Ronald E. McNair Graduate Fellowship

2021-2022 Recipients


Name: Yifat Hayut Levenstein

 Yifat Levenstein is a 4th-year doctoral student at   the Counseling Psychology Program. Her research   focuses on microaggressions within the therapeutic   relationship, their impact on the person being microaggressed, as well as how microaggressions are experienced, processed and understood within the clinical context. In addition to her research, Yifat is seeing patients at the Salt Lake City Veteran Affairs, doing well-checks for residents and fellows at the University of Utah Hospital, and works as an interventionist and research assistant on suicide prevention couples study with the Psychology Department. 

The Counseling Psychology Program has been supportive of my individual journey and this has made a difference in my professional and academic development especially as a first-generation student who is also a single mother of three daughters. My advisor, Dr, Tao, welcomes my identities into our relationship which helps me with unpacking feelings of impostorism and with internalizing a sense of belonging to what I do.


Name: Estefanie Aguilar Padilla

Estefanie Aguilar Padilla is a student in the Master of Statistics in Econometrics program at the University of Utah. She is a graduate research assistant with the Research Collaborative on Higher Education in Prison. Estefanie is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation college graduate. Her current research explores the use of criminal and disciplinary history in undergraduate admissions.

What I enjoy the most about the McNair network for graduate students at the University of Utah is having a space to share my struggles and needs as an underrepresented student of color. Grad school is hard and can take a toll, but having a space where people understand my frustrations and concerns and validate those feelings is so important to me. Having a place where I can share both the positive and negative experiences of my graduate school experience with people who share similar feelings or who can share advice, is really a space cherish and I am grateful for.


Name: Fatiatama’i Puapae Folau

Fatiatamai Puapae Folau is of Samoan descent. She is a recent graduate from UCLA as a History major (Pacific Islander Studies). Her hobbies include playing the ukulele, keyboard, and karaoke! Folau is a first-year MA student under the Department of History specializing in Pacific Islander Studies. 

The MA History program’s strength lies in its sapaia. Sapaia is Samoan for support. It’s been a month into my voyage at the U, and I’ve witnessed their generous support for staff and students alike. I give honor to the Graduate School Diversity Office, for their sapaia have nourished and enhanced my confidence to succeed and stand. Fa’afetai Telē Lava.


Name: Pang Tao Moua

Pang Tao Moua is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Utah. Pang received her B.S. at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and her M.S. at the University of Utah in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Pang’s research interest focuses on bilingual language assessment of Asian tonal-speaking populations, particularly Hmong. She works under the supervision of Dr. Robert Kraemer as a graduate research assistant in the English Learning Lab. Additionally, she also works at Granite School District as a speech-language pathologist.

Through rigorous clinical and research training, the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders fosters a positive learning environment. Faculty members contribute to academic success by providing the necessary tools and resources for developing into a successful scientist and researcher.


2020-2021 Recipients


Name: Pamela Cornejo

The doctoral Counseling Psychology program offers students development in clinical skills and social justice advocacy. Through this training, I have had the opportunity to serve underserved communities within the hospital-, school-, and university setting. I plan to continue my social justice work in the mental health field as scientist-practitioner for children and families.


Name: Hanna Morzenti

Hanna Morzenti completed her undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin, Superior. Hanna continued her schooling at Washington State University by completing a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice. Hanna recognized the gaps in research and practice of human behavior and knew that punitive punishment was not the answer, especially for offenders with underlying mental health, developmental disabilities, or substance abuse issues. Hanna decided to step away from academia to pursue a more practical skillset within the criminal justice and social science fields. After a decade of work in the field, she obtained her MSW from Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, which blended her theoretical knowledge and foundational in clinical work. Hanna is a fourth year PhD student in the College of Social Work where she continues to focus her research on vulnerable populations that come into contact with the criminal justice system. Hanna’s dissertation work focuses on alternatives to incarceration and typical criminal justice sanctions for individuals with high functioning autism. After graduation, Hanna would like to continue to use an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research that encourages others to become excited about changes that can improve the future of the criminal justice system.


Name: Lauren Solkowski

Lauren Solkowski (she/her/hers) is a McNair Scholar and recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Morris with Bachelor’s degrees in French and Sociology. Her academic interests include death, dying, and grief studies with a focus on Native American communities. Lauren recently moved to Salt Lake City from Manitowoc, Wisconsin with her sister, Claire, and cat, Leo. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time in nature, embroidering, reading, and enthusing about cows. She has a plethora of cow jokes at the ready she is more than willing to share!  

I honestly had a really hard time finding graduate schools that had a focus on death studies. After scouring the 2019 ASA Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology, I came across the University of Utah. After visiting, I met professors and other students with the same interests and knew that I could flourish here. As a first generation college student, having the McNair Graduate Scholars Network is an added bonus! 


2019-2020 Recipient


Name: Britany Dagen

Within my undergraduate experiences as a first-generation college student, I struggled with my identity as an academic from an uneducated family. I grew up in a rural town in Northern California where I felt my education left me underprepared for college settings. As I entered my first Literature and Writing course at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM), I felt embarrassed mentioning to my professor that I had never written a four-page paper and did not know what “Modern Language Association” (MLA) formatting was. After our conversation, I worked tirelessly with my professor and the CSUSM Writing Center on developing foundational academic writing skills. As the semester ended, one thought remained in my mind: many students—particularly those from underrepresented communities—are not receiving adequate training in English courses. For this reason, my professional goal is to teach literature and writing at a community college to aid students from non-traditional academic settings or who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds. My undergraduate curriculum has included and emphasized a range of topics, including critical theory, and global, British, and U.S. literature, with a cultural studies emphasis throughout the program. At the University of Utah, I desire to develop these areas of study further by focusing on the teaching practicum and American literature opportunities in the department of English.

