Zayda Sorrell-Medina (left) and Allison Dziuba
Zayda Sorrell-Medina (left) is pursuing a doctorate in urban planning & public policy, while Allison Dziuba is a Ph.D. candidate in English. Both AAUW fellowship recipients hope to work in higher education. Steve Zylius / UCI

The American Association of University Women has awarded $20,000 American Fellowships to UCI graduate students Allison Dziuba and Zayda Sorrell-Medina for this academic year. The fellowships will relieve the two of teaching, teaching assistant and graduate research work and allow them to concentrate their energy and efforts on attainment of their degrees.

Since 1888, the AAUW has fervently supported women’s graduate education, bestowing more than $115 million in fellowships and grants on 13,000 women from 150 countries. Those totals include an unprecedented $5 million awarded to 260 scholars for 2021-22.

A doctoral candidate in English, Dziuba first learned about the AAUW when she was a teenager. “A fellow Girl Scout and I developed a project to engage adolescent girls on political issues with relevance to women and girls. It was our spin on the feminist adage ‘The personal is political,’” she says. The pair presented their project at AAUW’s national convention, held that year in Phoenix. The moment Dziuba heard about the AAUW fellowship for female grad students, she wanted to apply.

Sorrell-Medina, who’s pursuing a doctorate in urban planning & public policy, has long admired the AAUW’s mission: “to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy.” She applied for the American Fellowship because she knew it would give her “the time and resources needed to zero in on my last dissertation study, which is a formidable undertaking.”

Allison Dziuba
Allison Dziuba, Ph.D. candidate in English, says she was thrilled to learn she earned one of the coveted AAUW fellowships. “I contacted my dear friend and fellow former AAUW convention presenter to let her know, too”
Steve Zylius / UCI

Her research seeks to measure the impact of the U.S. immigrant-serving nonprofit sector. Sorrell-Medina’s “deep, abiding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion” prompted her to choose a dissertation topic focusing on those elements. The fellowship will support the final phase of her dissertation work, in which Sorrell-Medina is implementing a national survey of immigrant-serving nonprofits to gauge how they affect the creation of inclusionary cities. She plans to complete her dissertation by next August. 

For her Ph.D. specializing in rhetoric and composition, Dziuba is examining “how college students learn to communicate – write, speak, perform – so as to participate in their communities.” She recently adapted a chapter of her dissertation for publication. The AAUW fellowship will enable Dziuba to give her full attention to writing the rest of her dissertation, which she plans to file in the spring.

As for the future, Dziuba says she loves teaching and plans to seek employment in higher education, where she can continue researching and teaching. She cares deeply about her students. “It’s important for me to honor the knowledge they bring with them to their coursework and put that knowledge into meaningful conversation with the course materials and outcomes,” Dziuba says.

Sorrell-Medina’s long-term career goal “is to address community and social problems through research, education and community-based programs.” She hopes to achieve this by becoming a university professor and continuing to direct the social enterprise that she founded, Yemaya Productions.

Zayda Sorrell-Medina
Zayda Sorrell-Medina, Ph.D. candidate in urban planning & public policy, was so elated when she read the award email that she couldn’t believe her eyes. “I am extremely grateful and honored.” Steve Zylius / UCI

“I wanted to make sure that my place of study and work would be a place where I could thrive,” says Sorrell-Medina of her choice to pursue a Ph.D. at UCI. Several key factors attracted her. It’s “a top research university,” she notes, with “a diverse student body and a number of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programs [that] contribute to an overall inclusive environment.”

Dziuba is from the East Coast and was curious about changing her surroundings. UCI has been an excellent fit for her, she says, especially “the wonderful mentorship and collegiality of my faculty advisors and fellow rhet/comp graduate students.” The latter have even formed a group, “The RCGC.”

Jonathan Alexander, Chancellor’s Professor of English, is one of Dziuba’s faculty advisors. He observes: “Allison is a wonderful graduate student whose attention to writing in the extra-curriculum – the kind of writing that students do outside classes, for newsletters, for activist organizations, for their own personal edification and enlightenment – shows us not only how creative young people are but also how intent they are to use their words to reimagine their worlds.”

Walter J. Nicholls, professor of urban planning & public policy, is Sorrell-Medina’s faculty advisor. He calls her an “extraordinary” graduate student and is impressed by her decision to undertake what he describes as an “exhaustive study” on immigrant-serving nonprofits in the U.S. “To my knowledge,” Nicholls says, “this is one of the most ambitious studies of its kind and will play a critical role in revealing the role of these organizations in facilitating the integration of immigrants into their receiving communities.”

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