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2021 awardees from left, Ashley McGuigan, Erica Molnar-Bufanda, Kendra Nip and Caitlin Williams

A doctoral fellowship presented to students whose area of study improves the lives of women and girls, and contributes to the welfare of society was awarded to four University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students. Ashley McGuigan, Erica Molnar-Bufanda, Kendra Nip and Caitlin Williams received the Founder Region Fellowship from Soroptimist Founder Region Fellowship, Inc. The award includes $10,000 of unrestricted funds to cover expenses to complete their doctoral degrees.

For a second consecutive year, UH Mānoa led the number of fellowships received with four of the eight awardees. The recipients come from graduate schools located in the Founder Region which encompasses Northern California, Hawaiʻi, Guam, the Mariana Islands and the Republic of Palau. They each were honored at this year’s Founder Region conference in April 2021.

“This award has allowed me to continue to take care of my family while devoting more time to completing my dissertation research this school year,” said Nip, a doctoral candidate in educational psychology. “As an added benefit, I had the opportunity to connect with other women who are also pursuing their doctorates, as well as a whole network of women who are committed to enriching the lives of others through education.”

Founded in 1921, Soroptimist is a global volunteer organization committed to promoting the empowerment of women through access to education to achieve economic empowerment and participation in decision-making at all levels in the community. The Founder Region Fellowship is awarded annually to outstanding women doctoral candidates, including international students, who are in the final phase of their degree program, and are focusing on an area of study that improves the lives of women and girls.

Kristen Connors, UH Mānoa Graduate Division’s fellowships, scholarships and professional development coordinator, added, “When attending the Fellowship Awards Gala, I was extremely impressed with the recipients and their professional and personal accomplishments. These are exceptional women who are truly redefining success. We are very appreciative for our ongoing collaboration with Soroptimist who support and recognize our graduate students making significant contributions in their field and communities.”

“The work and dedication shown by UH Mānoa women doctoral applicants is second to none. Past award recipients have gone on to become leaders in their respective fields of study. Because of the outstanding quality of the materials from applicants, it was indeed a challenge for the board to select a short list of candidates, and ultimately the final awardees. The Fellowship Board and I look forward to receiving and reviewing the applications for our 2022 Fellowship awards,” said Cheryl Poncini, fellowship president who has served on the Soroptimist Founder Region Fellowship Board of Directors for more than five years.

More on UH Mānoa’s awardees

From the College of Natural Sciences, McGuigan’s dissertation focuses on agroforestry and food system resilience to new socioeconomic and environmental changes, and the effects of this on women’s dietary nutrition and the conservation of biodiversity in Fiji. McGuigan collaborates with the University of the South Pacific, government ministries, and local and international NGOs to examine how a recent Category 5 cyclone influenced people’s agroforest management decisions, biodiversity and diets post-impact across 10 villages. Her work is important to understanding social and ecological resilience, combating the non-communicable diseases and can help inform adaptive management strategies that enhance food security in the face of global change.

For Molnar-Bufanda’s doctoral research in the Institute for Astronomy, she tracks down newly discovered long period comets (comets from the Oort cloud) and collects data on this population using professional telescopes Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope and Gemini North on Maunakea. Her thesis involves characterizing comet orbits, colors and ice species. By the time of her dissertation defense, she will have a population of nearly 100 comets which she is simultaneously developing tools for to answer fundamental questions about planetary science. Her thesis work will provide the observational groundwork for upcoming spacecraft missions and statistics on potentially hazardous objects to Earth.

Nip, from the College of Education, is focusing her dissertation on evaluating the questions on a popular neuropsychological test of naming ability. This test is frequently part of a collection of cognitive assessments used to diagnose language and memory deficits among a wide range of disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury. The results of this research may identify test items that could be potentially biased for people from a particular geographic area. Nip hopes that her research will aid test developers in creating fair and accurate diagnostic assessments in the future.

Williams, a doctoral student in tropical medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, researched antibody responses to novel Ebola vaccines for her dissertation, specifically characterizing protective antibody responses. William’s project investigates mother to child transfer of antibodies specific for Ebola. Ebola disproportionately affects pregnant women and infants. Pregnant women face higher case fatality rates as well as high rates of pregnancy loss. Infants born with Ebola rarely survive. Her work helps lay the groundwork for developing an Ebola vaccine for pregnant and nursing women which can protect mom and baby.

Information for 2022 awards

For those interested in learning more about the Founder Region Fellowship and how to apply, UH Mānoa’s Graduate Division will hold a virtual information session on Friday, November 12, at noon. Visit this website to register for the session. The deadline to submit applications for the 2022 competition is January 14, 2022.

This fellowship is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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