Distinguished Graduate Fellows


The College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas have awarded three distinguished fellowships every year since 2012. Funds support doctoral students whose research work is relevant to Latin America, the Caribbean, Latino and Diasporic studies. The fellows participate in the intellectual life of the institute while working on their own degree programs and dissertation projects. The initiative provides qualified Ph.D. candidates with a tuition waiver and a full graduate stipend in exchange for their involvement in the institute’s initiatives.




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  • 2023-2024 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Diona Espinosa

    Diona Espinosa Ph.D. graduate student in Cultural Studies and Literature from the University of Miami. She got her master's degree from the University at Albany, SUNY and she graduated in Journalism from the School of Communications at the University of Havana, Cuba. Also, she obtained a postgraduate certificate from Alberto Hurtado University, Chile. She has participated as a speaker at the Latin American Studies Association Conference (2016), the Graduate Student Cuban Studies Symposium at Harvard University (2019), MACLAS (2019), among other symposia and academic events. She is the author of the book “La zozobra en el ojo del huracán”, winner of the Cuban National Award “Sed de Belleza”, and published at the Havana International Book Fair, 2016.  Research interests: Latin-American and Cuban documentary film studies and performance arts, transmedia narratives.

    Laís Lautenschlager Rodrigues

    Laís Lautenschlager Rodrigues is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Biology Department at the University of Miami under the guidance of Dr. Kenneth Feeley. She is from Brazil, where she earned her undergraduate and master's degrees in Ecology and Biodiversity at the São Paulo State University (UNESP). Laís always studied terrestrial animals, species interactions, and the anthropogenic impacts on their conservation. Now she is focusing on an endangered mammal species, the Lowland Tapir, in the Atlantic Forest, in Brazil. Her doctoral thesis aims to understand this large herbivore's dietary preferences and ecological function in the ecosystem, such as soil fertilization, plant recruitment, and their latrines as a secondary resource for the vertebrate community.

    Patricia B. Pedreira

    Patricia is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Clinical Psychology program of the Department of Psychology, specializing in Clinical Health Psychology. She was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and graduated with a BS in Psychology from Boston College. Her research focuses on understanding the sociocultural, biobehavioral, and psychosocial mechanisms that contribute to health outcomes and disparities among Hispanic/Latino cancer survivors. Specifically, Patricia investigates how family and cultural factors influence health outcomes in Hispanic prostate cancer patients. Patricia is also committed to translating research findings into psychosocial interventions and is currently evaluating the efficacy of a culturally adapted cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention for Hispanic men who completed prostate cancer treatment. As a bilingual clinician, she has provided evidence-based treatments for various presenting chronic medical conditions (e.g., cancer, insomnia, chronic pain) and psychological problems.

  • 2022-2023 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Marcia Fanti Negri is in her fourth year in the in Literary, Cultural, and Linguistic Studies PhD program at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at UM. Her research interests include aesthetics and poetics of writing; performance studies; post-colonial studies; media and film criticism; ancestrality; languages and language teaching; forms of knowledge production; representations of time and space in cultural productions. Her dissertation “Re-mapping Female Voices in Brazilian Regionalist Writing/Representations” focuses on the process of re-writing of the northeast of Brazil through female voices. The primary text of her work is the romance “Women of Tijucopapo” (1982) by Marilene Felinto in conversation with other established works that convey realities of the northeast of Brazil. Additionally, Marcia holds a MA and a PhD in Linguistic Studies from Brazil (from Universidade Federal de São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil). She has worked as a language instructor in Brazil in primary and private English schools. She has recently worked as a Portuguese language instructor at the Middlebury College Summer Language Programs.

    Eric Griffin is a Doctoral candidate in the Department of History. His research interests include nationalism, identity formation, memory and commemoration, and intellectual history. His dissertation looks at how nationalist thinkers in Paraguay and Argentina incorporated indigenousness into their ideologies in the first half of the Twentieth century.



    Samuel Johnson is a PhD candidate in the Literary, Cultural, and Linguistic Studies program in the Department of Modern Languages. His research interests include ecocriticism, climate change, Indigenous peoples, multispecies justice, coloniality, and the intersections of these themes in literature, film, and new media throughout the Americas. His dissertation, "Amazonian Narratives: Seeking Epistemic and Ecological Justice in the Anthropocene" traces the role of literary, film, and media production emerging from the transnational, intercultural space of the Amazon that preserves, shares, and uplifts of Indigenous ways of knowing and being while seeking justice for the multispecies communities of the Americas.