The English department’s emphasis in Literary and Cultural Studies prepares students for a wide range of academic and professional endeavors. Students are presented with course material ranging from literary criticism and theory, American, British, and Global literature, film, and digital texts through a lense of understanding societal ideologies in culturally diverse regions. With over 35 staff members (and 4.6 million texts stored in Marriot Library), the possibilities for experiencing a quality academic environment are limitless at the U!

2018-2019 Recipients


Name: Anita Juarez

My interest in education theory and praxis is guided by the belief that the social, cultural, political, and economic realities of U.S. white settler colonialism today are in urgent need of radical change. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate in the department of Education, Culture, and Society (ECS). My dissertation does a historical tracing of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—which continues to serve as the basis for contemporary k-12 public education policy, like the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. Through an analysis that draws from theories of racial capitalism and U.S. settler colonialism, my project debunks mainstream liberal discourses attached to the policy and instead describes how U.S. federal education reform has historically evolved alongside military restructurings and anti-crime policies. My hope is that this research contributes to efforts working towards reimagining and actualizing radical alternatives to state-sanctioned schooling. I arrived to Salt Lake City, Utah by way of East Los Angeles, California—the place I continue to call home and where my family currently resides.

The department of Education, Culture, and Society (ECS) introduces students to a range of interdisciplinary critical research in education. Given its strong emphasis on social justice theory and praxis in education, ECS equips people with the necessary tools to make critical interventions and contributions to the field and society at large.


Name: Pang Tao Moua

My name is Pang Tao Moua, and I am a first-generation college student. I was born in California and raised in Minnesota where I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. I am currently a Ph.D. speech-language pathology student at the University of Utah Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders where I serve as a research assistant in the English Learner Research Laboratory under the advising of Dr. Robert Kraemer. My research focuses on the Hmong people with interest in current language assessment practices of school-based speech-language pathologists (SLPs) working with bilingual Hmong students suspected of having a language impairment.

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders cultivate a positive learning environment through intensive clinical and research training. The faculty members support academic achievements by providing the appropriate tools and resources in becoming a successful graduate student clinician and researcher.


Name: Hanna E. Morzenti

Hanna E. Morzenti, is a first-generation Ph.D. student in the College of Social Work at the University of Utah. As part of her undergraduate studies, Hanna was accepted and completed the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at the University of Wisconsin, where she graduated in 2006 with a BS in Criminal Justice and Sociology. Hanna then pursued her MA in Criminal Justice at Washington State University, graduating in 2008. Spending over 10 years working in the social services field in Idaho and Wisconsin, she then completed her MSW at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho in 2014. Hanna began her Ph.D. at the U in August 2017 and is interested in researching vulnerable populations within the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems. She is hoping to focus her dissertation research specifically on High Functioning Autism in the Criminal Justice System.

The strongest quality of the PhD Social Work program at the University of Utah is being able to work with a variety of researchers from diverse personal and research backgrounds. Prior to attending the U, I had primarily focused on quantitative research; however, since experiencing classes in epistemology and qualitative research methods, I have been able to expand my research interests to incorporate a variety of methods when conducting research. The College of Social Work has an abundance of experienced and personable faculty, whom are willing and able to assist students in getting the best, well-rounded, education possible.


Name: Arnulfo B.N. Tunon-Ortiz

I was born in Mexico and immigrated to Texas at around five years old on my mother’s back. I grew up helping her clean houses and offices while she drilled into me that education is the key to success. Despite the obstacles, I found myself at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas where I joined the McNair Program that made my pursuit for a Neuroscience PhD possible. My dissertation project is to understand how the blood-brain barrier breaks down in children with cerebral malaria, by which I will develop my expertise as a neuroimmunologist to provide insights into research in neurological disorders and explore global health issues. However, I am here thanks to all the helping hands along the way. Therefore I also strive to be one such hand to those who might need it by being a mentor and aspiring leader in outreach programs.

The strongest quality of the Neuroscience PhD program is the supportive environment it has fostered. You don’t just feel part of the scientific community, but a community full of diverse individuals that inspire and encourage your professional and personal growth.


Name:Daniel E. Rivera

My name is Daniel E. Rivera and I come from the island of Puerto Rico. An early diagnosis of epilepsy was the beginning of an unmatched interest and passion in the field of neuroscience and neuropathology. After graduating High School, I went to Florida International University and got a degree in Biomedical Engineering. In addition, I joined the McNair Fellowship program in my 3rd year and received the “World’s Ahead” recognition from the university president at graduation. It was in my undergraduate career that I began to perform scientific research on a phenomenon called cortical spreading depression under the guidance of Dr. Jorge Riera and presented in many in-state and national conferences. After two years of research, a publication, and a manuscript in progress, I decided to attend the University of Utah and pursue a PhD in Neuroscience.

With over 70 faculty involved, there is no shortage of research opportunities in the Neuroscience Graduate Program. This program has shown to have the student’s interests and well-being as their priority and provides a highly structured and organized curriculum. The Neuroscience program also allows for up to 4 rotations in different labs to ensure that students make the right decision when choosing a lab and mentor to complete their PhD. Without a doubt, choosing the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Graduate Program at the U has proven to be one of the greatest decisions I have made.