$20,000 scholarships empower women and support doctoral students’ research

Valentina Alvarez holding a species of skink (Cryptoblepharus poecilopleuruslisten)) at the edge of the Kīlauea Caldera – the highest elevation at which the genus has been collected.

Three University of Hawaii PhD female candidates are recipients of a national scholarship aimed at breaking down the barriers women face in education. uh Hilos Sasha Nealand (Kovacs)and uh Manoa’s Valentina Alvarez and Hannah El Silimy each received $20,000 to pursue academic work and lead innovative community projects to empower women and girls from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

person standing in front of a motorcycle
Sasha Nealand (Kovacs)

Nealand (Kovacs), a PhD candidate in pharmaceutical sciences at uh Daniel de Hilo K Inouye College of Pharmacy, is pursuing a thesis research focusing on the separation, isolation, structure elucidation (process of determining the chemical structure of a compound) and antimicrobial activity of medicinal compounds in a plant local medicinal called gumplant of the coast (Grindelia stricta platyphylla) from his hometown of Half Moon Bay, California. This plant is traditionally used to reduce inflammation and treat respiratory conditions. It produces a resinous gum rich in terpenes (compounds responsible for the smell of most plants), which are the medicinal compounds that Nealand (Kovacs) is studying. She is expected to complete her thesis research and graduate in June 2023.

“I was extremely happy and proud that AAUW chose to support my dissertation research,” said Nealand (Kovacs). “The opportunity to pursue graduate studies and do research full time is a lifelong dream. I had struggled to finance my studies for several years, thanks to various part-time jobs and scholarships. This very generous scholarship gave me the opportunity to fully concentrate on research and finally finish my thesis.

Alvarez, a PhD candidate in biology uh The Mānoa School of Life Sciences is pursuing dissertation research on several species of lizards that were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands at different times in history and by different means. Alvarez uses genetic data to find out where these species originated from, when they arrived, and whether they are spreading from Hawaii to other parts of the world. She is expected to graduate in the summer of 2023.

“I am grateful to the AAUW for the work they do to provide women with opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Alvarez said. “By uplifting women, they are helping to level the playing field so that this typically underprivileged group can strive to achieve their goals.”

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Hannah El Silimy

El-Silimy, a PhD candidate in political science and indigenous politics in uh The Mānoa College of Social Sciences is pursuing a thesis research focusing on how indigenous women activists in northern Thailand and the Thai-Burma border region are leading healing, solidarity and empowerment efforts for them themselves and their communities. Her research is conducted in partnership with networks of indigenous women based in Chiang Mai and uses feminist and participatory feminist ethnographic research methods. Additionally, El-Silimy is participating in a collaborative community-based research project that will produce mixed forms of storytelling as well as a research report on the lives of indigenous women in Thailand and Burma after the military coup.

“I was very honored and grateful to receive this thesis grant. The funds will be invaluable to me in completing the final stages of my PhD studying and writing my thesis! said El-Silimy. “I would like to encourage other doctoral students at the University of Hawaii Applying for AAUW funding—this is a great opportunity to get help in your final year of dissertation writing.

Requests for AAUWThe scholarship and grants open on August 1 each year and deadlines vary by program. Learn more about AAUWfunding opportunities for the 2023-2024 academic year.

-By Marc Arakaki