  • 2021-2022 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Jacqueline Ballantyne

    Jacqueline Ballantyne is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Defaunation Lab at the University of Miami under the guidance of Dr. Mauro Galetti. She was raised in Southern Ontario, Canada, and has earned undergraduate and master's degrees in biology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and The University of Roehampton in London, England. Jacqueline is fascinated by animal behavior and finds the intricate relationships between mammals and plants particularly intriguing. She has a passion for research in the Neotropics and participates in active collaborations with several indigenous and traditional communities in Northern Brazil. Jacqueline's doctoral thesis will focus on the interface between mammal ecology, climate change, and biodiversity across a gradient of defaunation and deforestation to better understand mammalian diversity in the Amazon Forest of Brazil, a global biodiversity hotspot.


    Dieyun Song

    Dieyun Song is a PhD Candidate in History researching at the intersection of philanthropy, international development, and diplomacy in the Americas. Her work combines archival, oral historical, and media analyses to investigate the power contest over social progress and more just foreign aid. Specifically, Dieyun’s project highlights the Colombian engagements with and influence in U.S. official and private interventions in education, mass media, and public health to shape a “modern” Latin America.

    Additionally, Dieyun has been involved with Digital Humanities since 2019. She was a Research Assistant of WhatEvery1Says for two years, which studies Anglophone public discourse about the humanities at large scales. She is currently a Research Fellow of the Digital Narratives of Covid-19 investigating the sociolinguistic patterns of tweets about the Covid-19 pandemic in English and Spanish. She is also a HASTAC scholar from 2020-2022. Dieyun’s work has received generous support from the Rockefeller Archive Center, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, Digital Humanities Research Institute, among others.


    Katherine Villa

    Kate Villa is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Miami in the Department of Philosophy. Her doctoral philosophy research centers on puzzles in value theory and normative ethics, particularly the issue of how we judge past persons and cultures. She holds a Master's in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois. Following her passion for librarianship, she works in both the University of Miami's Cuban Heritage Collection and as a Peer Research Consultant at Richter Library’s Learning Commons. She was also a UGrow Fellow in the University of Miami Library’s Archives and Manuscript Management during the 2020-21 academic year. She is deeply interested in Cuban Studies and spent several years living on the island exploring her Cuban roots. As a UMIA/LASP Distinguished Graduate Research Fellow, Kate plans to analyze phenomena unique to contemporary Cuban culture and political discourse through an ethical, epistemological, and autobiographical lens.

  • 2020-2021 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Ahzin Bahraini

    Born and raised to Iranian parents in Atlanta, Ahzin moved to Miami to earn her PhD. Ahzin is now a fourth year PhD student in the Sociology program whose research focuses on racial inequalities, education disparities, and colorism. Her research is primarily qualitative, with exception to the Miami Ethnic and Racial Justice project (MERJ) that she worked on, during which she collected over 43,000 survey responses on mug shot perceptions in Miami-Dade. During her second year in Miami, she started Ketáb, a non-profit that addresses education inequalities by helping underserved students apply to college for free. Currently, Ahzin oversees undergraduate students that earn course credit in exchange for assisting students from under-resourced areas of the city pursue higher education. She recently had her first publication "The more Ethnic the Face, the More Important the Race" in the journal of Humanity and Society that addresses colorism and employment opportunities among Middle Eastern women. Following the death of George Floyd, Ahzin started ProtestsMiami with a fellow classmate to further address racial disparities in our country. For her dissertation, Ahzin will be examining the Miami-Dade school system, student support, as well as the school-to-prison pipeline.  

