Advancing the status of women through financial support in the final phase of their doctoral programs.

2022 Winner - Dr. Crystal Kwok

Crystal Kwok holds a PhD in Performance Studies and an advanced Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is an award winning filmmaker who established her career in Hong Kong as an actress, writer, director, and controversial talk show host. Her debut feature film, The Mistress, won the Audience Choice Awards at the Deauville Asiatic Film Festival and her Cable TV and RTHK radio talk show pushed boundaries in Hong Kong, addressing socially sensitive topics around sexuality and the body. She has taught courses in Women and Film/Media at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and currently is a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong. Her latest film production, Blurring the Color Line, examines race relations between the Chinese and Black communities. This documentary was streamed nationally on PBS under America ReFramed and has won multiple awards including Best Documentary at the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific Film Festival, Courage Award at DisOrient Film Festival, and the Mira Nair Rising Female Filmmaker Award at the
Harlem International Film Festival. Through both creative and scholarly work, Crystal is committed to breaking boundaries and amplifying voices of women and marginal communities.
Fun for Fellowship Presentation 2023

2018 Winner -  Dr. Lori Wiley, Ed.D

After receiving the Soroptimist Founder Region Fellowship award in May of 2018, I was excited to complete the data collection for my research and to finish writing my dissertation.  But a few months later, the symptoms of a vestibular disorder returned. The dizziness was round-the-clock and caused exhaustion because my brain was desperately trying to compensate for the imbalance that I felt. After discussion with my very compassionate PhD advisor/dissertation chair, I made the decision to focus on my health and got approval to take a leave from dissertation research/studies. Thankfully, I had completed my data collection prior to feeling symptomatic. After about 8 months, I felt well enough to return to my dissertation studies.

I am happy to report that in August 2020, I graduated with a PhD in Education, with specialization in Exceptionalities (Special Education). This was particularly challenging because my final semester, during which I was preparing for my oral defense of the dissertation, coincided with the world-wide shutdown during the COVID pandemic. All 5 members of our family were home together, 24/7. Dissertation writing was a full-time endeavor, and previous to the pandemic it had been extremely helpful for me to go into a “cave”(i.e., away from family members) to write. Although it took me a couple of weeks to figure out, I found my stride through trial and error. My husband worked from home and was the boys’ study-hall monitor as our 3 teenage sons schooled from home. My mom’s garage, about 20 minutes from my home was my newfound office where I finished my dissertation writing and prepared for my oral defense.
 Although my degree was conferred in August of 2020, there was no graduation ceremony due to the limitations posed by the pandemic. Yet, it truly was still a special time of celebration with my close friends and extended family who had lent support throughout my PhD journey. In terms of finding employment post-degree, the University of Hawaii had a system-wide faculty hiring freeze due to COVID. So there were no positions available in the Speech Pathology and Audiology Department of the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine. However, about 6 months after receiving the PhD degree, I was contacted by the executive director from a special program called “Listen to Me!” at Stanford University School of Medicine. Listen to Me! is a research-based program for children, birth to 5 years, who are deaf and who use cochlear implants, and their families. These are families who have chosen to help their child to developing listening and speaking as their communication modality. The Listen to Me! program (now 15 years in existence) provides assistance including parent coaching/training to empower families with the skills and knowledge to facilitate their child’s development of listening and spoken language and to advocate for their child’s needs in the medical and educational sectors. The hope is that by empowering these children and families, these children will develop listening and spoken language and go on to be successful learners in the mainstream classroom and to be able to thrive in the hearing world.

After discussions with a few of us professionals in Hawaii who work with deaf and hard of hearing children and their families, the executive team of Listen to Me! at Stanford selected Hawaii as their first satellite state for the Listen to Me! program. Just last year, the Hawaii leadership team of local professionals (including myself), in partnership with staff from the California Listen to Me! program, launched Listen to Me! Hawaii to provide training and support services to a cohort of 10 Hawaii families of children with hearing loss. I am honored to have been hired to serve as Listen to Me! Hawaii’s Director for Development.

