Science and Technology

Hurricanes receive fellowships for research at home and abroad

University of Miami students and staff were given fellowships and awards that will allow them to pursue their passions.
UM students
Clockwise (from left to right): Kimberly Dodt, Quinton Lawton, James Wilson, Morgan Gianola, Emily Parks, and Jimmy Ge.

When Kimberly Dodt was in high school, her anthropology teacher assigned a book to read that changed Dodt’s life.

The book, called “Guests of the Sheik,” recounts the author’s experience as a young American living with her husband in a rural Iraqi village in the 1950s. It piqued Dodt’s interest about Middle Eastern society so much that the University of Miami senior has spent the past three years honing her Arabic skills to be able to research women’s rights  in the Middle East without a translator.

“Middle Eastern women have ways of expressing their own agency that is different from how women express freedom in America,” said Dodt, a history and Arabic studies major. “I wanted to learn Arabic to research this topic.”

Dodt was recently given the chance to fulfill her goal when she was awarded a Boren Scholarship to study in Oman, a small country on the Arabian Sea that borders the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. She is one of several University of Miami students awarded prestigious scholarships and fellowships this spring.

Emily Parks, a recent alumna was awarded a U.S. Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to work in Athens, Greece. Parks graduated in 2019 with a degree in English literature and art history. Although her program was set to start in the fall, it will now begin in January 2021, said April Dobbins, director of the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, which is part of the Office of Academic Enhancement.

Morgan Gianola was selected for a Critical Language Scholarship to study Portuguese in Brazil this summer. Gianola is a graduate student in the Social and Cultural Neuroscience Laboratory interested in studying how language and culture interact to influence psychological and neurological processes. His research addresses how personal experiences are colored by the lens of culture. While his program was canceled this cycle because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gianola has the option to pursue the scholarship next summer.

Although many of the fellowships and scholarships offered were canceled or delayed because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions, there are plenty of opportunities still available to students in 2021, Dobbins said.

“We were very pleased with the number of students recognized this year, especially at such an uncertain time,” Dobbins noted.

Nina Yari Castro

Nina Yari Castro, assistant director of Study Abroad, was offered a Fulbright International Education Administrator grant to study in Japan. Although it was set to begin this summer, Castro’s program also was delayed until summer 2021. Three other University students also were named alternates for the Fulbright program in the Caribbean, the Netherlands, and Taiwan. This means that  if any chosen candidates do not accept the award, these students will be selected, Dobbins pointed out. Students interested in applying for Fulbright scholarships through the University must apply by Aug. 17 if they would like the benefit of a campus committee (many of whom are Fulbright alumni) to help review their application.

A number of University of Miami students received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRF). The three-year fellowships, which provide an annual stipend as well as funding toward tuition and fees, can be used at any institution where the student studies for their graduate degree. 

James Wilson, a marine science and biology major who graduated this spring, was awarded an NSF-GRF and a GEM Associate Fellowship Award to support his graduate study. Wilson’s research aims to investigate how the immune systems of corals and related species operate by identifying cells that are specialized for immune activity and examining their behavior. Wilson, who was also a George W. Jenkins Scholar, recently moved to Austin, Texas, where he will start studying for his doctorate in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Texas.

Jimmy Ge, a second-year Ph.D. student at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science was also awarded an NSF-GRF fellowship. Ge is researching tropical cyclogenesis, or the process where a cluster of small-scale thunderstorms over tropical waters develops into a hurricane. His project will use weather models, as well as aircraft and satellite observations, to examine how thunderstorms and their interactions with the broader environment contribute to the formation of hurricanes.

Quinton Lawton, another Rosenstiel School Ph.D. student, was also awarded an NSF-GRF fellowship. Lawton, a first-year student in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, is researching how interactions between atmospheric waves can play a major role in whether a hurricane forms or not.

Dodt is looking forward to spending the first seven months of 2021 in Oman and improving her language skills to hopefully propel her into a career in Middle Eastern diplomacy.  

“Once I started Arabic I fell in love with the language,” she said. “It’s very rich. When you read, there are millions of words you don’t know, but it gives depth to the language. My ultimate goal is to have near-native fluency, so I think this scholarship will add to my ability to do that.”

Students interested in applying for a scholarship or prestigious award should plan ahead because many of the applications are due at the start of the fall semester. Therefore, Dobbins recommended that students visit the Office of Academic Enhancement’s website and research the awards to see what piques their interest. Then, they can attend an information session in the fall or email her at if they need more information. They also can follow her office’s Facebook page or Instagram @umiami_oae to keep up to date with new developments during the summer.