By Navita Nauth
When she opened the email, she couldn’t believe it. Screaming from excitement, she had to double check. Nikoleta Despodova stared at the congratulatory email that stated she had received $126,000 from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
Despodova is currently a John Jay graduate student continuing her research on whether or not a defendant’s sexual orientation influences a juror’s judgment of his/her state of mind.
An immigrant from Bulgaria, Despodova moved to the United States in 2009 without any family or friend for support. As a child, Despodova was always interested in diversity and studying other cultures.
“In Bulgaria, you cannot learn anything about other cultures. Everyone’s basically the same,” she said.
Despodova’s family suspected that she would not remain in the States for an extended period of time and would eventually return.
America was also not what she expected. “That’s one of the stereotypes that immigrants expect: streets to be paved with gold, but that’s not the case. Things are much harder than we expect,” Despodova said.
To make ends meet, Despodova worked as a waitress in hotels. After her first year in the country, she wanted to pursue her bachelor’s degree. “Education is important and in this competitive world you need education,” Despodova said.
After research and searching, she attended an open house meeting at John Jay College and decided she would study here.
During her studies, she met Mark Fondacaro, Professor of Psychology. It was from Fondacaro’s research that Despodova derived her own research study.
Despodova worked for more than a year on her research with little supervision from Fondacaro. She collected data, recruited subjects and wrote a comprehensive literature review. Although she comes off as very serious, Despodova likes to watch Asian horror movies in her free time.
She proposed an independent response project to extend Fondacaro’s research that questioned if a defendant’s sexual orientation affects a juror’s judgment.
“Nikoleta was involved in multiple research projects with multiple mentors, which gave her a breath of experience and research related skills. She was very responsive to the guidance and feedback that I gave her. She would read all the articles she was asked to and looked for more,” Fondacaro said.
As a result of her hard work, Despodova applied for the fellowship and is now here at John Jay to advance her studies and to work towards her goal of studying psychology.
“She was very poised, motivated and focused in her research interest. Overall, Nikoleta is a highly motivated, intelligent young woman who is determined to succeed,” Fondacaro said.