In addition, just last year,, I was hired part-time as an audiologist for University Health Partners of Hawaii and an adjunct faculty member for the Speech Pathology and Audiology Department at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. Last year, the Hawaii state Legislature mandated that hearing screening programs be reinstituted in Hawaii’s public schools (following a roughly 30 year gap). As an audiologist for the UH, one of my roles is to provide training of hearing screening personnel who will implement the hearing screenings in the local schools. The impact of hearing loss is multi-faceted, impacting language, educational, social/emotional and beyond. I am ecstatic and honored to serve in this capacity since there are many children in the school system who acquire hearing loss during childhood. If we can identify these children with hearing loss and help them to receive proper treatment as soon as possible, we can increase the chances of them going on to achieving their full potential and to live out their dreams.

     I send my sincere and heartfelt appreciation to the Founders Region Fellows and Soroptimist International for your generosity, encouragement, and support that truly uplifted me to make the final ascent toward completing the PhD journey. God bless you and mahalo nui loa!

2021 Winner - Dr. Bernadette Pilar Zermeño, Ed.D

How did the Fellowship Grant help you finish your PHD?
The grant has helped me complete my doctorate because I was able to work less to pay for my courses. As you may know, college tuition is super expensive. With your support, I was able to pay for my tuition, give stipends to the four educators I interviewed and provide a thank you gift for my professors. I would not be able to complete my degree without your support.
What did it mean to you to have a group of women supporting/encouraging you?
The world of academia does not have enough strong and independent women leading the way. Soroptimist women are leading the way by supporting young women trying to make a difference for themselves and in their own communities. The achievement of women is sometimes uncut; yet I was filled with honor and gratitude to be in a room full of amazing women leaders.
Who mentored you along the way?
I have had many mentors along the way that have never doubted my ability, even when I did. A special thanks to my family, friends and committee members that would always check in on me and be my cheerleaders.
How did your family support you along the way?
My family allowed me to write, write and write some more! They often provided me with the space to just be, with no pressure.
What are you doing now in your career?
Currently, I am in a Transformational position that aligns Early Childhood, Family Partnerships, TK and Multilingual Division within my district to collaborate, design, implement Multilingual strategies and build alignment between all partners to support the diverse linguistic and cultural assets of the community 0-3rd grade. I am also an adjunct professor at multiple colleges in the Bay Area.
2023 Update

2015 Winner - Christian Phillips, Ph.D. 

Dr. Phillips received her Ph.D. in Political Science from U.C. Berkeley in 2016. She was awarded a Fellowship grant in 2015. Her dissertation, entitled “Double Binds and Triple Threats: Race, Gender and Immigration in American Politics,” was recognized with the Best Dissertation Award by the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. Dr. Phillips is currently an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Southern California. Her research has focused on voter behavior, electoral institutions, the politics of public policy and political incorporation focusing, in particular, on race, gender and immigrant communities. She is working on a book, Nowhere to Run, a national study of the impact of immigrant communities on the changing patterns of representation in American state legislatures.  research.

2016 Winner - Dr. Kealoha Fox, Ph.D. 

Dr. Fox received her Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Science in 2017 from the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her research continues to focus on native Hawaiian health. She is the author of the book Haumea: Transforming the Health of Native Hawaiian Women and Empowering Wahine Well-Being which focuses on the indigenous resilience of women and girls. She is an Obama Leader for the Asia-Pacific Region at the Obama Foundation. She serves on numerous boards, commissions and task forces including being the policy co-chair of the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander COVID19 Response Team, Advisory Board member of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Child Well-being Program and Treasurer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. 

2017 Winner - Dr. Carolyn Kierans, Ph.D. 

Carolyn Kierans  was in the Ph.D. program in Astrophysics at U.C. Berkeley. Her dream was to someday work for NASA. The following is an e-mail which Carolyn recently sent to our current (and 2016-18) District III Fellowship Director, Fawn Williams. Carolyn’s dream has come true. We are proud that the Fellowship program played a significant role in helping that happen!

2022 Update: I’m now in Washington DC and as of a few months ago I’ve landed a permanent position working as an Astrophysics Researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center! It’s my dream job and the Soroptimist Fellowship was a huge help to get me here. If you remember, I got the Fellowship for my last year of my PhD and the funding helped me focus on my thesis and final results. With that work, I was awarded a NASA Postdoc Fellowship to work at Goddard with the group that has now hired me on as a permanent member. The path to get here couldn’t have been more ideal and the Soroptimist Fellowship really helped. 

2017 Winner - Dr. Navit Zukerman, Ph.D. 

Navit Zukerman was studying at Life Chiropractic College West in Hayward, California, where she ultimately received her Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine degree.

