Navena Chaitoo, a Fordham College at Rose Hill senior, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, making her the fourth Rose Hill student in two years to earn the fellowship, and the first in the social sciences.
But for Chaitoo, winning the prestigious fellowship to pursue her studies of persons with disabilities is much more than an academic triumph.
“I was diagnosed with a severe-to-profound hearing loss when I was about 5 years old, and at the time, my audiologists relied on the latest medical studies to determine that I would probably never graduate high school,” said the Brooklyn native.
“Ultimately, my parents knew better and saw to it that I had all the accommodations necessary to offset my hearing loss, which allowed me to be as successful as I am today.”
A Matteo Ricci scholar and a member of the Hearing Loss Association of America’s New York Board of Trustees, Chaitoo graduates May 18 with a double-major in economics and political science. Her NSF fellowship will fully fund her graduate education at Carnegie Mellon University, where she will begin a master’s of science in public policy and management this fall.
These prestigious fellowships are awarded annually to foster scientific research and support outstanding graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $30,000 along with $12,000 in education allowance toward the graduation institution of their choice. The allowance funds fellows’ tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research.
Chaitoo will continue research she began at Fordham on the economic wellbeing of persons with disabilities in the United States, particularly the indirect as well as direct medical costs of persons with disabilities—a topic in which she has been personally invested.
“When I first came to Fordham, I was told that accommodations are awarded based on the student’s potential contribution to the school. Thus, I had to secure independent funding for CART captioning [Communication Access Realtime Translation] from the NYS Department of Education to maximize my potential,” she said. “But, in the process, I went without very much needed assistance during my freshman year.”
The experience inspired Chaitoo to study whether disabilities are indeed linked with financial hardship. In a study on disability and multidimensional poverty in the United States that she co-authored with Sophie Mitra, Ph.D., associate professor of economics, Debra Brucker, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, and Joseph Mauro, a graduate research assistant in the Economics Department, Chaitoo found that persons with disabilities are more likely to be poor, regardless of the measures used to assess their poverty level.
“I wanted to see if the disparities I observed on a micro-level manifested themselves at a macro-level, and if so, I wanted to start working on solutions,” she said.
Since its creation in 1952, the highly competitive NSF graduate fellowship has been awarded to less than 9 percent of more than 500,000 applicants. This year, the NSF received 13,000 applications for 2,000 awards.
“Navena’s NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is a tremendous accomplishment—a reflection of her steadfast dedication and commitment,” said Michael Latham, Ph.D., dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill. “It also demonstrates what Fordham’s talented students can achieve with the support of the outstanding teachers and scholars on our faculty. We are very proud of Navena, and wish her all the best as she begins her graduate career.”