Rising Scholars Postdoctoral Fellows, 2022

Pietro de Mello (he/him/his)

Department of Biology

Subject: Evolution; Developmental Biology; Population Genetics; Color; Speciation; Adaptation.

Pietro is a Rising Scholar Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biology at the University of Virginia. At UVa, Pietro's research aims to understand how traits are produced by the interaction of distinct types of cells during an organism's development. A trait, broadly speaking, is a characteristic of an individual. Examples in our species include hair color, height, the presence or absence of wisdom teeth, or even the propensity of developing a heritable disease. Given the shared genetic background of all living organisms (you, for example, share ~ 50% of your genes with corn), we can learn much about how traits are determined in our species by studying other organisms. This is why classic study systems in the field of genetics include fruit flies, mice, or fish.

Pietro's specific goal at UVa is to understand what genes and cell interactions are responsible for the differences in color pattern between male and female Trinidadian Guppies (also known as guppies). Male (XY chromosomes) and female (XX chromosomes) guppies are identical until they reach puberty. From that point onwards males start to grow more slowly then females, while also becoming considerably more colorful. Pietro's research will start to unveil the genetic and celular mechanisms that are responsible for the establishment of the distinct color patterns between male and female guppies. Questions include: How are color patterns established in males? Are they produced by a larger proliferation of color cells in males than females? What role does cellular migration across the skin play in establishing the male pattern? Do cells surrounding color cells play a role in the establishment of pattern through chemical cues? Or are guppy patterns self-assembling? What genes or hormones trigger the process of differentiation? How is the male color patterned maintained through time? By studying traits that differ between male and female guppies Pietro aims to understand how differences in the regulation of genes shared between organisms in a single species can produce drastically distinct traits.

Pietro received his Ph.D.in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with honors at the University of Kansas, his M.Sc. in Ecology as well as his B.Sc. and Licentiate degrees in Biology at the Universidade de Brasilia, Brazil.

Ernesto Benitez

Department of Anthropology

Specialties: development, ecotourism, sex tourism, indigeneity, masculinity, South America, Ecuador, Amazonia. 

Ernesto Benitez holds a PhD in Global and Sociocultural Studies with a concentration in Sociocultural Anthropology from Florida International University (2021). His long-term research is grounded in a decade-long ethnographic engagement with the Amazonian Kichwa (also spelled Quichua) people of Ecuador’s Napo province. He has paid particular attention to the ecotourism boom that occurred in Ecuador’s Upper Amazon in the early 1990s and the impact it has had on the livelihoods and identities of Kichwa people, many of whom have gradually shifted from agricultural and subsistence-based activities to service-based work in ecotourism. His dissertation offers an ethnographic account of how Kichwa tour guides in Napo, the vast majority of whom are young men, negotiate the demands and expectations of the ecotourism industry and how, in the process, they produce and enact new understandings of their ethnic, gendered, and sexual identities. 

Publications: 2021- Erazo, Juliet and Ernesto Benitez. “Becoming Politicians”: Indigenous Pageants as Training Sites for Public Life. (Forthcoming on American Anthropologist).

Janet Kong-Chow

Department of Engish and Department of American Studies

Janet Kong-Chow is a Rising Scholars Postdoctoral Fellow in American Studies and English at the University of Virginia. Her teaching and research are broadly concerned with diaspora, imperialism, and North American culture, examining overlapping processes of racialization, power, and language. She is committed to interdisciplinary research, specializing in theories of racial capitalism, the environment, disability, postcolonialism, the African diaspora, transnationalism, and legal studies. 

Her first book project, Securing the Crisis: Race and the Poetics of Risk, considers metaphors of risk as a corollary to 21st century American crisis and racialization. Reading relationally across poetry, photography, ethnography, legislation, film, and sculpture, the project advances the notion of a “poetics of risk” and contends that racialized and minoritized subjects deploy epistemological abstraction and fragmentation not only as resistance, but to rework conventions of periodicity, materialism, and reality we accept as hegemonic. Her second manuscript, Race and Other Accumulative Affects: Hoarding, Curation, and the Modern Archive, locates dispossession, anticipation of emergency, and speculative accumulation as critical affective questions at the intersection of U.S. migration, diaspora, race-making, and cultural preservation.

Kong-Chow earned her B.A. in English and History from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Her work has been supported by the Andover Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) and the Mellon Foundation. 

Rashana Lydner 

Department of French 

Rashana Vikara Lydner holds a Ph.D. in French and Francophone Studies with a Designated Emphasis in African and African American Studies (African Diaspora Studies) from the University of California, Davis. She earned her Bacherlor’s degrees in French and Spanish with a minor in Psychology, and her Master’s in French from the University of California, Davis. Her work mainly focuses on a transnational approach to the study of Black Popular Culture in the Caribbean basin (Francophone/Anglophone) at the intersections of language, identity and power. At the core of her research is her passion for Creole languages in the Caribbean. Her work highlights how speakers of Creole languages continue to challenge dominant language ideologies and embrace their multilingualism.

Research interests: Creolistics (the study of creole languages); Contact Linguistics, Language and Racialization; Language and Globalization; Language, Gender, and Sexuality; Black France; Caribbean Identity; Black popular culture (Music, social media, etc.), African Diaspora Theory; Black and Third world Feminist thought; Queer Theory. 

Sarah Orsak