Celebrating the Royce Fellowship

Looking back at 25 years of student-driven, community-based research
by Kira Kelly Clarke ’23
April 21, 2022

When Ashlyn Lovato ’23 looked out at the vast, beautiful land belonging to her hometown of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, this past summer, she was on a mission. 

“As someone who comes from a family of fluent [Tewa] language speakers, who dreams of becoming a fluent speaker themself, and who dreams of passing on the culture and language to my kin, I realized the immense connection to language I have,” says Lovato, who is concentrating in Linguistic Anthropology at Brown. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the language loss of a community which, for so long, had preserved its tribal heritage. She set out to understand the factors involved in maintaining the language, documenting experiences that shape the future of cultural and oral traditions. Everything that is intertwined with the culture is a “huge part of my identity and perspective on life,” Lovato reflected. In her household, at school, and through ceremonial activities, she believes that the community imparted to her core values such as respect, giving back, and humility. “Much of what I do within my western academic journey,” she explains, “is for the betterment of my community, with good intention to preserve what I have as a pueblo.” 

Lovato was able to connect her academic work with the community as one of twenty-four Royce Fellows who embarked on self-designed research projects as part of the 2021 cohort.


Celebrating a Uniquely Brown Fellowship

Every year, the Society of Royce Fellows welcomes a new class of approximately 20 to 25 students who join ranks of alumni, faculty members, and student scholars engaged in diverse fields of research. In 2022, the induction ceremony is a particularly special occasion—the Swearer Center and Brown University will celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Royce Fellowship (though it officially occurred in 2021, its commemoration was delayed by the pandemic). Students, faculty, alumni, and staff convened on April 18 to celebrate their contributions to the University and beyond through a quarter century of research, community, and dialogue.

The Royce Fellowship is vital to the landscape of engaged research at the Swearer Center. It is a natural extension of Brown University’s Open Curriculum and the tenets of individual discovery, rigorous scholarship, and service to the public good. Established through the generosity of Charles (Chuck) Royce ’61 P’91 P’94 P’08 GP’26, the fellowship provides undergraduate students with a stipend to carry out independent research over the summer. It also confers upon them lifelong memberships in the Society of Royce Fellows. 

Mr. Royce, who is the President of Royce Funds, is a Brown graduate and the proud parent of two Brown graduates. Next year, his grandson will walk through the Van Wickle Gates as a freshman. Not only has Mr. Royce been instrumental in cementing the vision for the fellowship, he has displayed extraordinary commitment to Brown through various volunteer engagements: he served on the Brown Corporation, President’s Leadership Council, the Investment Committee of the Corporation, and is currently a member of the College Advisory Council. 

“Chuck’s founding vision for this fellowship has blossomed over the years — for students, this is a vital avenue to apply their knowledge to benefit the community and contribute to addressing our most pressing social concerns, ” says Mary Jo Callan, executive director of the Swearer Center. “We are proud to host a program that, twenty-five years later, remains innovative and central to the Brown experience.” 


Embodying Engaged Scholarship

Since its inaugural year in 1996, nearly six hundred Brown University students have been awarded the Royce Fellowship to follow where their curiosity leads. The fellowship, only a decade younger than the Swearer Center, is characterized by the freedom that students are afforded in defining their research. Students from all concentrations are welcomed to apply. Their proposed projects are unconstrained by borders; they can be carried out domestically and around the world

Fellows are guided towards projects based in social justice, built on community collaboration, and in conjunction with their academic interests. In consultation with a faculty member and the Royce Fellowship director, fellows plan their projects before setting out to conduct research over the following summer. They take part in regular cohort meetings, retreats, and workshops, where they discuss both progress and setbacks and learn from their peers. The program culminates in a year-end presentation of the fellows’ research to the broader campus, Providence, and global community. It is through this process that a transformation takes place—students well-versed in consuming knowledge become partners and producers of that knowledge. These fellows help foster a more collaborative relationship between the University and the community, anchoring their learning in real-life experiences. 

