Like many of her peers, Anjali Chandra returned to her parents’ home when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Fordham to suspend in-person instruction in early March.

But thanks to a recently created named research fund, Chandra, an economics Ph.D. student in the Graduate School Arts and Sciences (GSAS), will be able to continue the research for her dissertation, which focuses on the causes of education gaps in her native India.

Good Motivation

Speaking from her hometown near New Delhi, Chandra said the Donna Smolens Summer Research Fellowship in Economics, of which she is the second recipient, will help her manage her living expenses so she can continue to pursue her research without getting a paid job.

“I was checking my email almost every day since I came home, and it was really exciting to get some good news,” she said, noting that she has all the data she needs to work on what will be a chapter in her dissertation.

“It’s good motivation to get it done.”

Summer Funding Is Critical

Chandra’s is a story that is becoming more common, as GSAS has expanded its summer funding opportunities with the help of generous benefactors like Smolens. Melissa Labonte, Ph.D., interim dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said that because most Ph.D.-level programs are only funded in nine-month intervals, summer fellowships are critical. GSAS currently has 24 endowed scholarships and fellowships that benefit students enrolled across 35 doctoral and master’s degree programs.

“Every single internship or opportunity a student might otherwise avail themselves this time of year is drying up very quickly because of the pandemic, so right now we’re in the midst of enhancing the support we provide students in the summer,” she said.

“We want to them be able to continue to make progress on their research, and we also want them to get mentoring support.”

‘It Made My Career’

Smolens said she funded the fellowship because the help she received as a Fordham student was instrumental in her success. After graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill in 1979 and GSAS in 1981, she embarked on what would become a long and thriving career in finance. She retired in 2020 as a senior adviser with Insight Partners, a leading global private equity and venture capital firm.

Her undergraduate studies at Fordham were made possible with a partial scholarship and she attended graduate school with aid from William Hogan, S.J., the founder of the Fordham Industrial Economics Research Institute. Father Hogan hired her to be his research assistant, and when it came time to look for a job, career services arranged for her to interview with the bank Manufacturers Hanover Trust.

“I think I was the only Fordham person to get an offer, and it made my career, no question,” she said.

“How did I do that? The maturity and experience I got from working with Father Hogan those years allowed me to stand out against other students. Fordham really prepared me really well, and this is why I wanted to give back.”

Investigating Bitcoin

In addition to the Smolens fellowship that was first offered last year, this spring GSAS offered for the first time a Dominick Salvatore Summer Research Fellowship in Economics, named for Dominick Salvatore, Ph.D., currently a Distinguished Professor of Economics. It was funded by Sherif Assef, FCRH ’81, GSAS ’82, ’94, Luca Bonardi, GSAS ’99, and Selena Schneider, GSAS ’01.

While Chandra’s research is focused on analyzing a unique dataset from India on factors affecting education, such as family and school inputs, Janhavi Tripathi, the recipient of the Salvatore Fellowship, is training his sights on global cryptocurrency markets. Because currencies such as Bitcoin are still relatively new, there are still questions about whether market prices for the cost of individual units of the currencies reflect all publicly available relevant information and would be considered “efficient.”

In addition to measuring whether markets are efficient, Tripathi also researches how Blockchain technology can be used to make global remittances fast and more reliable. The movement of money from wealthy nations such as the United States to developing countries like India is expected to increase to $1.03 trillion by 2022, he said.

“Financial inclusion is one of the big gains from this. If Blockchain technology can be used to help global remittances, a lot of time that can be saved and a real gap can be bridged,” said Tripathi, who is also using his grant to cover living expenses.

Retired Professor Gives Back

Bridging gaps is something that Terrence Tilley, Ph.D., understands as well. Tilley, a professor emeritus and retired chair of Fordham’s Theology Department, has for the past year funded the Theology Graduate Student Development Fund. Rather than fund summer research, it funds travel for graduate students to either conduct research or present findings at academic conferences, such as the annual Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology conference in Belgium that Fordham theology students have traveled to over the years.

Tilley has first-hand knowledge of the value that travel adds to research. In 1974, he traveled to England to do archival research and interviews as part of his doctoral dissertation, while his wife, the late Maureen Tilley, Ph.D., stayed at home with their daughter.

“Maureen and I were very poor grad students, but we scraped together as much money as we had, and I flew to England, where I found a manuscript that supposedly never existed, or had been lost,” he said.

The manuscript, an essay titled “On Revelation,” was written by Ian T. Ramsey, who was Bishop of Durham from 1966 to 1972. Tilley was able to cite it in his well-received dissertation and would go on to publish 10 books and nearly 100 academic papers over a career spanning four decades. But he noted that on one occasion while he was away, Maureen and their daughter had to settle for popcorn dusted with parmesan cheese for dinner until payday came the next day.

“I hadn’t thought of that adventure in terms of funding this graduate fellowship, but it may have been in my subconscious,” he said, laughing.

“Ramsey’s widow not only let me interview her for 10 hours but put me up overnight. I encountered such generosity on this trip, not only from her, but from other people. It was a remarkable experience, and to be in a position to be able to contribute to others being able to travel and doing research, it makes me feel good,” he said.

Labonte noted that all the donors who funded the fellowships did so before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I don’t know if they even understood how incredibly impactful their gifts were going to be, especially this summer,” she said.

“It brings into stark relief the value of having engaged philanthropic leaders for your school in good times and bad. Certainly in times like these, students really need that support more than ever.”


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.