Nicole Gervasio ’10, a native of Trenton, N.J., who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in literary studies after completing her bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr, is one of 21 students nationwide who have been awarded the 2009 Beinecke Scholarship.
The scholarship, which is given to “young men and women of exceptional promise” to encourage and enable them to “pursue opportunities available to them and to be courageous in the selection” of a course of study, is given to students who plan to pursue graduate degrees in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Each scholarship winner receives a $4,000 payment immediately upon graduation from college and an additional $30,000 while attending graduate school.
Gervasio is a double major in English literature and the Growth and Structure of Cities Program, with concentrations in creative writing and Africana studies.
A poet and writer who edits the campus literary publication Kaleidoscope and has worked for both the Bi-Co News and the College News, Gervasio first intended to declare an independent major in creative writing, but ultimately decided that exploring other disciplines could add both depth and breadth to her perspective and enrich her authorial voice.
Gervasio credits her professors with helping her recognize her passion for literary studies as a potential vocation.
“I never would have thought graduate school was a possibility for me,” says Gervasio, who hopes to become the first member of her family to earn a Ph.D. just a few years after becoming its first college graduate. “My professors convinced me that I can afford to further my education despite being a self-financed student.”
Close contact with faculty mentors, Gervasio says, has been one of the most positive aspects of her experience at Bryn Mawr: “I have relationships with professors that I’m not sure I could have achieved elsewhere.”
Gervasio has already gotten a solid introduction to the challenges and pleasures of the sort of long-term research projects academics undertake as a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow. The Mellon-Mays program supports research by students who have demonstrated an interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in a core academic field and in eradicating racial disparities in education.
As a Mellon-Mays Fellow, Gervasio is using queer theory to examine postcolonial African literature. “I’m looking at how marginalization functions as a theme of queer sexuality in African literature,” she says. She is interested in pursuing those topics further as a graduate student.
Her research work as a Cities major “has been focused on themes of sexuality and violence in the city, mostly in a post colonial context,” she says. After doing a study of Belfast, Ireland, and Cape Town, South Africa, for a comparative-urbanism course last year, she spent last fall semester abroad in a gender-studies program at the University of Cape Town, where she did a research project on lesbian sexuality, safety and violence in Cape Town.
“How do people create safe spaces where those safe spaces don’t exist in an institutionalized way?” was the question Gervasio asked in her research. “In Cape Town, there are fewer established agencies and organizations offering services to gay and lesbian populations than there are here in Philadelphia, and the consequences of prejudice affect women of color disproportionately.”
Scholarly pursuits have hardly displaced Gervasio’s interest in creative writing. “I’m a very active creative-writing concentrator,” she says. Having taken courses in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction writing, she will graduate with more creative-writing courses than she needs to fulfill the requirements for the concentration. This summer, she plans to work as an intern in Haverford College’s Communications Office in addition to her work toward her Mellon-Mays research goals, and she envisions creative writing as a lifelong pursuit.
“I’m inclined toward an academic career—I want to become a professor and do theoretical writing—but that will give me the freedom to write creatively, too.”
Can she make time for it? As a double major with two concentrations who has written and edited for several campus publications, she’s accustomed to a tight schedule.
“I’m one of those people who thrives on being busy,” Gervasio explains. “I know how to relax, but I’m much happier when I’m constantly using my brain.”