As a rising junior from Miami, Florida, Jennifer Fundora began her undergraduate career with the intention of majoring in International Studies. “My parents are originally from Cuba and my visits back to their hometown led me to dream of becoming the first US ambassador to Cuba” says Fundora. But after taking a freshmen seminar with chemistry professor, Tim Lian, Fundora’s perspective shifted. Dr. Lian, an innovator in the solar energy field, helped Jennifer realize that the climate crisis was as important as the socio-political issues facing Cuba. Jennifer is now a double-major in Environmental Sciences and International Studies, finding balance between her twin passions.
This past semester, Fundora was recognized for her academic promise as a recipient of a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) at Emory. The MMUF program “is the centerpiece of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s initiatives to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning.” As a fellow, Jennifer will conduct undergraduate research that will build the foundation for a career of teaching and research at the college or university level. In addition to receiving stipend support to conduct research over the next two years, Jennifer will also participate in MMUF workshops and conferences that will hone her skills as a researcher.
Jennifer’s faculty mentor, Dr. Eri Saikawa (Assistant Professor in Environmental Sciences), writes that it was clear that Jennifer “knew what she wanted to gain from the research experience and she had the drive, passion and the intellectual curiosity for research.” Saikawa continues that “while working on research with me on vehicle emissions regulations, Jennifer came up with her own research question: Why is Haiti an ecological debtor while their island counterpart, the Dominican Republic, is lush and fertile? This is a fascinating question by itself but what is most exciting is that she came up with this by herself. I cannot stop thinking how lucky I am that she came to seek me as my mentee and I am so looking forward to being a part of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program.”
We asked Jennifer to answer some questions about her fellowship and how she envisions her path to a Ph.D. She was gracious enough to provide us with the following reflections:
Can you tell us more about your research interests and some details about the work you will be doing as part of your fellowship?
I have been extremely blessed to be one of six students next year to be a part of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, where I will conduct individual research in order to prepare myself to pursue a PhD and bring more representation to the Latinx community in academia. My interests lie within the intersection of environmental and human crises, so I will be doing a case study on Haiti and the deforestation that is adversely affecting communities there. I’ve learned a lot about Ostrom’s design principles for successful community-based management (thanks to Dr. Yandle!), and that has inspired me to offer a reforestation solution that will involve the community and offer a viable income for them, as well as to maintain a sustainable forest, an additional carbon sink, and offer a way to revitalize their riparian zones (and with that, perhaps even access to clean, running water).
These are big dreams that I have, and Dr. Eri Saikawa will be acting as my mentor, assisting me on methodology and academic support – drawing on the challenges that she herself faced on her path to a Ph.D.. I may have the opportunity to go to Haiti in July (fingers crossed!), and I hope to speak to people on the ground with a translator who can help me with the Creole, in order to get a real look at what has worked and what has failed in the past.
What are your hopes for your academic future?
I try to take it semester by semester, but looking out into the future I would love to see myself in a master’s or PhD program right out of college, and then begin teaching. The environmental science department has truly inspired me with the quality of professors we have here, and their passion they deliver every single class is what I hope to have in ten years. In terms of teaching, I hope to be teaching in fusion courses that intersect with other fields like international studies, in order to be able to bring in the wealth of information I have collected from my other classes.
What are you doing this summer?
I will be enjoying the company of my dog and my family in Miami for the months of May and July, but in June I will be going to what the Mellon Mays coordinators call “academic bootcamp,” where I will be constantly working and reworking on my research “prospectus” or research question, and where I will be reading Born to Rebel by the very Benjamin Mays himself, in order to learn more about how to become a strong advocate for increased diversity in academia.
What is your favorite Emory tradition or what do you like most to do on campus?
Walking onto the quad has to be my favorite part of my days here at Emory. Anne Hall, ENVS lecturer, once said that the first humans originated from Africa, and that we build our quads to mimic the savannahs in Africa because it brings us some primal comfort, and I believe it! Even during my darkest days in the semester, when I’m jaded and disheartened by the amount of pressure I am under, the quad provides a convenient space to reflect.
We are thrilled for Jennifer and so happy that she has found a home in ENVS!