinson, University Communications


Graduate Division