Experiences in the Faculty Fellowship Program with Oswaldo Estrada
August 30, 2022 | Kristen Chavez
Oswaldo Estrada, professor of Romance studies, discusses the Faculty Fellowship Program. After receiving a fellowship three times, Estrada returned as its program director in 2021. As he enters the second year in the role, we talk about the program, the way that it enhances faculty research, his past experiences as a Fellow, and what he’s looking forward to learning from this year’s cohorts.
Kristen Chavez: Welcome to the Institute, a podcast on the lives and work of fellows and friends of the Institute for the arts and humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’m your host, Kristen Chavez. Today I’m talking with Oswaldo Estrada, the director of the IAH’s Faculty Fellowship Program. He’s a professor of romance studies and the editor of the Hispanofila, a journal produced by the romance studies department that features essays on literary or cultural topics about the Spanish or Portuguese speaking world. Dr. Estrada received a Faculty Fellowship in 2011, 2016, and 2021. In fall 2021, he returned to the lead the Faculty Fellowship Program as the program director. As he enters the second year in the role we talk about the program, the way that it enhances faculty research, and what he’s looking forward to learning from this year’s cohorts. Thank you for joining.
Oswaldo Estrada: Thank you. Thank you for the invitation.
KC: Great. So not only are you the director of the Faculty Fellowship Program, but you’ve been a three-time fellow. For those listening who may not be familiar with the program, can you share about what it entails as a member going weekly?
OE: Yes, it is a wonderful experience for all faculty members who have the opportunity to come to the IAH for a semester, you have a semester of no teaching no service responsibilities, and your job your mission is to work on your research project. It is a luxury that not everyone has. But I think everyone should apply for one of these fellowships. The wonderful thing about the IAH is that you get to work with people from other disciplines. So perhaps, you’re a literary critic, but you happen to share your scholarship with a historian, or someone who’s in the Department of Geography, or someone who’s in the English department, for instance. And that’s what truly enhances your project. Because oftentimes, we’re just we’re used to discussing our own projects with our students with a colleague. So we attend conferences with colleagues who are working on similar projects. And but what’s challenging is to try to explain what you do to others who are not necessarily familiar with your particular topic. And the way that the seminars work is that you, you sort of have a three-part presentation. So you give us a preview of what you’ll be presenting next week, it’s sort of a 15 minute preview, then you have an entire hour to discuss your project the following week, with other fellows, they give you feedback. And then the following week, you sort of reflect on what you’ve learned, if you’ve traveled east a certain distance from, you know, the original project, and so on. In addition to this, you’re in charge of leading discussion once during the semester. And the fun part is that we get to eat together, we get to talk about current issues, talk about life in general. So it is a really, really wonderful experience.
KC: We are a research university, of course, but research and teaching are a big part of the mission of a faculty member. So can you share a little bit about the importance of having this time to research?
OE: Yes, absolutely. I think that here at Carolina, we are, we have amazing professors, who are very dedicated to their teaching. And because they are so dedicated, oftentimes, you do forget that, you know, you also have to write this article, you have to work on your book. And if you’re thinking, you know, I’m coming up for promotion soon, of course, you need a book. And so I think that it’s, it’s nice, it’s unique in the fact that you have a whole semester to work on this. And I always tell our fellows to protect their time, because people might think that because you’re not teaching, you’re free to do other stuff writing you can serve on this particular committee. And can you also do this for me? Now say, no, no, no, this is time just for you to work on your research project. And maybe all you can do during that semester is work on one chapter, or two chapters. Or maybe you’re working your book proposal, and you get to submit that. That’s something that we also do every week you share with others, a 12 page paper. And so we can give you comments on it in, it seems like it’s, you know, a very small number of pages, but you actually get a lot of feedback in and it’s, you know, it works out really well.
KC: It all helps to kind of advance the overall publication of your story
OE: Definitely. And sometimes I feel like you need say you’re at the IAH for a whole semester and maybe all you were able to produce in writing was I don’t know, whatever it is that you know, that’s important to you like 20 pages, 50 pages. But the most important part, I think, is like the thinking process. The fact that you were working with others, just thinking outside the boundaries, discussing your ideas, with others who don’t necessarily know what you’re talking about and that’s what makes it you know, a better project overall.
KC: Great. Can you share about one of your experiences as a Faculty Fellow? How did that help your own research? Or your own writing?
OE: So the first time I was a fellow, I was working on my second book on gender matters in contemporary Mexican literature. The second time I was here at the IAH, I was working on another book, but actually, that one’s I will say that that was a freebie, because I was I was awarded the Chapman Distinguished Teaching Award. And you as part of the award, you get a semester at the IAH. So that was really unique in the sense that I was not expecting that. And I got it. And so I got to work on my second book, iconic Mexican women and the tropes of representation. It’s about historical memory and iconic women. And the third time when I came back, through the race, memory and reckoning initiative, I had to work in something that’s really unique. That matters to me at a personal level to on contemporary Latino/Latina issues.
KC: Well, I’m glad that you brought that up, because I wanted to ask you more about your project during the initiative, can you share about that research and your work in creating that?
