As a Mellon Fellow, Ruth Kessa will receive financial, technical and mentorship support to aid in her dissertation research.

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Kessa’s research focuses on policymaking and disaster vulnerability for the nations of Hispaniola.

Ruth Kessa, a School of Public Administration public affairs doctoral student, was recently named a Mellon Fellow by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative.

The fellowship, a joint venture between the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, provides doctoral students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions nationwide with financial, technical and mentorship support to aid in their dissertation research on Latino studies. The program seeks to “strengthen the field of Latina/o studies by building a network of successful early career academics, researchers and professionals.”

Kessa’s research focuses on policymaking and disaster vulnerability for the nations of Hispaniola. She says her desire to pursue her research stems largely from her experiences growing up. Born and raised in Haiti, she came to the United States after high school to pursue a degree in environmental studies and policy. After returning to Haiti to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development for nearly three years, Kessa says her firsthand experience living and working around the island’s systemic challenges inspired her to take action.

“Recovery efforts from the 2010 earthquake were stalled because of corruption and other policy challenges,” she says. “These issues make the whole island – Haiti and the Dominican Republic – uniquely vulnerable to future natural disasters.”

Her dissertation research will focus on the policy and intergovernmental challenges that make Hispaniola’s sister nations uniquely vulnerable to natural disasters, and how those international ties can be strengthened with the goal of increasing resiliency.

“I am half Dominican, half Haitian, so my dream is to contribute to the whole island of Hispaniola,” Kessa says. “If there is a way my research can help develop stronger policies and relationships between the two nations, I want to pursue it. We need to work together to respond to disasters.”

Maritza Concha, a School of Public Administration lecturer and director of the Center for Public and Nonprofit Management, will be serving as Kessa’s mentor as part of the Mellon Fellows program.

“I am very proud of Ruth,” Concha says. “This is an exciting opportunity for her to ensure she has proper guidance and support to complete this milestone in her career.”

Concha adds that Kessa’s research could not have come at a better time.

“The implications of Ruth’s research will have great policy making implications for public administrators in the region,” Concha says. “Intergovernmental relationships are extremely important in developing long-term solutions, especially as it relates to assisting vulnerable populations before, during and after disasters.”