The political science department has awarded the first David William Bell Fellowship to Michael Metelits, a 34-year-old doctoral candidate who observed last spring's historic elections in South Africa and will use his new grant money to do field work in Africa this summer.
The grant is named in honor of David William Bell of El Cerrito, who died suddenly of heart failure in 1991. At 26, Bell had made it through the Richmond public schools and Harvard and was pursuing his dream of receiving a doctorate in political science from Berkeley and teaching at a university.
Determined to keep his dream alive in other gifted African-American graduate students, his family and friends set up the fellowship and invited the public to contribute. Bell's parents, prominent Bay Area musician and educator Bill Bell and psychologist Gale Bell, appealed to friends in their respective professions and organized fund raisers.
Slowly but steadily, the checks came in--$20 here, $30 there--mostly handwritten, personal checks from people who heard David Bell's story on the news, his old friends at Berkeley and Harvard, where he graduated cum laude in 1986, and from Chicago, where he worked for two years as a bank analyst. By December 1994, individuals had contributed enough for the political science department to award the first Bell grant.
News of the fellowship couldn't have come at a better time for Metelits, whose sources of financial support had dried up by the beginning of the current academic year, throwing his study plans in limbo. He had supported his first three years of doctoral studies with a variety of sources, including a Berkeley Graduate Opportunity Fellowship and a Ford Foundation grant.
William and Gale Bell are pleased that their son's name is helping students like Metelits. The small contributions to the fellowship fund--from a wide range of individuals--have moved them.
"We've always been told that we should make a significant contribution and that the way to do this is to involve the community," said Gale Bell, who with her husband has organized various fundraisers for the fellowship. "The reason we're working so hard is because we want to keep David's spirit alive,"she said.
For Metelits, a self-described "geek," winning the fellowship is only the latest in a string of lifelong successes.
In 1983, he graduated from Harvard with a philosophy degree and worked for six years in an investment management firm in Boston. He's now studying emerging political elites in Africa, particularly South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
Metelits, coincidentally, knew David Bell. This makes him more grateful for the honor.
"He recruited me. He was the only black person I spoke to when I was considering Berkeley," he said.