In its history, UT has had 77 student Fulbright recipients, with the first in 1959. This year, 19 students received Fulbright awards – a single-year record for the university. Of those, 13 are students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“There is definite Fulbright momentum at UT,” says Andrew Seidler, director of UT’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, who works with students as they apply for prestigious awards such as the Fulbright. “The quality of our student candidates—their ideas, their energy, their curiosity about the world—and these results have us comparing favorably with top research universities across the country. That would not be possible without a campus-wide network of faculty and staff who support students’ efforts to stretch themselves in and out of the classroom. I think the Fulbright competition is bringing out the best of UT.”
Recipients represent each of the four disciplines in the college with projects ranging from using aquatic plants for wastewater purification in Argentina to studying Mongolian long-song performance in China.
Rena Abdurehman is a senior in biochemistry, and cellular and molecular biology. During a five-week research trip to Argentina last summer, she learned about the prevalence of a bacterial disease called leptospirosis in the water reservoirs throughout the country. This summer, she went back to Argentina to do something about it.
Abdurehman received a Fulbright Award to study the use of aquatic duckweed as a robust, low-cost means of wastewater purification in Argentina. She will look at whether the plant could be effective in reducing the prevalence of leptospirosis.
“Humans can contract leptospirosis through direct contact with infected animals and through using or consuming infected water,” Abdurehman says. “It is thought to be more prevalent in rural parts of the country, but there have been recent reports of outbreaks in the large, metropolitan province of Buenos Aires, as well as surrounding areas. Implementing a low-cost means of water purification, such as duckweed, throughout the country will be extremely beneficial.”
Jacqueline Adams is a May 2017 Chancellor’s Honors Program graduate in psychology with a minor in political science. Understanding what motivates people is at the heart of the study of psychology. Adams wants to know what motivates people to save energy when they use smart meter technology in their homes.
“Smart meters are electronic meters that allow two-way communication with utility companies,” Adams says. “When residents see how much energy they are using, they can adjust their usage. Smart meter adoption in the United States, however, has not been successful at modifying behavior because there has been a lack of focus on psychological motivations to save energy using this technology.”
Adams wants to understand people’s attitudes, motivations, and intentions to use smart meter technology and recently received a Fulbright Award for her research on smart meter technology adoption in Budapest, Hungary.
“My research will help establish a psychological framework for energy efficient technology in a country that has not implemented such technologies,” Adams says. “In the years to come, when Hungary fully adopts smart meters, my research will help utilities better cater programs towards their users’ needs.”
Carolyn Barnes is a senior in chemistry and a member of the Chancellor’s Honors Program. When Barnes started college, she had her heart set on attending medical school. As she progressed through courses in biology and chemistry, however, she discovered a different career path.
“I realized my interest in medicine was more focused towards understanding the cellular and molecular processes that cause humans to have diseases and illness rather than just treating those diseases,” says Barnes.
Barnes was first introduced to the field of lipid and membrane chemistry during her junior year. In 2017, she studied at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. In 2018, she has the opportunity to study in the Czech Republic thanks to a Fulbright Award.
“I am excited to experience the Czech Republic and be immersed in the culture while also pursuing research I find really interesting,” says Barnes, who will study the dynamics of pancreatic cells involved in insulin release.
Insulin is the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels in the body. When a person loses control of releasing insulin it affects the body’s ability to control blood-sugar level, which in turn, causes diabetes. Barnes became interested in this line of research when she learned about a friend’s experience being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
“Type II diabetes accounts for 90 percent of diabetes cases worldwide, but the molecular mechanisms of this are very poorly understood,” Barnes says. “We hope this research will allow us to differentiate the effects of several different types of fat on insulin secretion from pancreatic cells.”
Savannah Dixon is a May 2017 Chancellor’s Honors Program graduate in architecture and Hispanic studies. The first time she visited Guatemala was for a week-long service trip, but it shifted the course of her life. Dixon immediately enrolled in Spanish classes when she returned.
“I felt the need to break the language barrier between me and the people I met in Guatemala,” Dixon says. “I had never had a Spanish course in my life, but five years, two majors, four trips to Guatemala, and years of research later, I graduated with a double major in architecture and Spanish.”
