Hafen and Wei

Two UCI social sciences class of 2022 graduates have been awarded prestigious Fulbright Fellowships for the coming year. Elizabeth Hafen, ’22 political science and psychology, and Michelle Wei, ’22 social policy & public service and education sciences, will each be heading abroad for the 2023-24 academic year – Hafen to Spain, Wei to South Korea. They are two of UCI’s five recently announced recipients of the prestigious award.

As the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, the Fulbright Program annually sends more than 2,000 U.S. students, artists and early-career professionals from all backgrounds to study, teach English and conduct research overseas. Fulbright students are selected by the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in an open, merit-based competition that considers leadership potential, academic and/or professional achievement, and records of service.

Learn more below about our social sciences recipients, and congrats to the full group of Anteaters honored!

Elizabeth Hafen

From the First-Generation, First Quarter Challenge (FGFQ) and Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP) to the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative (DDI), Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Healing Ambassador Program (DIRHA) and Dean’s Ambassadors Council, Elizabeth Hafen ’22 took advantage of nearly every enrichment program the School of Social Sciences offered during her time as a UCI undergraduate. Research opportunities were no different; by the time the first-gen scholar graduated, she completed three research project – including one for her honor’s thesis – along with creating a class through the U-Teach program at UCI titled “The Politics of Trust” where she taught 20 students about the policies that can be undertaken to foster relationships between underrepresented communities and the government.

Now, she’s adding another opportunity to her growing resume: Fulbright Scholar. The political science and psychology alumna has been accepted as a Fulbright research scholar to Spain where she’ll continue pursuing work on the Latinx community – specifically Latinas. Her research will focus on female Colombian immigrants going to Spain for work opportunities and whether the experience they’re being sold on matches the reality they face once there. She’ll be analyzing worker well-being through an integrated assessment measuring work experience and evaluation; workplace policy, culture, physical environment and safety; health status; and home community and society.

“I intend to submit my research through Spanish and American journals. The results will be in English and in Spanish and shared in conference presentations, and if possible, policy deliberations,” she says. “Next time you hear of me, you will be hearing about how I joined the Colombian community in Spain and made lifelong connections.”

Michelle Wei

To say Michelle Wei was busy as an Anteater would be an understatement. The former two-time staffer for the Student Parent Orientation Program, campus representative for UCI Admissions, intern for the Student Programming Funding Board in ASUCI, student athlete tutor in Calculus and Writing, mentor for CONNECT@UCI, and assistant event coordinator for UCI Guest and Events Services was also an intern off campus for Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance and Center for Racial Justice in Education. She was also a Sierra Programmer for Sierra Hall in Mesa Court, a member in the Dean’s Ambassador Council, and an undergraduate research assistant for political science professor Heidi Hardt. A campuswide honors student, she wrote her undergraduate thesis, “The Conundrum of Identity: First-Generation Taiwanese American Identity Formation,” with the support and mentorship of UCI professors Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, humanities, and Jeanett Castellanos, social sciences. She was one of three inaugural Black Lives Matter Social Sciences Research Scholars, recognizing her research on how current school curriculum about the Black Experience and history in America impacts student understanding and perceptions of the Black community. In fall 2022, she studied abroad in South Korea and conducted research on the experiences of Asian American students studying abroad in South Korea with Wu and professor Theodore Jun Yoo, Yonsei University.

Since graduating, she’s written curriculum and taught at a summer camp dedicated to empowering and educating young Asian American students in the Bay Area. She’s remained in the Irvine area and works fulltime as an event coordinator for the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort and Club and part time as a private history and English tutor. She’s also a curriculum consultant and a team leader for another Bay Area-based non-profit that focuses on cross-cultural experiences supporting Taiwan’s government efforts to increase English literacy. This summer, she will be leading a group of U.S. high school students serving as English peer tutors and language partners to middle schoolers in New Taipei City, Taiwan.

In the fall, she’ll be heading back to South Korea as an English teacher for secondary school students, bridging her dual majors.

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