Founder Region of Soroptimist International Dissertation Fellowship recipients, from left, Laurie Chu, Marlee Elston, Leanne Kealoha Fox, Yukie Lloyd, Tammy Kahoʻolemana Martin and Jessica Maxfield.

Six University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa doctoral candidates, in programs ranging from astronomy to social welfare have been selected to receive the esteemed Founder Region of Soroptimist International Dissertation Fellowship for the 2016–2017 academic year. This is the largest number University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa applicants that were awarded fellowships, beating out the University of California, Berkeley and other California universities.

Honorees Laurie Chu, Marlee Elston, Leanne Kealoha Fox, Yukie Lloyd, Tammy Kahoʻolemana Martin, Jessica Maxfield will be honored at the annual Founder Region conference on April 29, 2016 at the Waikīkī Beach Marriott.

“We received terrific applications from UH Mānoa and the proof of that was in the results of who received awards. All the women we met were impressive and will be a credit to their families, colleagues and departments,” shared Lorene Hopkins, director of district VI for the Founder Region of Soroptimist International.

The Founder Region of Soroptimist International fellowships are awarded each year to outstanding women doctoral candidates at universities within the region of North Coast and East Bay Counties in California, Hawaiʻi, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Founded in 1921, the Founder Region of Soroptimist International is committed to work to promote social justice, equity and the empowerment of women through economic independence and greater participation in decision making at all levels in the community.

Each awardee will receive $10,000 of unrestricted funds to cover expenses during their dissertation writing process. “Support from this dissertation fellowship is invaluable in helping me complete my doctoral research with less financial burden, allowing me to reduce my work hours to focus writing my dissertation and complete my degree on time,” said Fox. “To be empowered with this resource by an inspiring collective of women motivates me to reach my full potential!”

Krystyna Aune, dean of graduate education, emphasized, “We are excited to build strong relationships with community organizations such as the Founder Region of Soroptimist International which recognizes and celebrates the stellar research of our graduate students. The Office of Graduate Education will continue to reach out to our graduate students to alert them of such noteworthy opportunities.”

Founder Region Fellowship honorees

Laurie Chu, College of Natural Sciences, Institute for Astronomy (astronomy)
Chu studies environments where stars are born. Stars form in dense clouds of gas and dust called molecular clouds and they begin as quiescent clouds and then collapse to form a star. Chu wants to learn about the structure of the gas and dust within these clouds to see how they change over time because these are the building blocks of the planetary systems. Her results will be imperative for the upcoming observations of molecular clouds with the next big space-based telescope mission—the James Webb Space Telescope.

Marlee Elston, John A. Burns School of Medicine (cell and molecular biology)
Elston is working to gain a greater understanding of the impacts of maternal obesity, specifically the associated abnormally high levels of glucose transport to the fetus during pregnancy. Her research also strives to develop a safe way of conducting gene therapy to the placenta, the critical interface between the maternal and fetal blood streams. The former UH Mānoa undergraduate alumna hopes to translate her background in molecular biology into projects that can lead to a wide reaching impact on human health.

Leanne Kealoha Fox, John A. Burns School of Medicine (biomedical science, clinical research)
Fox is revitalizing Native Hawaiian health through Kūkulu Ola, an inventory of researched customs, rituals and practices related to Hawaiian maʻi (sickness, illness, aliment, disease). The project aims to connect ancestral practices of medicine to address health disparities. The mother of two year old son, Laʻiku, her greatest source of inspiration, Fox strives to have Kūkulu Ola recognized for its potential to eliminate health disparities in the spirit of social justice.

Yukie Lloyd, John A. Burns School of Medicine (tropical medicine)
Lloyd studies immunity to malaria in pregnant women. The Japan native was awarded the prestigious Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, which allowed her to pursue doctoral studies at UH Mānoa.

Tammy Kahoʻolemana Martin, Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work (social welfare)
Martin is exploring the pathways to post-traumatic growth and healing of formerly incarcerated Native Hawaiian women who have overcome significant trauma in their lives. Martin hopes her research will lead to innovative, culturally-grounded and gender-specific interventions for Native Hawaiian female trauma survivors. Recently nominated to a leadership position with the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the Pacific Women’s Indigenous Network, Martin brings more than 14 years of practitioner’s knowledge to her research.

Jessica Maxfield, College of Natural Sciences (zoology)
Maxfield aims to understand how numerous fish species exhibit the ability to change their sex (known as hermaphroditism) allowing them to produce both sperm and eggs during their lifetime. The scientific community has long been fascinated by the hermaphroditism process in fishes, however, little is known about the genetic processes involved, a gap of knowledge that Maxfield endeavors to fill. The broad impact of her research means understanding the development and maintenance of sexual flexibility in fishes, which may have broader implications for human reproductive health.