2020-2021 Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Fellows

2021 Bilinski Fellowships

Posted: June 3, 2021

Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski's goal in life was to be independent and challenged intellectually. They strongly believed in people being self-sufficient, ambitious, and above all, responsible.

Russell was a researcher, academician and entrepreneur. Dorothy was an accomplished artist and patron of the arts—both believed that education was a means to obtain independence, and this is the legacy they have passed on to others through the Bilinski Educational Foundation.

With a sixth gift of $264,000, the Bilinski Educational Foundation continues to recognize excellent doctoral students in the humanities at UNM. Since 2015, more than fifty UNM doctoral students have completed their dissertations and degrees supported by the Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Fellowships.

The eight dissertations now being written by the 2021-2022 UNM Bilinski Fellows stand out for their impact on scholarship and community.


In her dissertation, Andrea Borunda, English, curates a space for mestizaje and the borderlands in the tragicomic plays of William Shakespeare, her scholarly work on racial fluidity, (trans)global identities, and ecocriticism informed by her social advocacy of BlPOC communities.


Rachel Cassidy, History, specializes in Indigenous history and methodologies, urban Native history, memory studies, and oral history, and her dissertation explores the social history of Native residents, Indigenous diplomats, and local tribal nations in Washington D.C.  She hopes to make this research accessible by creating an interactive website that shares stories and primary sources with public audiences.


In his dissertation, Mark Cisneros, Spanish and Portuguese, focuses on the use of discourse markers in the academic writing of SSL and SHL learners in advanced, mixed writing courses. His research aims to determine whether SSL and SHL learners benefit from the same or different teaching methods with respect to the acquisition and production of DMs, with the goal of developing and advancing students’ writing skills.


Elspeth Iralu, American Studies, an Indigenous scholar working at the intersection of Indigenous studies, geography, and cultural studies, examines the aerial perspective as a technology of colonial territoriality. In her dissertation, she considers the volume of Indigenous territories above, below, and on the surface of the earth to better understand the volumetric sovereignty of Indigenous nations and challenge new modes of colonial spatial surveillance and control.


Pavlina Kalm, Linguistics, investigates the semantics of verbs that describe various types of social interactions. Her semantic analysis is anchored in the notion of causation and our intuitive understanding of reality through the lens of causal interactions, i.e., who acts on whom. Her dissertation aims to contribute to our understanding of what aspects of verb meaning are grammatically relevant and shed light on the underlying motivations that lead humans to construct language in systematic and predictable ways.


In her dissertation, Mariah Partida, Philosophy, develops a novel conception of vulnerability, one that designates not merely susceptibility to harm, but also openness to unanticipated change and transformation. Conceived in this way, vulnerability in and of itself is neither good nor bad but fundamentally ambiguous. Drawing on the work of Martin Heidegger, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Erinn Gilson, and Gilles Deleuze, she argues that vulnerability is not a static property borne by only some individuals, but rather a relational process that is fundamental to the human condition.


Sarah Fairbanks-Ukropen, History, focuses on women and power dynamics in Medieval and Early Modern history, with special attention on the creation of hierarchies that still affect modern society.  Her dissertation argues that canonical law, secular legal systems and popular literature from the Medieval period created power structures that encouraged violence against women in marriage.


In her dissertation, Vicki VanBrocklin, English, creates a ground-breaking category of 19th Century women that includes those who would not or could not access the white middle-class form of womanhood known as True Womanhood, which depended on coloniality and patriarchy to define itself. This new category, Lost Womanhood, reveals that 19th Century women sought and created alternate forms of womanhood and acknowledges the successes of rebellious women. This new category normalizes their so-called unruly behavior when gender and literary studies have framed them as outliers rather than effective changemakers.


The University of New Mexico invites advanced doctoral students in the UNM graduate programs of American Studies, English, Foreign Languages & Literature, History, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Spanish & Portuguese to apply for a Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Fellowship. These newly established fellowships in the College of Arts & Sciences provide valuable financial support for top, meritorious doctoral students with demonstrated financial need who are conducting research for, and/or completing, their doctoral dissertations.