OE: Yes. So in addition to being a professor of Latin American literature, I’m also a fiction writer. And for the longest time, I wanted to write a book about immigrants about Latinos in the United States. And I didn’t know if I wanted to write an essay or Chronicles for short stories. And I think that I just needed the time to think about this. So this third fellowship gave me the opportunity to think about those Latinos who are less visible, but who are here, all over the state of North Carolina, either, you know, 60 million Latinos, or so, according to the last census here in the US. The ones who make us proud, of course, are the most visible ones, right, the ones who work for the government, and the ones who have been in leadership positions, here and university or elsewhere, and, you know, as members of the community, and of course, doctors, lawyers, architects, professors, and so on. But the vast majority of Latinos who live in the US, work very hard for very little money. And they are the nannies who take care of our children, the people who clean this university when we’re at home watching TV, or also the gardener’s, the people who work in the fields, the nurse assistants who take care of the elderly, at various assisted living facilities, I wanted to write about them. And so I got to spend a whole semester just crafting stories. And actually, I have to say that Tim Maher, one of our directors, he said, you know, you shouldn’t when you’re thinking about Latinos in the state of North Carolina, because I written a piece about the nannies, he said, maybe you want to start thinking about the Latinos who work in the fields in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. And he talked to me about green Tobacco Sickness. And I started doing research about that, and reading more and more about it, watching all kinds of documentaries, and so on. And I wrote the short story “Under my Skin,” which was a finalist for the Doris Betts Fiction Prize. So as a result of that fellowship, I now have a manuscript that is sort of, you know, almost there. Yeah, it’s getting there. But it will be done soon. Some of the stories I wrote in Spanish, some of them in English, some of them are being translated as we’re speaking. And so something nice will be produced in the near future, I think, yeah,
KC: We look forward to it. And that’s great. It sounds like as you were mentioning, before, having that experience with other people in the cohort and meeting with them, giving you the spark for another idea that kind of builds and builds, which is great.
OE: And see, I would have never thought about green tobacco disease or sickness here in the state of North Carolina. I had no idea. And because of, you know, one comment made by my colleague, this is an interesting story. Maybe there’s something here that that I can do with this.
KC: That’s great. So what made you want to apply for and then become the program director for this for the Faculty Fellowship Program? Was there anything in your experience as a fellow that you wanted to emulate or emphasize as you’re facilitating meetings?
OE: I had the — the wonderful opportunity to have these amazing directors. Jane Thrailkill, Michelle Berger, and Tim Marr. And, you know, every semester, I think I could do that. I think I could see myself there leading this discussion trying to help others with their own research being the timekeeper. It’s like you’re preparing so much every week for not for a graduate seminar. But for faculty seminar. It is challenging, right, it is a lot of work, but it is so enriching at the end of the day, to get to know what other colleagues are, are doing. I feel like I’m more connected. And I like to be that person who’s you know, acting as their leader as their mentor in some ways, and I truly enjoyed.
KC: As you’re going into your second year as program director, what are you most excited about? What are you looking forward to this year?
OE: I’m excited about coming back to the IAH, we’re having you know, in person meetings, again, it’s been.. how long has been like two plus years, right? And we did our best with online meetings and seminars. But there’s something magical and unique that happens when you’re sitting around the table and discussing your ideas and feeling the vibe and getting that immediate response without having to raise your hand, you know, like, you know, with Zoom meetings, and so on. So I, I’m truly excited about coming back to the IAH, to having meals with the Faculty Fellows, I think it’s just going to be awesome.
KC: Great. And as we’re recording this, the Faculty Fellowship Program application is open through the end of September of 2022. For the next cycle. Why should faculty apply for this program? We’ve kind of already hinted to it. But if you can make another pitch, what would it be?
OE: I think it’s a very competitive fellowship, right? We only have a limited number of fellowships, per semester. But I think it’s so worth it that every faculty member should apply for one of these fellowships. When else are you going to have the luxury of having not only the time to think about your research project to write about something to create something? But when else are you going to have, you know, nine or 10 scholars around the table, giving you feedback, constructive criticism to make your research project even better thing, whether already is? So I think that definitely and we are certainly hoping to get more and more applications,
KC: It’d be a good problem to have.
OE: Yes, for sure.
KC: Great. Thank you so much. I’ll round this out with a question that we ask everyone that comes on to the podcast is there a book that has changed your life?
OE: Many books, of course changed my life because I’m literature professor, but I’m, but I’m teaching is I have to give you a whole list. But I’m teaching a First Year Seminar right now, “Writing with an Accent: Latina/Latino Literature and Culture.” And I have to say that I fallen in love again, with the writings of Gloria Anzaldúa. We’re discussing her writings and how she deals with discrimination, otherness being a minority in the US Chicana and how we should always strive to empower ourselves, thinking of course of her book Borderlands/La Frontera But I also love this other book that she co-edited with Cherríe Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back.
KC: Great, we’ll have to add it to the list. Thank you so much.
OE: Thank you for having me and for the opportunity to talk more about the IAH.
KC: Thanks for listening to this latest episode of the Institute Podcast. You can apply for the Faculty Fellowship Program at our website iah.unc.edu. There you can also find the latest news featuring arts and humanities fellows information about grants and leadership opportunities for all UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and spotlights on upcoming public events. All of our podcasts episodes are available at our website and you can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and more.
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