Foundation supports doctoral students

Starting this fall under a two-year grant of $500,000, 10 Carolina doctoral students in the College of Arts and Sciences—followed by 10 more in the fall of 2014—will become Bilinski Fellows through the Bilinski Educational Foundation of Point Reyes Station, Calif.

Each student is studying one of three disciplines—English, history, or linguistics—and will receive a $25,000 stipend. The fellowships will ease their work and financial burdens for an entire year, freeing them to produce the best research and academic writing of their lives culminating in completed dissertations.

The Bilinski Educational Foundation is a non-profit created three years ago as the legacy of the late Russell and Dorothy Bilinski. Adventuresome intellectuals who also became successful entrepreneurs, it was their belief that education was a means to obtain independence that benefits society (read more on the foundation below).

Bonnie Severietti, the Bilinski foundation’s executive director, said grants are offered by invitation only to top-ranked public universities with ample enrollments to support their programs. “During my visit, one of the clinchers involved my meeting with (College of Arts and Sciences) Dean Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, and finding her so personable, engaging, and knowledgeable in advocating for the English, history, and linguistics programs,” Severietti said.

Doctoral Students: What It Means to Be a Bilinski Fellow

With a background in teaching southern literature at the secondary level, Mike Odom will spend his fourth and final year as a doctoral student completing research as he writes his six-chapter dissertation, “Narrative Negotiation in the Evangelical South.” Odom, who hopes to become an English professor, already possesses valuable teaching experience. He worked at a college preparatory high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in addition to teaching freshmen English for three years at USC as a graduate teaching assistant.

Odom was facing the prospect of having to teach again as he worked on his dissertation. Then he learned this past spring of being accepted as one of 10 Biliniski Fellows for the 2013-14 academic year.

“To receive such a generous fellowship, it’s really humbling,” said Odom, originally from Montgomery, Ala., and whose wife, Erin, teaches fifth grade. “I am so grateful to the Bilinski Educational Foundation. This stipend will enable me to focus completely on my dissertation and engage in the quality of work I’ve set as my goal.”

The time invested in a doctoral candidate’s research and writing is critical because each dissertation chapter can mean possible publication, Odom said. His dissertation—focused on evangelical resistance in literature, evangelical satire, and contemporary southern literature—treats writers’ memoirs and fiction from a view of “narrative negotiation” in which writers are immersed in their topic.

Studying multiple authors, just one example involves author Dennis Covington, who immersed himself into the evangelical faith to study snake handlers for his 1995 book, Salvation on Sand Mountain. Odom hopes that Covington reads the respective section about the author's work, which Odom will seek to have published in the Southern Literary Journal.

“I do believe that understanding evangelical religion is a key to understanding the southern mind and its values in the social, political, and literary spheres,” Odom said, adding that he came to Carolina to study under the mentorship of Robert Brinkmeyer, director of Southern Studies.

Linguistic program doctoral candidate Sara Lide of Columbia said the opportunity to become a Bilinski Fellow will expedite her graduate work so she can graduate earlier and become a linguistics assistant professor. Were it not for the award, Lide would have considered extending her Ph.D work due to teaching duties. Like Odom she has taught English, and in her case, linguistics courses as well. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in linguistics, with the latter earned at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.

Lide’s dissertation, titled “Southern Language and Identity Among High School Sorority Members,” will be an eight-chapter examination of a specific dialect native to a group—southern high school sorority members—that has not been studied. The award is an affirmation of its recipients, she offered.

“The Bilinski Fellowship is a vote of confidence in being able to finish my dissertation on time and making it as good as it can possibly be,” she said. Lide is on pace to receive her Ph.D. in August 2014.

About the Bilinski Educational Foundation

Immigrants from Poland and England, respectively, Russell and Dorothy Bilinski believed that education was the means to an independent, fulfilling life that benefits others. Following his collegiate education, Russell served as an Army officer during World War II. He became a college professor at the University of California Berkeley in the fields of political science and psychology. Later, he achieved success as a real estate owner and developer. Dorothy, who married Russell in 1948, was also well educated. She was an accomplished artist and patron of the arts.

By Larry Giovanni. This article originally appeared in Development Communications.