    Laura Bass

    Laura is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of English. She holds a BA in English and an MA in Contemporary Writing from Queen Mary University of London. During her BA and MA, she focused on Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora studies, coming to the University of Miami to continue this work. Her current research project assembles Black British, Caribbean American, and Caribbean Canadian life writings written in the wake of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election to examine questions of nation, citizenship, sovereignty, and the legacies of empire for people who have been socialized under far-right political administrations in North Atlantic spaces. At UM, Laura has previously served as Managing Editor of Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal and currently serves the Anthurium Editorial Collective. For her 2019-2020 UGrow fellowship she worked in the Cuban Heritage Collection and Special Collections, writing biographies for collections of Miami-based people and organizations. In Spring 2020, Laura also served as research associate for the Office of Civic and Community Engagement’s latest project, Race, Housing, and Displacement in Miami. Her 2021 UMIA teaching fellowship class will equip students to think critically about Euro-North American narratives of Caribbean bodies, tourism, and climate in contrast to Caribbean narratives of self, explored through travel writing, portraiture, cartography, selfies, and more.


    Morgan Gianola

    Morgan is fourth year PhD candidate in the Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience track of the Department of Psychology. He graduated with a BA in Neuroscience and Spanish from Carthage College, before working as a research assistant in two neuroscience labs at the University of Colorado (Boulder and Denver). He is now a member of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience lab at UM, where his research focuses on links between cultural mindsets, language use, perception, and health outcomes within the Hispanic community. Specifically, Morgan investigates how individual differences in Spanish-English bilinguals’ cultural orientations shape their responses to pain across English- and Spanish-speaking contexts. This work relates to a broad literature on pain assessment and treatment disparities within the Hispanic population, which may be partially alleviated by consideration of cultural and linguistic contributors to pain experience within clinical settings. He is currently developing a functional MRI adaptation of his previous research in order to study the neural mechanisms contributing to language and cultural effects on pain responses of bilingual Hispanics. Morgan has been learning Portuguese as he plans to extend his research paradigms focused on language and culture to greater portions of the Latin American world.  

  • 2019-2020 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    AltamiranoOlivia Altamirano

    Olivia Altamirano is a third-year PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology. She graduated with a BA in Psychology (summa cum laude) from the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz. Ms. Altamirano’s career in mental health began with clinical experience in a subacute facility for people with severe mental illness. Her research experience includes investigating the effectiveness of a mindfulness and yoga curriculum in an underserved, low-income school district composed of Latino minorities through Stanford University, and investigating the effects of cognitive training on people with recent-onset schizophrenia through UC, San Francisco. In Mexico, she explored duration of untreated psychosis, barriers and facilitators to accessing mental health services through the University of Southern California. Underlying her current projects are themes that include family caregiving, patient illness, and culture. Ms. Altamirano aims to bridge these interests by investigating both individual and family risk and resiliency factors involved in patient and caregiver mental health. She plans to investigate concepts including how families adapt to changing roles following a severe mental illness diagnosis, exploring differences between American and Hispanic approaches, and differences that may be present within subcultures of Hispanics (e.g., Mexican, Cuban, Salvadorian).

    Stephanie ClementsStephanie Clements

    Stephanie Clements is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Biology. Her research focuses on conservation and tropical ecology with a special emphasis on habitat fragmentation. She completed a B.S. in environmental science at Roanoke College in Virginia. Ms. Clements has worked with both an environmental advocacy group and the National Park Service where she gained experience in public outreach and education. Her interest in tropical conservation has led her to pursue research in the rainforests of Costa Rica. For her dissertation, Ms. Clements is examining how habitat fragmentation impacts reptiles and amphibians. She is specifically investigating movement between patches of forest and whether biological corridors are an effective conservation tool for reptiles and amphibians. Her project coincides with the planning and implementation of a biological corridor connecting two large forest reserves in the region. Ms. Clements hopes that her work will assist in ongoing and future conservation efforts throughout the tropics.

    Rosario ConchaRosario Concha

    Rosario Concha is a second-year graduate student pursuing her PhD in sociology with a concentration in Criminology. She is originally from Santiago, Chile. She earned her MA in Sociology from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, an MPhil in Chilean and Latin American Literature from the University of Chile, and a BA in psychology from the University Católica de Chile. Ms. Concha’s research interests are the sociology of crime and punishment, historical sociology, archival research, and Latin American and gender studies. During her summer research fieldwork 2019, supported by a Tinker Foundation grant, she started archival research on cases of women prosecuted for abortion between 1874 and 1950 at the National Historic Archive in Santiago. During her UMIA Fellowship, Ms. Concha will begin analyzing these sources from the perspective of institutional gendered violence.


