Four anthropology students receive NSF graduate research fellowships

Author: Carrie Gates

Four students in Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology were awarded graduate fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2016 and 2017, and three were recognized with honorable mentions.

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) honors and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social science disciplines. The award provides a stipend, tuition support, and research funds for three years.

Nicholas AmesNicholas Ames

A total of 33 Notre Dame students — 15 awardees and 18 honorable mentions — were recognized by the NSF this spring.

Anthropology Ph.D. student Nicholas Ames was awarded a 2017 fellowship, and graduate students Mallika Sarma in anthropology and Kristina Hook in anthropology and peace studies were among the awardees in 2016. Undergraduate anthropology major Kenzell Huggins ’16 also received an award to begin graduate study last fall at the University of Chicago.

Ames, who studies 19th- and early 20th-century Irish immigration to the U.S., believes the Department of Anthropology’s integrated approach to the discipline gave him an edge in his research and in winning the fellowship.

“The department’s four-field approach breaks the boundaries of classical anthropological divisions in a genuine attempt to use the field as a set of tools to answer a question, rather than allowing your particular specialization to define the methods you employ,” he said. “This cross-methodological approach helped my proposal stand out because I was able to use ‘any means necessary’ to pursue my question.”

Notre Dame also has an intellectual focus on both Ireland and on the issue of social migration, he said, making the University a perfect fit for his research interests.

Mallika SarmaMallika Sarma

“Being able to combine these two themes through the support of incredible scholars has provided me a relevant historical lens to comment on contemporary social issues,” Ames said. “Notre Dame is one of the few places where I have found unbridled support to conduct this type of research successfully.”

Sarma, who researches human developmental plasticity, said her success reflects the strong support network she has at Notre Dame, particularly in anthropology.

“I am lucky to have the support and attention of faculty who encourage innovative and integrative research,” Sarma said. “The faculty in our department aren’t just leading scholars in their field; they also genuinely care about making me the best scholar I can be.”

Hook is examining large-scale political violence against civilians, such as genocides and mass atrocities, and hopes to develop an anthropologically informed toolkit to improve primary source data collection. She said both the Department of Anthropology and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies have been extremely helpful in her research.

Kristina HookKristina Hook

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on this issue from the interdisciplinary angle that my dual doctoral program allows,” she said. “The partnership between anthropology and the Kroc Institute provides us the vantage point of seeing diverse scholarly perspectives across the academic landscape while remaining rooted in our own methodological training.”

Ames, Hook, and Sarma also credited Notre Dame’s Office of Grants and Fellowships in The Graduate School with helping them throughout the NSF application process. The office conducts a summer support program, a fall workshop series, and an intensive application-writing “boot camp” each fall.

“The grants and fellowships staff were invaluable in outlining the application elements and offering the workshops necessary to make my proposal as clear and concise as possible,” Ames said. “The NSF workshop series and boot camp provided both a focused space to work and critical feedback by an audience outside my field.”

Huggins said the opportunities for undergraduate research at Notre Dame helped him both prepare for his Ph.D. program and win the competitive NSF award.

Kenzell HugginsKenzell Huggins

“The anthropology department at Notre Dame encouraged me to pursue research opportunities, even in my freshman year,” Huggins said. “As a result, I was better equipped with the skills to integrate various disciplines to understand complex human interactions.”

Graduate students interested in applying for external awards, including the GRFP, should contact the Office of Grants and Fellowships. Interested undergraduates should contact the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement. Regardless of level, all Notre Dame students are welcome to attend summer and fall support programs.