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Monica Gallegos Garcia Wins Ford Foundation Fellowship

By: Lydia Rivers (@lydiuhrivers)


CIERA graduate student Monica Gallegos Garcia was awarded a fellowship within the distinguished Ford Foundation Fellowship Program, administered by the Fellowship Office of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

“It’s a huge honor to be selected for this fellowship, specifically because of the pool of applicants. Since [the fellowship] is for increasing diversity in academia, I know the other applicants might have similar backgrounds as myself,” said Gallegos Garcia. “We all want to keep a career in academia, but we are also driven by increasing diversity and making more equitable work environments.”

The program awarded 133 students fellowships in 2019, providing $24 thousand a year for three years and access to a conference that connects Ford fellows across many disciplines. The funding allows Gallegos Garcia much more flexibility in arranging her responsibilities, allowing her to focus on her research and giving her the opportunity to go to more conferences. Under CIERA director Professor Vicky Kalogera, Gallegos Garcia is studying binary star evolution, and is simulating binaries with Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics (MESA) and cosmic.

“The main goal is to create our own code that will use MESA and data science to simulate a large amount of binaries quickly, because the MESA models can take a couple of hours to run,” said Gallegos Garcia. “If you want to simulate a cluster of binaries, you don’t want to run a bunch of single MESA models; you want to be able to do that faster.”

The goal of the fellowship program is not only to fund students, but to increase the diversity of the nation’s academic faculty who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students and to maximize the educational benefits of diversity. Gallegos Garcia recalled how both herself and her previous undergraduate advisor, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz at the University of California-Santa Cruz, are from Mexico, and said that “I had such a good experience with my academic advisor that it made me want to give that experience to someone else.”

“A diverse set of people are the most qualified to be making environments more diverse. We know the resources students of color might need and what will attract students,” said Gallegos Garcia. “To me, ‘using my diversity as a resource’ means being able to use my past life experiences to know how we can increase diversity. But it’s not just about creating more opportunities, it’s also important to know how to retain and support students – and that’s something that needs to be worked on.”