Three George Washington University Scholars Receive Awards from the American Association of University Women

AAUW grants and fellowships aim to erode barriers in education.

October 12, 2022

Deniece Dortch

Deniece Dortch has been recognized by AAUW, along with Sampada Dhakal (below, top) and Pyik That Nwe-Kissig (bottom). (Contributed photos)

By Greg Varner

Three GW scholars have been awarded a fellowship or grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for the 2022-23 academic year. Each recipient will pursue academic work that will empower women and girls.

graphical representation of solar collectors

The GW scholars who have received the awards are Sampada Dhakal, currently a first-year graduate student pursuing an M.S. in data analytics; Deniece Dortch, assistant professor of higher education administration; and Pyik That Nwe-Kissig, a student pursuing an M.S.H.S. in health and medical sciences.

“My work aims to extract the benefits of data to facilitate socio-economic transitions and thereby improve lives and livelihood,” Dhakal said. She has been awarded the AAUW’s international master’s/first professional degree fellowship.

“I have been actively following the AAUW’s work on different societal issues,” Dhakal said. “This has brought to light the painful situation of the gender pay gap, which persists in every age group, at every educational level and in nearly every profession all over the world. I was shocked to know that women working full time in the U.S. make 83 percent of what men do, and this is even less for women of different races and colors. According to the AAUW, there won’t be equality until 2111 if we follow the current rate. So, to work on this particular problem, I will focus on analyzing social media data to get a snapshot of people’s opinions on the gender pay gap, how this topic has evolved over time, and how this relates to the actual pay gap in different regions.”

Dortch has been researching how African American doctoral students experience and respond to race and racism at predominantly white institutions of higher education.

“This AAUW grant allows me to focus specifically on how students are responding and coping with racism and racialized trauma,” Dortch said. “I often find that students who are operating within a system that oppresses them, at times, demonstrate maladaptive coping strategies. Surviving racism while in academe is a complex process that requires mental and emotional energy and effort.”

Researchers and other individuals must learn how to recognize the maladaptive strategies employed by African American doctoral students in specific situations, Dortch said, and consider how those strategies might trigger particular behaviors that could result in continued oppression and marginalization.

“My research contributes to the ongoing discourse on African American women’s continued racial and gendered oppression within higher education,” Dortch said. “My findings and recommendations will allow educational institutions to create mechanisms that shift campus environments toward anti-racism and away from the historic oppression of African American students.”

Pyik That Nwe-Kissig, a recipient of a career development grant, is currently pursuing an M.S.H.S. in health and medical sciences. While enrolled in GW’s online master’s degree program, she is working as a medical technologist at the Cleveland VA Medical Center.

graphical representation of solar collectors

“The AAUW fellowship will help me advance my education in laboratory medicine,” she said, “and to realize my goal of becoming a competent, compassionate leader and a proud advocate for the medical laboratory science profession. Although I don’t see patients in person, it fills me with pride and joy to know that my work and the quality of my test results helped them on their way to getting better or even saved their lives.”

Through GW’s program in laboratory medicine, Nwe-Kissig is being trained in clinical disciplines such as microbiology, chemistry, hematology and blood banks, and molecular diagnostics. She is particularly interested in the field of infectious diseases and diagnostics.

“A global pandemic has recently dominated every aspect of our lives,” Nwe-Kissig said. “With climate change and increased globalization, we will be facing many more unforeseen challenges regarding infectious diseases and pathogens. I want to be armed with the skills and knowledge to face these challenges.”

Since the AAUW was formed in 1881, it has helped scholars overcome barriers to education and advancement. Applications for fellowship and grants open on Aug. 1 every year. (Deadlines vary by program.) To learn about funding opportunities (fellowships and grants) for the 2023-24 academic year, or find out more about this year’s class of awardees, visit the AAUW website. The association’s awards alleviate financial stress so women can focus on their educational and career aspirations.