Dixon was offered a 10-month English teaching assistantship in Guatemala in a school for upper-level postsecondary students. Her goal while there is to gain as much insight into Central American culture and living as she can and to create ethnographic records about what she learns. When she returns to the States, she plans to attend graduate school to study Latin American Studies and public health.
“I want to pursue a career in intercultural health literature and education as the need has risen greatly due to a rise in immigrants and the rules that govern our healthcare system,” Dixon says.
Derek Galyon is a December 2017 graduate in political science with minors in religious studies and Africana studies. An undergraduate research project on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, initially sparked his interest in government accountability.
“The project enabled me to analyze problems that occur when citizens are restricted from holding their governments accountable,” Galyon says. “It allowed me to explore my interest in human rights in an American context.”
The Fulbright Award will allow him to work on his master’s in international security and conflict studies in Ireland at Dublin City University where he will focus on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
“I am especially interested in the use of referendums throughout the Northern Ireland peace process and the various ways democratic processes can hold governments accountable,” Galyon says. “By studying the role of the referendums, my dissertation research will aim to emphasize the importance of domestic perspectives in addressing violent conflict. I am excited to become involved with DCU’s Centre for Human Rights and Citizenship Education and other Irish organizations working to promote the protection of human rights.”
Tamra Gilbertson is a doctoral student in sociology who spent several years abroad as the co-director of Carbon Trade Watch, an environmental justice activist and research nonprofit organization, before deciding to return to the university in pursuit of her PhD.
“Living and working abroad changed my life through a wide range of experiences and events, but I felt like something was missing,” Gilbertson says. “I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to study in a more institutional environment, but one that was committed to social and environmental justice.”
The UT Department of Sociology had exactly what Gilbertson wanted.
“Over the past three years at UT, I have gained a deeper knowledge of social theory, history, and research methods I think form a part of the mysterious missing pieces in my life,” Gilbertson says. “I hope to apply this newly acquired training to my research project in Colombia with the support of the Fulbright Fellowship.”
Gilbertson will investigate coal mining in Colombia to address the complex sociopolitical landscape of how large-scale resource extraction exemplifies socioeconomic and environmental conflicts at various scales.
“My goal is to understand the interconnected and conflicting impacts of the globalized economy, the role of the state, and experiences of impacted communities with a multi-scalar approach to the changing landscape of coal mining,” Gilbertson says. “This Fulbright will allow me to investigate these urgent questions in Colombia, where coal extraction and exports have increasingly become a key strategy for national economic development.”
By focusing on the macro economy, Gilbertson aims to bridge the methodologies of world-systems research with environmental and climate justice studies at the local level.
“I hope to offer fresh insights to scholars studying extractivism, unequal exchange in world-systems studies, and environmental justice,” Gilbertson says.
Brennan Hicks is a December 2015 graduate in microbiology. His Fulbright Award, however, is for an English teaching assistantship in Brazil.
“I think language learning is a critical component to achieving true insight about another culture,” Hicks says. “In a world that is growing more connected every day, it is important we share our cultural traditions and language skills to foster mutually beneficial relationships with our neighbors around the world.”
His love for language began when he started meeting Brazilians on social media. They chatted regularly and eventually became good friends. Several asked him for help understanding certain phrases while learning English. He started learning Portuguese and loved being able to help them while sharing cultural ideas. When he finally visited, he fell in love with the culture and language.
“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to represent my alma mater and my country as a cultural ambassador in Brazil while sharing my love of language learning with Brazilian students,” Hicks says. “UT laid the foundation for me as a member of a global society and provided me with learning experiences in and out of the classroom, which helped form me into the person I am today. It is because of my experiences at UT I realize how important it is to learn about new cultures and ideas.”
Miranda Johnson is a senior in anthropology and Hispanic studies. Johnson will research dental modification practices observed in a specific set of human remains from the Jicáro site in the Nicoya Region of Costa Rica and compare them to contemporary pre-Columbian groups.
“This time last year I was receiving letters of rejection from different graduate programs that I had applied to, but with the support of my advisors, family, and friends, I stuck around to complete a second degree and apply for this opportunity,” Johnson says. “I cannot put into words my gratitude to everyone who helped me get here. I also cannot stress enough the importance of not letting rejection get you down but using it to further fuel your fire to succeed.”