    Lydda LópezLydda López Valdez

    Lydda López Valdez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. She holds a BA from Reed College and an MA from Florida International University, both in Linguistics. Ms. López Valdez is a scholar of language and culture in Latino communities and is currently working on her dissertation which explores rural and urban dynamics in the context of South Florida. Her work addresses global flows and the mobility of linguistic features across borders and how these relate to issues of identity construction among new Latino communities. Ms. López Valdez’s research contributes to interdisciplinary scholarship that considers the role that linguistic difference plays in the lives of US Latino communities in terms of group identity and social inequality. She is the UMIA/LASP Distinguished Graduate Teaching Fellow for the 2019-2020 year and will teach the course “Spanish, Power, & Linguistic Ideology: exploring language in the global city, Miami.” The class introduces students to basic concepts in sociolinguistics and using Miami as its focus, will discuss ideologies regarding language and politics, education, gender, etc. As part of their final project, students will conduct a digital project and a sociolinguistic field study related to Spanish language use and representation in the Miami linguistic landscape.

  • 2018-2019 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Kikie SeideKapriskie “Kikie” Seide

    Kapriskie is a third-year doctoral student at the sociology department. She was born in Haiti and moved to Boston during her Junior year of high school. She holds a BA (Honors) in Sociology from Fitchburg State University and an MPH from the University of New England. Before her doctoral pursuit, she worked as an intern at the Maine Access Immigrant Network (MAIN) in Portland where she developed a clearinghouse of health and social services resources for providers in Greater Portland to assist the asylee, refugee, and asylum seeker populations in Maine. Her scholarly work lies in three programmatic areas, medical sociology, race/ethnic relations, and global health. Overall, her research focuses on the ways in which factors at micro and macro levels affect health outcomes, particularly for racial/ethnic minorities and people living with disabilities in the Caribbean, Latin America and their diasporic communities. For her dissertation, she plans to conduct a phenomenological study of the experience of living with acquired physical disabilities in Haiti with a focus on survivors of the 2010 Earthquake. The study will consider the historical conjuncture of neocolonialism and underdevelopment in Haiti.

    Laura IeuseLaura Iesue
    Twitter: laura.iesue

    Laura Iesue is a second year doctoral student in the department of Sociology. Her research focuses on immigration and crime with a special emphasis in law, society and punishment.  Laura completed her M.A. at New Mexico State University in sociology followed by internships in Washington D.C. where she gained experience learning about security and criminal justice programs within Central America, migration due to violence, and also reintegration programs available for recently repatriated individuals in Central America’s Northern Triangle. This experience, combined with her interest in the process of ‘crimmigration’ within the U.S. is what ultimately led her to pursue her degree from University of Miami. This year she will be working on her project Insecurity and Migration Under the Implementation of Criminal Justice and Security Policies in the Northern Triangle which will be presented at a panel at the Latin American Studies Association in May, 2019.

    Lidiana de MoraesLidiana de Moraes

    Lidiana de Moraes is a third-year doctoral student in the department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Her dissertation project examines thematic and historical connections thorough postcolonial theory among contemporary female writers in Angola, Brazil, and Mozambique. De Moraes earned an M.A. from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS – Brazil) in Literary Theory, and afterwards received a Fulbright Fellowship to work as a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at the University of Miami. Her other areas of interest include subaltern studies (focused on gender, race, and ethnicity); cinema and media studies; comparative literature, and ideologies of language. She has published on the topics of postcolonialism, memory and identity, translation studies, gender representation, and contemporary Luso-Brazilian literatures. Lidiana received the UMIA Teaching Fellowship to develop and teach a class entitled, “Organizando o movimento, orientando o Carnaval: Exploring 20th- and 21st-Century Social Movements through Brazilian Music,” that will be cross-listed in Latin American Studies, Modern Languages and Literatures, and Musicology in Spring 2019.