2022 Update: I run and own a booming chiropractic practice in Boulder, Colorado and also just got married in November. Boulder gives me the opportunity to work intimately with a health-conscious community while still being able to easily enjoy the great outdoors. We are also in the midst of planting our vegetable garden for the season; last year we were able to grow enough food to feed ourselves and our neighbors throughout the summer. It was so wonderful. 

2017 Winner - Dr. Qiong (Linda) Wu, Ph.D. 

Qiong (Linda) Wu was born in China where she attended university. In 2017, she was a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, majoring in Civil Engineering. The focus of her studies was transportation: specifically, how to control the speed of vehicles at intersections, reducing both the wait time and accidents at these locations. Her dream was obtaining her doctoral degree and a job in which she could develop her engineering talent and eventually open her own firm. Linda graduated in 2018 with her Ph.D. After graduation, she obtained her dream job with a civil engineering firm in Florida,

2022 Update: I am still working as a traffic studies analyst at a Florida consulting firm. With the help of the Fellowship, I had enough time and effort to prepare both my dissertation and job hunting. Since my goal is opening my own consulting firm, the experience gained at my current firm helps a lot, including how to create my own network and win several research projects from [local government]…I could not have found this suitable position without the help of this Fellowship. 

2017 Winner - Dr. Rachel Bernhard, Ph.D. 

Rachel's doctoral thesis focused on her research into how voters evaluate female candidates for office. Rachel continues to conduct research in this area, particularly as it relates to underserved communities. She also talked about the professional path her life has taken since receiving our Fellowship award, including being selected to study, 2018-2019, as a Postdoctoral Prize Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College at the University of Oxford, England. Returning to California, Rachel joined the faculty at the University of California at Davis where she is an Assistant Professor of Political Science. 

2021 Winner - Emily Barnes

Emily Barnes was one of our 2021 Fellowship Award recipients. She is in the final phase of finishing her Ph.D. studies in Environmental Engineering at U.C. Berkeley

2022 Update: I elected to direct my Soroptimist award to purchasing materials to build indoor air filters for our local under-resourced public middle school. We had originally planned to focus on providing air filtration devices to each student to improve each student's home indoor air quality during Bay Area smoke events, but at the request of both teachers and students, we have pivoted to building air purifiers for the school for Covid mitigation purposes. We are accompanying the supplies we are providing to the students with a class taught by myself and a few volunteer colleagues dedicated to explaining aerosol science and strategies for protecting themselves against wildfire smoke. We are also sending all students home with smoke protection advice pamphlets for their parents in both English and Spanish. 150 air purifiers with accompanying educational materials will arrive in our partner school within the next couple of weeks!.

On a personal note, leading this project has given me the opportunity to explore my passion for public health-oriented air engineering, which has enabled me to create connections with institutions I want to work for that otherwise would not have been interested in me based on my esoteric academic background.

2017 Winner - Dr. Nicole Tarleton, Ph.D.

Nicole Tarleton received a Fellowship award in 2017 and graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 2018 with a Ph.D. She is now a Fellow in Clinical and Public Health Microbiology at Washington University in St. Louis.

2022 Update: I am delighted for this opportunity to share my gratitude for the Fellowship and the progress I have made along my career path! I graduated with a Ph.D. in Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology from the University of California, Berkeley a year after receiving the Founder Region Fellowship award. I can’t overestimate how helpful the Fellowship was for keeping me on track by providing the financial support I needed, so that I could focus exclusively on my graduate work. Thank you! After also completing postdoctoral training there, I transitioned out of U.C. Berkeley and into a new role as a co-founder of a startup diagnostics company, to further advance a technology that could detect antimicrobial resistant bacteria causing urinary tract infections. Antimicrobial resistant bacteria remain one of my primary research and diagnostic interests.

I later joined a startup COVID-19 testing clinical laboratory, to apply my skills and training towards the pandemic effort. The clinical laboratory, diagnostic testing, and the desire to positively impact the lives of individuals who suffer from infectious disease are my main passions and career motivators. I am now a Fellow in Clinical and Public Health Microbiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. I am entering my second year in this clinical laboratory director training program and will be eligible to sit for the medical microbiology board exam next year. Because of the support from groups like yours, and wonderful family, friends, colleagues, and mentors along the way, I am able to pursue my career goal of becoming a Clinical Microbiology Laboratory Director.

Where Are They Today?   Recipients, 1993-2008

Download this program to read about where the recipients from
1993-2008 now (as of 2008).