Irene Vega

Irene Vega, UCI assistant professor of sociology, is among ten UCI assistant professors who will receive Hellman Fellowships, which are bestowed annually to support research by junior faculty. They join an elite group of 85 UCI Society of Hellman Fellows since 2013, when the Hellman Fellows Fund was established here.

Vega's new project is called “Racialized Social Ladders,” and it bridges her interests in immigration, race/ethnicity and social mobility. She is interviewing Black, Latinx, Asian, and White “upwardly mobile adults,” or college educated professionals who grew up in working class households. The goal of the project is to examine how these novices to the middle class are making decisions about occupational trajectories, wealth accumulation, and family formation against the backdrop of distinct racial stereotypes that can close off opportunities for some and open them up for others.

"Upwardly mobile adults are an understudied population—we tend to focus on getting working-class students in and out of college, but neglect what happens after graduation," she says. "I argue that the experiences of upwardly mobile adults are key to understanding how inequality is disrupted, but also how it is reproduced at distinct strata of the American social system."

The Hellman Fellowship program began in 1995 at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego and has since expanded organically to all UC universities and four private institutions. In 2020, after 25 years of funding the fellowships, the Hellman family created an endowment to allow the awards to continue in perpetuity across UC’s 10 campuses.

This year, UC Irvine was able to appoint an additional fellow due to the generosity of an anonymous donor.

In addition to Vega, the 2024-25 awardees are:

  • Fangyuan Ding, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, for a proposal titled “Systematic Characterization of Protein-Nucleic Acid Binding Kinetics in a Universally Applicable Manner”
  • Abigail Lapin Dardashti, assistant professor of art history and visual studies, for a proposal titled “Itinerant Modernism: Politics and the Rise of Afro-Brazilian Art”
  • Pablo Lara-Gonzalez, assistant professor of developmental & cell biology, for a proposal titled “Elucidating the Importance of Mitotic Duration Control in Embryogenesis and in Cancer”
  • Katherine Trieste Rhodes, assistant professor of education, for a project titled “African American Children’s RICH Mathematical Word Problems”
  • Alejandra Rodriguez Verdugo, assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, for a proposal titled “Principles of Multispecies Interactions for Evolution and Function of Microbial Communities”
  • Javier Sanchez-Yamagishi, assistant professor of physics & astronomy, for a proposal titled “Quantum Electronics With Injection-Molded Two-Dimensional Crystals”
  • Xian Shi, assistant professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering, for a proposal titled “Synthesis and Assembly of Carbon Battery Electrodes Using Natural Gas”
  • Ji Seon Song, assistant professor of law, for a proposal titled “Crisis Policing”
  • Travis Wiles, assistant professor of molecular biology & biochemistry, for a proposal titled “Life, Death and Symbiosis: Igniting Viral Outbreaks in the Gut Microbiome to Promote Health”

“UC Irvine has named 10 outstanding assistant-rank faculty members representing a broad array of disciplines as the 2024-25 class of Hellman Fellows. These scholars were chosen for their innovative research that positively impacts our local and global community,” said Diane O’Dowd, vice provost for academic personnel. “We are grateful to the Hellman Fellows Endowed Fund and a generous anonymous donor that help these early-career scholars advance their research.”

Since 1995, more than 2,000 people from public and private institutions have been Hellman Fellowship recipients. The grants may be used for such research purposes as equipment, travel, photography and graduate assistants. The aim of the program is to support promising assistant professors who show the capacity for great distinction in their research. Funds awarded are intended as a one-time subsidy for activities that will enhance the individual’s progress toward tenure.

-adapted from press release written by Tom Vasich, UCI

connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766