Doctoral Students Awarded Miguel Velez Scholarships
UCI Graduate Division announced the winners of the 2022 Miguel Velez Scholarships. Three of the awardees – Juan Camilo Cristancho, Santiago Ojeda-Ramirez, and Maria Sauval – are Ph.D. in Education students. The scholarship provides financial support to graduate students who demonstrate outstanding past academic achievement as well as future promise, have financial need, and are citizens and residents of a Latin American country. Preference is given to citizens of Colombia.
Cristancho views the Miguel Velez Scholarship as an opportunity to further develop his skills as a researcher, and to keep exploring possible solutions for deep issues that affect his home country of Colombia. "I plan to study the effects of exposure to community level violence on early development, and exploring mechanisms that mediate such effects," he said.
"Even though my research is geared towards improving the living conditions of Colombian communities, my research also has cross-context implications, for other regions in Latin America and, by extension, the world."
As a Colombian, Cristancho experienced the harsh reality that some families need to face while living in constant risk of becoming victims of a civil conflict. In contrast, he has also seen the potential of community building and resilience to rebuild the social fabric. "This clash has motivated me to design strategies to protect children and young people from the negative effects of living under those conditions," Cristancho said.
While working towards his Ph.D., Cristancho intends to keep working for vulnerable communities in Colombia that are currently exposed to high levels of violence. "When I finish my studies, I plan on returning to my country and working together with communities, navigating through the process of understanding their needs and how I can help them," he said.
Ojeda-Ramirez earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering plus minors in biology and literature, and a master's degree in digital humanities from Universidad de Los Andes. "My passion for educational research comes from my experience as an elementary, middle and high school teacher in Bogotá," Ojeda-Ramirez said. He also worked as a pedagogical coordinator in the Clubes de Ciencia project. "The project seeks to awaken interest in science and technology in middle and high school students across Colombia," he continued. "My previous research has addressed the design of a computational thinking course for arts and humanities students in higher education."
While in the Ph.D. program, Ojeda-Ramirez plans to research how to integrate computing education into social sciences, arts, and humanities classrooms.
Sauval is honored to be a scholarship recipient, not only because of the recognition of her research but also for its financial support. "The Miguel Velez Scholarship allows me to concentrate my time on my research during an academic quarter without having to do paid work, which is very important for me as a graduate student with a new baby at home and limited time available," she explained. "The scholarship directly impacts my ability to make progress on my Ph.D., and on my dissertation proposal in particular."
Post-graduation, Sauval plans to pursue a career in academia. "More specifically, I would like to conduct policy research and contribute to public policy with the end goal of better serving those who are in a disadvantaged social position," she elaborated. "It has been demonstrated that the experiences in the first years of life are extremely important, so I am very interested in analyzing early childhood programs and investigating how to provide more and better opportunities for children and families to thrive."
A native of Uruguay, Sauval arrived in the U.S. in 2017. She earned a master's degree, then decided to pursue a Ph.D. "Uruguay will always be my home and I am still immersed in what happens there," she said. "In the future, I plan to apply the knowledge and expertise that I am acquiring during my Ph.D. and I hope to contribute to the wellbeing of the people in Uruguay from wherever I am."