New Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows eager to make an impact

2014 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows. From top left: Kamal Kariem, Leela Riesz, Chakena Sims, Miranda Young and Kevin Zevallos.
2014 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows. From top left: Kamal Kariem, Leela Riesz, Chakena Sims, Miranda Young and Kevin Zevallos.

Connecticut College’s newest cohort of students selected to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program is eager to make an impact on academia – and the world.

Rising juniors Kamal Kariem, Leela Riesz, Chakena Sims, Miranda Young and Kevin Zevallos represent a range of academic disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, history and philosophy. All hope to one day earn a doctorate and potentially become college or university professors. The MMUF program is designed to support that goal.

Established at Connecticut College with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2008, the MMUF program is dedicated to increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue Ph.D.s and to supporting the pursuit of Ph.D.s by students who may not come from underrepresented groups but have demonstrated a commitment to the goals of MMUF. Only a select group of colleges are invited to participate in the highly successful national program, which this month is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In 2012, Connecticut College received a second grant from the Mellon Foundation to support the program through 2016.

Each year, faculty members select a cohort of rising juniors interested in pursuing Ph.D.s in core fields in the arts and sciences. The program provides these fellows with faculty mentorship and research training, as well as a yearly stipend, summer research support, funding for research-related travel and the opportunity to attend conferences with other Mellon fellows. Mellon fellows who, in preparation for professorial careers, enroll in Ph.D. programs after graduation are then eligible for repayment of their undergraduate loans up to a maximum of $10,000.                

Based on the number of fellows who have continued on to postgraduate degree programs, the program has already proven to be a success at Connecticut College, says Dean of Multicultural Affairs Elizabeth Garcia.

“A significant number of past MMUF fellows have completed their master’s degrees and are enrolled in doctorate programs,” Garcia said. “Congratulations to the 2014 cohort of fellows, who have already expressed an interest in and demonstrated a talent for academic research.”

This year’s cohort participated in a weeklong workshop following the end of the Spring semester. This summer, Kariem, Young and Zevallos will complete internships, research projects and other summer programs, while Sims and Riesz will attend a six-week research seminar at Wesleyan University with fellows from other colleges.

Meet the Fellows


Kamal Kariem Kamal Kariem

Major: Slavic studies and anthropology

Hometown: Chicago, Ill.

On Campus: Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA), president of One in Four, student worker at career office, floor governor in Park House

Research focus: Investigating Russia’s treatment of indigenous populations

Summer plans: Attend a Russian language summer program at Middlebury College

Future plans: Earn a Ph.D. in anthropology and become an anthropology professor

About MMUF: “Being a fellow has a lot to do with the support and mentoring I will receive toward my research. I am excited to bounce ideas off of the other fellows and exchange advice.”


Leela Riesz Leela Riesz

Major: Anthropology

Hometown: Northampton, Mass.

On Campus: Miss Connduct a cappella group, Unity House ALANA Big Sib, Office of Volunteers for Community Service volunteer, campus tour guide

Research focus: Exploring the ideological irrelevance of race in France as well as how immigrants use foodways to navigate their identities.

Summer plans: Attend a six-week research seminar at Wesleyan University

Future plans: Earn Ph.D., work for NGO committed to immigration support

About MMUF: “The Fellowship will introduce me to a network of scholars and allow me to engage in long-term research that combines all my areas of interest.”


Chakena Sims Chakena Sims

Major: History

Hometown: Chicago, Ill.

On Campus: Posse scholar, chair of the Umoja Black Student Union, Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy scholar, floor governor

Research focus: The racial politics of criminal law

Summer plans: Intern as a full-time law researcher at Goldberg Kohn, Ltd. in Chicago

Future plans: Earn a dual J.D./ Ph.D. in American history, become a history professor and eventually run for political office to influence criminal justice policy

About MMUF: “History helps me understand policy. Many of the questions and concerns regarding our criminal justice system have already been answered. MMUF has reaffirmed the importance of collaboration with other scholars who are working to solve similar problems.”


Miranda Young Miranda Young

Major: Philosophy and history

Hometown: Pasadena, Calif.

On Campus: Peer mentor for LGBTQ Center, president of the women’s rugby team, Queer People of Color (QPOC) chair, student worker at Shain Library

Research focus: Rebuilding identity and self-image following a sexual assault

Summer plans: Attend a six-week research seminar at Wesleyan University

Future plans: Earn a Ph.D. in philosophy focused on feminist philosophy and ethics and secure a professorship at a small college as well as continue work in sexual assault activism.

About MMUF: “Mellon Mays is not only financially supportive, but also connects you with fellow academics and mentors. I’m excited and proud to be a part of this group. All of the fellows have really awesome minds.”


Kevin Zevallos Kevin Zevallos

Major: Sociology and history

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

On campus: Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, Unity House, Admissions representative, floor governor

Research focus: Sociology of space; studying peer culture

Summer plans: Research journal article to be co-written with sociology professor Ana Campos-Holland

Future plans: Travel to Cuba, earn a Ph.D. in sociology and become a professor

About MMUF: “Having the individual mentorship with professors in my field will really help me advance and develop an honors thesis. For my mother, ‘Tarcila, tu apoyo y amor me da la fuerza y el poder para luchar por mis deseos (Tarcila, your support and love gives me strength and power to fight for my wishes).’”


June 6, 2014