Nearly 10 years ago, The University of New Mexico became the first institution selected to provide a unique fellowship dedicated to supporting doctoral students in the humanities.  

Thanks to the Bilinski Educational Foundation, more than 60 students in UNM's College of Arts & Sciences have since benefitted from this experience, and they – and the humanities, are stronger for it. 

Driven by a deep-seated belief in self-sufficiency, ambition, and responsibility, Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski dedicated their lives to fostering independence through education.  

In pursuit of this vision, they established the Bilinski Educational Foundation, which provides $33,000 in fellowship funds for post-secondary education to students demonstrating the highest academic achievement and moral character.  

 “This kind of funding is rare; it’s difficult to find,” explained Betsy Till, senior director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at the UNM Foundation. “All of the folks...that all helped create an amazing program that the Bilinski Foundation considers a model program amongst the elite group of universities.” 

The Bilinski Fellowship selection committee carefully chooses top doctoral fellows, typically in the advanced stages of preparing to defend their dissertations. Selection is based on a comprehensive evaluation considering merit, financial need, and other key eligibility criteria.  

At the recent Bilinski Colloquium, eight current Fellows had the opportunity to showcase their research to support their work with their dissertation directors in attendance.  

Each demonstrated a profound passion and pride in their work, exemplifying the Bilinski values of contributing to the betterment of others through education.  

Zonnie Gorman presents research from her dissertation, “The First Twenty-Nine: A Microhistory of the Original Pilot Group of Navajo Code Talkers.”

Elizabeth Baker Martinez (Department of Spanish & Portuguese), Carter Barnwell (Department of History), Kalila Bohsali (Department of English Language & Literature), Zonnie Gorman (Department of History), Nathan Leach (Department of American Studies), Emily Reiff (Department of British & Irish Literary Studies), Joseph Ukockis (Department of History), and Deborah Wagner (Department of Linguistics) each presented on a broad range of topics.  

From Reiff's exploration of "the Contingency of Life-Value in 21st-Century Science Fiction" to Ukockis' work on inter-community relationships in the Mesilla Valley area, and even Wager's insightful examination of American Sign Language conversational structure, the presentations were an excellent example of scholarship in the humanities. 

Gorman describes her dissertation, “The First Twenty-Nine: A Microhistory of the Original Pilot Group of Navajo Code Talkers,” as a lifelong journey. As the daughter of a soldier in the first 29 group, Gorman’s research is personal, and she is thankful to have been provided with the resources to finish it.  

“To complete my dissertation would be fulfilling a lifelong dream... It has not been an easy road, or a straight one,” said Gorman. “My dissertation is a culmination of this very long journey... it’s to fulfill my promise to the half dozen or so men I interviewed. I promised to tell their story, and although I have done that as a public historian for over thirty years, I have yet to write the book. I hope my dissertation will be good enough to become just that.” 

She is grateful to the Bilinski Foundation “for the generous award to see me through the completion of this dissertation.” 

Leach delved into his study on the intersection of opioid use in the US with intricate narratives of imperialism, counterinsurgency, biomedical surveillance, and the intriguing concept of critical animistic sociality.

Doctoral candidate Baker Martinez is investigating how Spanish children exhibit a propensity for identifying patterns and exploring how this inclination influences their language development.  

Baker Martinez emphasizes that bilingual speakers are equal language learners. Instead, she seeks to underscore

that their linguistic experiences are distinctive, inherently leading to variations. Through her research, her goal is to promote the preservation of heritage languages. 

“It’s important to study how different types of speakers and children have acquired their language because this has important ramifications for how languages work and how they change," she said.  

Barnwell gave an intriguing presentation that displayed his passion for researching European political culture during the Interwar era and his analysis of antifascist discourse. Bohsali–a current highly evaluated UNM English professor– explained her research on exploring reading for pleasure as a teaching modality in the literature classroom. 

Every Fellow expressed their gratitude to the Foundation as well as the committee.  

Alums of the Bilinski Fellowship program include Professor of Linguistics Melvatha Chee, new author Lauren Perry-Rummel, and English Language & Literature instructor Nicholas Schwartz – all of whom have continued successful careers at UNM, inspiring the next generation of humanists.  

Perry-Rummel credits the program for providing crucial time and financial support during her doctoral journey. "The Bilinski is so valuable in that it allows you to take time and devote it to your dissertation,” she said. “That is so rare." 

For her, being accepted into the program “was the paramount achievement for finishing my dissertation.”  

The experience allowed her to complete her book, Animal Texts: Critical Animal Concepts in Environmental Literature for the Anthropocene, which investigates the portrayal of animals and the evolving perception of their lives in pivotal environmental texts spanning the late nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. 

“I am so proud of my book... I don't think that the project would have been able to develop fully without the time I was able to dedicate to it because of the Bilinski Fellowship,” said Perry-Rummel. 

Bilinski Foundation Group photo
(l. to r.): Zonnie Gorman, Carter Barnwell, Kalila Bohsali, Deborah Wagner and Nathan Leach with committee chair Dan Mueller.