Yuki Minami is a senior in modern foreign languages and literatures focusing on Japanese language and world business.
A student veteran, Minami will go to Japan to research the role of Japanese women under the imperial government from 1910 to 1945, a research project sparked by Hayashi Fumiko’s novel Horokki (Diary of a Vagabond).
“I found the story fascinating,” Minami says. “She had so many different occupations, which lead me to become curious about other women living around the same time. I conducted research and discovered that Japanese women not only served as mothers, but they were the identity-keepers overseas. This lead me to research further about Japanese women and find out what type of occupations they possessed when the war was happening around the world.”
When she returns from the Fulbright, Minami will apply for graduate school and continue her education in Japanese literature.
“I hope my selection for the Fulbright will be an example of hard work and dedication—that a person’s dream ultimately does pay off, even if you are from the bottom of society,” Minami says. “Sometimes it takes extra steps to break through the challenges in life, but that extra work makes ordinary people extraordinary.”
Katie Plank is a May 2017 graduate in ecology and evolutionary biology. A transfer student who minored in Chinese, Plank will spend 11 months as an English teaching assistant in Taiwan. In summer of 2017, Plank was a Critical Language Scholar in China.
“Ever since I first studied abroad in Taiwan, I’ve been dreaming about going back for a longer period of time, and being selected for a Fulbright has made that hope a reality.”
Trent Sanders is a graduate student in English literature and textual studies. He will go to Romania on a creative arts grant and write a play on Romanian Christian exiles fleeing persecution in the 1950s from Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
“When I read Repenters, the hardships of Romanian Christians under the reign of Ceaușescu reflected my own in Tanzania, so I was never able to forget their stories,” Sanders says. “The humanities and arts have taken a turn to discover the voices of the silenced. The story I will tell gives a voice to the voiceless.”
His goal is simple – to write a full-length play and to possibly receive a staged production. From the Drama in New York experience to professors, MFA actors, and seminars, Sanders credits UT for providing him with numerous opportunities to grow as a scholar and writer.
“Receiving the Fulbright made life complicated, in the best possible way, and as a writer, I thrive inside of the complicated.”
Joseph Wilson is a graduate student in English, with a focus on rhetoric writing and linguistics. He is also the assistant director of English as a Second Language and a graduate teaching associate.
Wilson will be an English teaching assistant in Kazakhstan and also studying Kazakh and conducting research on multilingual student writing. He first became interested in Kazakhstan while participating in an international exchange program as an undergraduate student. He became friends with his Kazakh classmates and maintained relationships after the program ended.
“Kazakhstan boasts the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of a silk road nation,” Wilson says. “Its people have weathered shifting ecological and political climates since ancient times. I am interested in the ways these factors shape current conversations concerning the relationship between multilingualism and the Kazakhstani identity, particularly in consideration of the teaching of English as a foreign language.”
Wilson’s experiences teaching and conducting research at UT prepared him for continued teaching and research in Kazakhstan through this award.
“The Fulbright will afford me an incredible opportunity to teach and research in a region with a long history of linguistic diversity and adaptability as well as developing lasting relationships with Kazakhstani people outside of the major metropolitan areas of the country,” Wilson says.
Conny Zhao is a senior majoring in music with a concentration on music and culture and minoring in Chinese. Random YouTube searches in high school helped Zhao rediscover Chinese folk songs she heard as a child from her aunts and uncles. Her Fulbright Award allows her to study Mongolian long-song performance at the Inner Mongolia Arts University. Zhao is working towards creating a concert series, musical album, and educational website to disseminate traditional Mongolian music to a wider audience.
“Long-song has an incredibly rich history and plays an important role in Mongol ethnic identity,” Zhao says. “Sadly, in recent decades, the prairies of Inner Mongolia have suffered immense ecological damage, leading nomads to adopt urban lifestyles and causing the performance and education of the style to decline. I will work on developing methods to promote visibility and sustain these traditions.”
The website will provide information about the history of long-song, including how to sing it. Zhao will use a blog to share information about pedagogy, technique, and the differences between various regional styles.
“My hope is the website will provide a platform for empathetic and critical listening, giving scholars and musicians a tool for cross-cultural collaborative performances, research, compositions, and education,” Zhao says.