USC female veteran first to receive Mellon Mays fellowship
Monica Valencia, a junior majoring in sociology, has made USC history, by becoming the universityâs first female veteran to win the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship.
The fellowship is a national award granted to identify, support and mentor highly qualified underrepresented undergraduate students interested in diversifying faculties in higher education. The objective is to support studentsâ pursuit of a doctorale.
USCâs MMUF program is a partnership between the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Provost and the Division of Student Affairs.
Before attending USC, Valencia served in the armed forces as a military police officer to help support her family.
â[The military] was pretty much my only option,â Valencia said. âI grew up really poor and I needed to support my family.â
Valencia spent a total of six years in the armed forces â three in North Dakota, learning about nuclear defense, two in Germany and one in South Korea.
Valencia said her tour in South Korea was the toughest.
âWe were always alert,â Valencia said. âWe wore chemical warfare suits and participated in real war simulation.â
Valencia said being a woman in the military is difficult and required her to work harder than her male counterparts.
âItâs quite difficult,â Valencia said. âItâs a male-dominated entity, especially being a military cop. Being a military cop is five times harder than working in medical or the military administration. You have to do everything better just to keep up and be respected and considered for promotion.â
USC is a Yellow Ribbon school, meaning it covers Valenciaâs entire tuition and fees associated with her education.
âBeing at USC is such a humbling experience,â Valencia said. âI know it sounds cheesy, but there are no other words to describe it. Being at USC is a dream come true.â
MMUF selects around 3,700 undergraduate students annually from across the nation for the award. More than 90 percent of recipients receive baccalaureate or doctoral degrees.
As a recipient of the fellowship, Monica will have the opportunity to gain practical experience by working alongside members of the USC faculty.
âThis is an incredible opportunity to be paired up with faculty, conduct your own research and prepare for grad school,â Valencia said. âI want to be a professor and add to diversity in academia, especially in faculty.â
Valencia said she wants to research indigenous migrants from Mexico, specifically the Oaxacan people, and how negative reception hurts their upward mobility in a modern context. She will begin her research this summer and be mentored by Jody Vallejo, a USC assistant professor and faculty research specialist in immigration.
âOver the summer, Iâm excited to work with an indigenous group in Oxnard conducting interviews and surveys,â Valencia said.
Valencia said she is surprised to see how far she has come given the circumstances of her upbringing.
âMy parents didnât even finish high school,â Valencia said. âIâm not supposed to be where I am right now. I beat the odds.â