Collage of 2020-2021 graduate fellow portraits

2020-2021 cohort of graduate fellows

The Stroum Center for Jewish Studies is excited to introduce the 2020-2021 cohort of graduate fellows in Jewish studies. Fellows receive mentorship from Stroum Center faculty, attend workshops on public scholarship and Jewish Studies, and share their research with the community through public presentations and articles published on the Stroum Center website. Funding for the annual fellowship program is generously provided by community supporters.

Learn more about this year’s graduate fellows:

Oya Rose Aktaş, Rabbi Arthur A. Jacobovitz Institute Fellow

Portrait of Oya Aktas smiling, wearing a sweater and necklace, with a gray backdrop behindOya Rose Aktaş is a Ph.D. student in the University of Washington’s Department of History studying non-Muslim communities in the transition from imperial subject to liberal citizen in the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. Her current research focuses on how state violence targeted at Christians affected the position of Jews in Istanbul, and her project for the Stroum Center graduate fellowship will include work on the Sephardic diaspora in Seattle, Washington. Prior to graduate school, Oya worked on U.S. foreign relations and economic policy at Washington DC think tanks.

Victor Alejandro Castillo, Max Sarason Fellow

A portrait of Victor Alejandro Castillo smiling, wearing a brown zip-up coat and a brown hat, with a city street visible in the backgroundVictor Alejandro Castillo is a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of Washington Information School. He earned his B.A. in history at the University of Texas at Austin, and earned his Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University. His research focuses on Judeo-converso genealogy in Latin American populations, and he has an ongoing project called Sefardí Latino where he explores aspects of Judeo-converso history, culture, and identity among people of Latin American descent. He is currently working on a genealogical database that will facilitate research into converso ancestry in order to help trace the converso diaspora throughout the Americas.

Busra Demirkol, Mickey and Leo Sreebny Memorial Fellow

Portrait of Busra Demirkol smiling, putting her head in her hand, wearing a coat, sitting at a table, with a cityscape in the backgroundBusra Demirkol is a Ph.D. student the Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Washington. She received her B.A. degree in sociology at Galatasaray University and her M.A. degree in Turkish studies at Sabanci University. Her master’s thesis focused on modernization in the legal field during the late Ottoman era and its impact on women on the margins. Based on penal codes, codification discussions and court records, she traces how marginal women were redefined and constructed within the boundaries of the public sphere in Ottoman legal culture, and were subjected to the state intervention according to a modern understanding of crime and punishment. Prior to graduate school, she also worked as a social worker with African, Afghan and Syrian refugees in Istanbul and conducted research about the official and unofficial schooling of Syrian children. Her general research interests consist of 19th century Ottoman social history, sociological theory, colonialism and nationalism, and women, sex and gender. Her work for the fellowship will focus on the modernization of the Sephardic community in the Ottoman Empire through two possible research axes, such as education and migration.

Ke Guo, Robinovitch Family Fellow

A portrait of Ke Guo smiling, wearing a dotted white button-up blouse, with trees and bushes in the background Ke Guo is a Ph.D. student in music education with a focus in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington’s School of Music. She was born in Wuhan, China, and studied applied mathematics at UCLA for her B.S. degree. She then obtained an M.S. in management science and engineering from Stanford University and an M.M. in music education from San José State University. Before pivoting into music education, she worked in the consulting and tech industry. Her research in world music education and ethnomusicology has covered topics in both Chinese music and Sephardic music. As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, she is also active as a concert performer, and has offered individual concerts as well as collaborative concerts in America and Europe. Focusing on the topic of the worldwide transmission and reception of Sephardic music both within and outside of the Sephardic community, she is excited to conduct future field research in the Iberian Peninsula, Turkey, and other countries around the Mediterranean.

Jeffrey Haines, I. Mervin and Georgiana Gorasht Fellow

A portrait of Jeffrey Haines smiling, wearing glasses and a striped blue button-up shirtJeffrey Haines is a fifth year doctoral candidate in the University of Washington’s Department of History, having previously completed a double B.A. in history and classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an M.A. in early Christian studies at the University of Notre Dame. His dissertation, “Mosul’s Hinterland: Village and Monastery in Early Islamic Mesopotamia,” examines the history of the rural, multi-religious communities that flourished on the northern edge of the Islamic caliphate through the lens of Syriac monastic histories. As a graduate fellow in Jewish Studies, he will focus on the folklore and culture of the Jewish villages that have existed side by side with Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, and Zoroastrians in this region for centuries.

Ben Lee, Richard Willner Memorial Fellow

A portrait of Ben Lee smiling, wearing a white button-up shirt and tan blazer, with a medieval painting visible in the backgroundBen is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, as well as a 2020 Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress. His research lies at the intersection of machine learning and human-computer interaction, with application to cultural heritage and the digital humanities. Ben graduated from Harvard College in 2017 and has served as the inaugural Digital Humanities Associate Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s History Department. He is currently a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. For his fellowship research this year, Ben will be applying his project Newspaper Navigator to historic Ladino newspapers in order to extract and study the visual content using machine learning.

Abby Massarano, Robert and Pamela Center Fellow

Portrait of Abby Massarano smiling, wearing a purple and black dress and pendant, standing in front of a flower bush and glass doorAbby Massarano is a graduate student in the School of Art, Art History, and Design at the University of Washington, where she is pursuing her M.A. in art history. Her research is focused on the interplay of image and biblical text in Mediterranean and Near Eastern Abrahamic art in Late Antiquity. She received her B.A in psychology with a minor in art history from Mills College in Oakland, CA. After moving to Seattle, she worked in art conservation and preservation before deciding to return to academia. For her fellowship project, Abby is researching the interplay of text and image in late antique Abrahamic art of the Near East and the Mediterranean through scenes of the Akedah (The Binding of Isaac) in synagogues and other worship spaces. In addition to the Stroum Center graduate fellowship, Abby is also a recipient of the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship for Hebrew.

Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.