12 Named Hellman Fellows

Quick Summary

  • Awards help solve early-faculty funding conundrum
  • They are intended to boost external funding prospects
  • 190 fellowships given in the program’s 15-year history
  • 2020 endowment created Society of Hellman Fellows

Adrienne Nishina was an assistant professor when she received a Hellman Fellowship in 2010 in support of her research project titled “Exposure to Ethnic Diversity in High School: Compelling Developmental Interests?”

Today, as a full professor of human and community development, Department of Human Ecology, she remains grateful for her Hellman funding. With it, she said, “I was able to play with some high-risk, high-reward ideas and pilot them in order to refine my study design, improve my research protocol and show proof of concept to funding agencies.”

This month, UC Davis named its 15th annual class of Hellman Fellows, 12 more early-career faculty members who, like Nishina, aim to advance their prospects for external funding. Grants to the 2022 fellows, all of them assistant professors, range from $15,500 to $36,000, for a total of $300,000.

12 headshots, UC Davis faculty
The 2022 class of Hellman Fellows, from left: Top row — Rachel Bernhard, Erin Gray, Maciel Hernández, Haven Kiers, Wang Liao and Emily Meineke. Bottom row — José Juan Pérez Meléndez, Fatima Mojaddedi, Emily Morgan, Michael Singh, Hannah Tierney and Ben Weber.

Here are the newest members of the UC Davis Society of Hellman Fellows and their research projects:

  • Rachel Bernhard, Department of Political Science, College of Letters and Science — “Appearance-Based Discrimination in Politics”
  • Erin Gray, Department of English, College of Letters and Science — “In the Offing: Law-Founding Violence and the Moving Image of Lynching”
  • Maciel Hernández, Department of Human Ecology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — “Promoting Mental Health Resilience in Middle School”
  • Haven Kiers, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, Department of Human Ecology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences“The Seed Pile Project: Identifying Viable Native Species for Urban Seed Dispersal Through Community Science”
  • Wang Liao, Department of Communication, College of Letters and Science — “Artificial Intelligence Stereotypes and Social Influence Potentials”
  • Emily Meineke, Department of Entomology and Nematology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — “Assessing Preservation of Chemical Compounds in Pressed Plants”
  • José Juan Pérez Meléndez, Department of History, College of Letters and Science — “Monarchies in the Americas: Haiti, Mexico, Brazil and the Struggle for Legitimacy in the 19th Century”
  • Fatima Mojaddedi, Department of Anthropology, College of Letters and Science — “Shelter for the Night: Reason and Reckoning in Afghanistan”
  • Emily Morgan, Department of Linguistics, College of Letters and Science — “Modeling How Language Learning by Individuals Leads to Language Evolution Over Time”
  • Michael Singh, Department of Chicano and Chicano Studies, College of Letters and Science — “Exploring Gender and Sexuality With Latino Male Teachers”
  • Hannah Tierney, Department of Philosophy, College of Letters and Science — “Experimental Philosophy Lab”
  • Ben Weber, Department of African American and African Studies, College of Letters and Science — “The Global Reach of Mass Incarceration”

Early-career conundrum

“Hellman Fellowships help our faculty members begin their research programs in earnest,” said Phil Kass, vice provost of Academic Affairs, which administers the awards. “We are fortunate to be able to provide this assistance as a show of support for them as members of our academic community.”


The Hellman Fellows program dates back to 1995 when San Francisco philanthropists Warren and Chris Hellman established the fellows program in partnership with their daughter Frances Hellman, at the time a recently tenured member of the UC San Diego faculty. She subsequently moved to UC Berkeley, where she is a former chair of physics and dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

She had advised her parents of the conundrum of young faculty members exhausting their start-up funds after two to three years, then having difficulty securing external support before their research was viable.  

And so the Hellman family began awarding their fellowships, first at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley and eventually to all of the UC campuses. Hellman Fellowships arrived at UC Davis in 2008, and, counting this year’s awardees, have now been presented to 190 early-career faculty members.

Two years ago the Hellman family ended its annual fellowship funding, instead providing endowments to the campuses — $6 million for UC Davis — and stipulating that each campus establish a Society of Hellman Fellows to award fellowships in perpetuity.

The Hellmans also intended their endowments to serve as leverage for further contributions to each campus’s Society of Hellman Fellows. For more information on donating to the UC Davis society, contact Jennifer Prahl, director of foundation engagement, Office of  Development and Alumni Relations:

  • Email
  • Phone — 530-752-1282

Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556, dateline@ucdavis.edu; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932, kitaura@ucdavis.edu.

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