UIC doctoral candidate awarded Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

Nancy Domínguez-Fret
Nancy Domínguez-Fret

Nancy Domínguez-Fret, a doctoral candidate in literacy, language and culture in the College of Education at the University of Illinois Chicago, has been awarded a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for the 2022-23 academic year.

Domínguez-Fret is the first UIC winner of the prestigious fellowship since 2002. She is one of 36 awardees from over 500 applicants, joining notable past winners such as K.T. McFarland, former U.S. deputy national security adviser; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state; and Cornel West, civil rights activist and renowned author.

The award provides one year of support for PhD or ScD candidates who have demonstrated superior academic achievement and commitment to careers in teaching and research at the college or university level to complete and defend their dissertations.

The Ford Fellows program “seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.”

Domínguez-Fret is Mexican-American and bilingual in Spanish and English. She was raised in La Villita, a predominantly Mexican barrio in Chicago. She attended CPS schools from K-12, and received bachelor’s degree in secondary teaching of Spanish at UIC (2007) and her master’s in Spanish applied linguistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2013).

Domínguez-Fret, whose dissertation research focuses on exploring the lived experiences of U.S. bilingual Latina/o/x teachers who teach Spanish as a heritage language, is proud to earn the honor.

“As a first-generation Latina doctoral student who is also a mother, I am grateful for this opportunity, which will provide me the resources I need to finish my PhD and create a space where I can network with other scholars who come from similar backgrounds,” she said.

This year’s application was Domínguez-Fret’s fourth attempt at a Ford Foundation fellowship. She credits Lindsay Marshall, Graduate College writing specialist; her adviser, P. Zitlali Morales, UIC associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education; as well as her committee members, fellow students and academic community for the success of her application, stating they “believed in me and my dissertation project, and their support motivated me to keep applying.”

“Working with Nancy over the past few years has been an absolute joy, not only because her research is essential and timely, but also because she embodies the ‘just keep trying’ mantra that is so central to graduate-level fellowship applications. Nancy and I met frequently about her Ford application, talked out ideas together, and worked through numerous drafts of each essay. I’m so thrilled that Nancy has received the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship: no one is more deserving, and I can’t wait to see what brilliant things she’ll do next,” Marshall said.

Diversity is a central resource in Domínguez-Fret’s research and teaching, empowering her participants and students through her commitment to elevating, centering and learning from their lived experiences.

Informed by Latino critical race theory and Chicano feminist theory, she includes her research participants as collaborators and “co-constructors of knowledge” in her research process.

“In my work as an educator, I aspire to provide heritage speaking students, pre-service, and in-service educators with tools to ensure they place the histories, cultures, and linguistic practices of their culturally and linguistically diverse student communities at the core of their curriculum,” she said.

Domínguez-Fret’s work with U.S. bilingual Latina/o/x Spanish as a Heritage Language teachers will have a broad-reaching impact on education in Chicago for Spanish-language speakers.

“My research seeks to learn from participants’ narrative testimonios and explore how participants’ educational experiences inform their teaching practices. The results of my research will expand the scarce knowledge base in both Bilingual Education and SHL about the experiences of bilingual Latina/o/x students across the Pre-K-16 educational pipeline,” she said.

This research also offers possibilities to promote the importance of heritage language maintenance and bilingual education, and to center humanizing and socially just pedagogies in Spanish-language programs.

Beyond her dissertation, Domínguez-Fret also conducts research and collaborates with Chicago-area bilingual Latina/o/x students, parents, educators and scholars to create more access to rigorous social justice-based dual language education programs for their communities.

Since its launch in 1962, the Ford Fellows program has supported efforts to build a more equitable higher education system by providing fellowships to more than 3,500 scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups to enable their progress to the highest reaches of academia.

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