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Mellon Mays Fellows to Continue Studying Humanities in Grad School

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Ileana Perez, one of Cal State Fullerton’s inaugural Mellon Mays fellows, will not only become the first in her family to graduate from college this spring but has been accepted to a doctoral program in Hispanic linguistics at The Ohio State University.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program, designed to support undergraduate students like Perez in pursuing doctorates in the humanities, was established at CSUF in 2018 through a $444,319 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“MMUF helped me prepare for graduate school by showing me how to make connections, conduct research and advocate for myself,” explained Perez, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish.

“MMUF also helped me realize how important mentoring is in academia,” she added. “I am so thankful for my mentor, André Zampaulo (associate professor of modern languages and literatures), because he really helped me understand how the field of linguistics works and what types of research linguists do.”

Her motivation for pursuing a doctorate in Hispanic linguistics, as well as aspiring to become a professor in this field, is to help educate others about the “beautiful” varieties of Spanish. “The purpose of language is to communicate,” she explained. “If you understand what a person is communicating, then the language has served its purpose.”

Another Mellon Mays fellow, Vivian Phong Ngo, is graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and has been accepted to Teachers College, Columbia University to study applied linguistics and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). Her career goals are to become a professor, diplomat and singer/songwriter.

“MMUF introduced me to the world of research in the humanities,” shared Ngo. “All my life, I’ve thought research was about chemical reactions and rocket ships. I didn’t know that a fictional book or a book based on opinions could conjure up a world of theory and create motives to bring social justice to light.”

Vivian Ngo

Vivian Phong Ngo, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, has been accepted to Teachers College, Columbia University to study applied linguistics and TESOL.

Alongside her research, Ngo began writing and producing music as an independent artist, signing a distribution contract to Symphonic and accumulating over 100,000 plays on Spotify.

“Studying literature helped me learn how to apply poetic theory to my music to make my lyrics rich and meaningful,” explained Ngo. “I made all my music with the same computer that I use to do research and write my essays.”

Ngo credits her mentor, Irena Praitis, professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics, for believing in her even as she experienced challenges in the pursuit of her goals.

“I faced a lot of failures even as an MMUF fellow,” Ngo shared, citing both internship and graduate school rejections. “What fueled my resilience was knowing that the more successful I became, the more my imposter syndrome thoughts started to silence themselves.”

A third Mellon Mays fellow, Danielle Narciso, will continue her educational journey at Cal State Fullerton as she pursues a master’s degree in linguistics while working part time as an art teacher.

“I’m still very much interested in becoming a professor, and have some art-oriented plans in mind as well,” said Narcisco, whose mentor is Franz Mueller, professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics.

In addition to empowering her educational goals, Narciso said the MMUF program helped her understand the importance of advocating for underrepresented students.

“I’ve learned that the university system itself needs to be reconstructed to serve as a definite, safe space for underrepresented students to achieve in higher education,” said Narciso. “So, I’m going into graduate school with the goal of contributing to that change.”

Contact: Lynn Juliano,