  • 2017-2018 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Felicia Casanova

    Felicia is a second-year doctoral student in the department of Sociology. Her research focuses on global health as well as immigration and health from a sociological lens.  Felicia completed her M.A. at UM in International Administration where she focused on evaluating the role, impact and sustainability of medical missions in Latin America.  Upon completing her M.A. she joined the U.S. Peace Corps, where she served from 2009 to 2011, in Guatemala as a Municipal Development Volunteer engaged in citizen participation and capacity building efforts that supported community leaders such as community health workers and women's groups.  Felicia worked with the UM department of Public Health Sciences managing and arranging public health capstones locally and globally, which led her to pursue a doctoral degree in Sociology.  This summer, Felicia presented a paper at a sociological conference in Montreal. 

    Samantha Chaitram

    Samantha Chaitram is a Ph.D. Candidate in International Studies at the University of Miami.  A citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, Samantha was awarded a LASPAU Faculty Fulbright in 2012 to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Miami.  She holds a B.Sc. in Economics and Spanish (2006) and a M.Sc. in International Trade Policy (2008) from the University of the West Indies.  Prior to doctoral studies, she worked a Research Assistant at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington D.C., was employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Trinidad and Tobago as an International Relations Officer, and was a Lecturer in Economics and International Trade at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago.  She has participated in several international exchange programs including the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (2012) and a Summer Academy in European Integration at the University of Bonn, Germany (2010).  Her research interests include international trade policy, security policy and U.S. foreign policy.  Samantha is currently working on her doctoral dissertation with Dr. Bruce Bagley on United States – Caribbean security engagement in the twenty-first century.

    Ernesto Fundora

    Ernesto is a Ph.D. Candidate in Romance Studies and a Distinguished Fellow of the Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas. He holds a B.A. in Theater Studies from the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana (2007). In 2015 he participated in the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research at Harvard University. His research focuses on Dramatic/Theatrical Canon formation processes, Classical Tradition and Reception, and Theater Laboratories in Latin America and Europe. Ernesto has presented at a number of international conferences, has published articles in several magazines, and in 2014 he coedited Las palabras de El Escriba. Artículos en Revolución y Lunes de Revolución (1959-1961), the annotated edition of the journalistic work of Cuban author and playwright Virgilio Piñera. He is the editor of Dramaturgia cubana contemporánea (Mexico: Paso de Gato, 2015) and Cuba Queer (Madrid: Hypermedia Ediciones, 2017), which will be presented this coming November in the Miami International Book Fair.

  • 2016-2017 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Caitlin Brown

    Caitlin is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.A. in Comparative Literature & Society from Columbia University (2013). After a year teaching and doing research in Andorra through the Fulbright program, she earned her M.S. in Clinical Health Psychology from the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona in 2015. Caitlin’s research interests include sociocultural factors that influence the assessment and treatment of bilingual and bicultural individuals with schizophrenia. She is currently engaged in a project on multilingualism and serious mental illness, examining whether the language of clinical assessment (English or Spanish) impacts perceived symptom severity and effortful control in bilingual Hispanics with schizophrenia.

    Matthew Davidson

    Matthew is a second-year doctoral student in history and a Distinguished Fellow of the Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas. His research focuses on U.S. Empire and public health in the Caribbean during the early twentieth century, and he is currently studying under the direction of Dr. Kate Ramsey. Matthew completed his M.A. from Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, where he wrote a thesis on the 1915-1934 occupation of Haiti. He was subsequently employed as the Coordinator of the Peterborough chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. Matthew has presented at a number of international conferences, has contributed book reviews and entries for various journals and projects, and has published articles in numerous magazines.

    Yulia Vorobyeva

    Yulia is a Ph.D. candidate in International Studies at the University of Miami. Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, Yulia studied linguistics and translation at Herzen State Pedagogical University specializing in Spanish language. In 2007, she interned as a translator at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prior to her residence in Miami, Yulia received her Master’s degree in Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa where she worked as an instructor of Spanish. In 2011, she served as an intern at the United Nations Department of Political Affairs. Her research interests include drug trafficking and organized crime, with special focus on Latin America and Russia, civil-military relations, security studies, and terrorism. She is the author of a book chapter “Drugs as a National Security Threat: Securitization of Drugs in the U.S. Official Discourse,” in Bruce Bagley and Jonathan Rosen (eds.), Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today (University Press of Florida, 2015).

  • 2015-2016 Distinguished Graduate Fellows

    Ana Maria Lobos 

    Department of Sociology

    Hadassah St. Hubert

    Department of History

    Jessica Wendorf

    School of Communication