U.Va. Graduate Student Receives Newcombe Fellowship

May 5, 2010 — University of Virginia graduate student Jason Hickel has received a 2010 Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

Funded by the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, the fellowship is the nation's largest award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. Administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the $25,000 fellowship allows Hickel to concentrate on his dissertation. This year's 20 winners were chosen from a pool of 670 applicants.

Hickel, 27, of Manzini, Swaziland, and Anchorage, Alaska, is a fifth-year graduate student working toward a Ph.D. in anthropology. He is writing a dissertation on the intra-ethnic political conflict that erupted in South Africa during the decade prior to the democratic transition in 1994.

"I am grateful to have my research affirmed and thrilled for the opportunity to devote my time to a project that so captivates my interest," Hickel said. "This is affirmation not only of my own work, but of the caliber of the instruction and intellectual support provided by the anthropology department here at U.Va."

Hickel, who spent the first half of his life in Swaziland, has a personal attachment to his research.

"My work with competing labor unions in South Africa forced me to think about the many internal political struggles that beset the liberation movement," he said.

Richard Handler, an anthropology professor and associate dean of academic programs, values Hickel as a researcher and teacher.

"His work relates the most local of social facts, household structures, to the most global of social forces, including apartheid and its relationship to the international labor market," Handler said. "Jason is much admired by our undergraduates as an important teacher. He is able to educate them about the relationship between South Africa, the African continent, and the international economic arena in ways they find extremely useful."

Hickel received his bachelor's degree in anthropology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., in 2004. Since coming to U.Va., he has received the All-University Graduate Teaching Assistant Award and the Department of Anthropology Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant  Award. He is an organizer for the African Studies Colloquium Series and a member of Workers and Students United. He also belongs to the American Anthropological Association and the Association for Africanist Anthropology.

He is an instructor at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies and wants a career teaching and researching in anthropology and African studies.

Hickel's deep knowledge of Africa and international development, as well as his command of the language, satisfies his students' hunger for information.

"He has a wonderful classroom presence," Handler said. "He's at once deeply serious, as an intellectual, and gentle and welcoming as a teacher. Many students have told me that Jason was their best instructor at U.Va., or that he has been a major influence on them." 

Hickel said the fellowship is a boost to his research and writing.

"It will not only significantly improve the quality of my dissertation, but will also better prepare me for the career opportunities that lie ahead," he said.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation has awarded scholarship and fellowship grants totaling more than $50 million since 1981. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation seeks to promote the teaching profession, encourage outstanding students to choose teaching as a career and improve the quality of teacher education programs.

— by Matt Kelly