Projects are only bounded by the fellow’s imagination, and need not be linked to their respective concentration; some examples include: research examining the relationship between censorship and cinematic production in the Philippines (Armando Manalo ’99); creating the Providence Urban Debate Initiative for local public high school students (Eric Tucker ’02); identifying artifacts from the Early Islamic period from Jerusalem (Reem Yusuf ’08); examining historically significant boats in Venice (Evelyn Ansel ’11); developing new material for plasmic photocatalysis (Jamelle Watson-Daniels ’15); interrogation of nationalist pedagogy in Cuban and U.S. classrooms (Emma Galvin ’18); and surveying ways to correct automated bias (Noah Jones ’21.5).

While the topics they pursue and their national and international research destinations span a wide spectrum, these fellows are linked together by their initiative. They all possess the pragmatism to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and a drive to forge their own academic paths. Because they are the ones responsible for shaping their research, the summer experiences stay with the students long after they leave the campus. Whether they choose to continue in the vein of their summer research, or work towards other goals, the fellowship equips students with the resources and skills to be community-minded scholars and citizens in subsequent endeavors.


Beyond the Summer of Research

Over the years, Royce Fellows have gone on to earn recognition, win prestigious awards and accolades, and flourish in their chosen careers—perhaps most importantly, they have gone on to lead lives of purpose. This is a product of the fellowship’s investment in empowering the students to trust their instincts and see their projects through to the end. John Lloyd Young ’98, whose project involved the creation of a course, won a Tony Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical in 2006 for his role as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. Most recently, Alexandra Ali Martínez ’22 was named a 2021 Rhodes Scholar and will pursue a doctoral degree in migration studies at the University of Oxford.

Over the past 25 years, 54 Royce Fellows have gone on to win prominent academic fellowships:


Cultivating Community and Discourse

This anniversary, alumni will reconnect with past and current Royce Fellows, as well as faculty and staff members who have helped to form the program throughout the years. Dr. Kenneth Sacks, Professor of History and Classics, recalled the early years of the fellowship: “It was a wonderfully intense time.” Professor Sacks was Dean of the College when he helped to launch the Royce Program alongside Mr. Royce and President Emeritus Vartan Gregorian. The fellowship in its founding years involved monthly dinners and many faculty speakers, he wrote. 

A Brown Daily Herald article from 1997 states: “The pool of applicants is reflective of… the Brown student population — extremely motivated, talented, and creative” (Friedman 1). It is quoting Kris Hermanns, who as Associate Director of the Center oversaw the program from its inception until 2000. She continued, “we believe that we learn more with an intense interaction, in a collaborative and connected learning process”—a fact that remains true all these years later. 

Kerrissa Heffernan, who served as director of the fellowship from 2001 until 2017, was also instrumental in facilitating that learning process for scores of students. They are among past and current staffers who have contributed to extensive documentation of the projects throughout the years, creating a record that marks a pivotal time of exploration and discovery in so many of the fellows’ lives. It was true then, and it is now: “The individual projects were terrific,” Dr. Sacks noted, and “Royce Fellows stayed in touch post-graduation and many went on to accomplish a great deal.”

“We look forward to seeing the fellowship continue to thrive at Brown, while always adapting to recognize changing global contexts, to meet new community challenges, and to transform with knowledge formations,” says Dr. jesús hernández, associate director of engaged scholarship at the Swearer and the current director of the Royce Fellowship. “The last few years have shown us that now, more than ever, the creativity, generosity, and collaboration Royce Fellows bring to their scholarly pursuits is vital to the success of our communities.” 

This 25th anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on and commemorate those numerous accomplishments, with an eye to the next 25 years—a new generation of meaningful, impactful, and engaged scholarship. 

The 26th Royce Induction and Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Royce Fellowship took place at the Brown Faculty Club on April 18, 2022. Congratulations to the incoming fellows and all those who came before!