By Mandira Banerjee
The grants—one of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards—fund the scholars’ research or teaching overseas for six to 12 months. Their interests include studying mental health in Croatia and the history of drama in the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other areas of research.
Fulbrights were also awarded to 25 U-M students, the most among public universities for the 13th straight year. Overall, U-M is tied for third among all public and private institutions. This year, the students are studying issues ranging from the health care system for Syrian refugees in Birmingham, England, to bilingual education for university students in Ecuador.
“I applaud our Fulbright scholars and students for their work to enhance cultural appreciation and achieve positive impact in countries around the globe,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “U-M’s leadership in international education advances the highest values of peace and understanding, while demonstrating our longstanding commitment to intellectual engagement that knows no borders.”
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright program seeks to increase the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Nearly 1,100 U.S. students, artists and young professionals from 100 different fields are offered Fulbrights each year.
The staff at U-M’s International Institute provide individual advising and resources necessary to help applicants throughout the Fulbright application process.
“This year’s outstanding results demonstrate the university’s enduring commitment to international education, and the International Institute is a proud partner in the goal to connect our leaders and best to the world,” said Elizabeth Dutridge-Corp, Fulbright program adviser at the International Institute.
Recipients are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential. Former grantees include actor John Lithgow, U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, opera singer Renee Fleming and economist Joseph Stiglitz.
U-M’s student grantees this year include Chiamaka Ukachukwu, who is spending time at the de Duve Institute in Belgium to study how disease-causing bacteria protect themselves in the presence of stress, such as medical treatments designed to treat human infections.
“My Fulbright grant gave me an opportunity to work in the lab of Jean-Francois Collet, a world-renowned expert in microbiology and bacterial physiology, to study antibiotic resistance and contribute my expertise in a high-impact research project,” she said.
Another grantee, Clara Cullen, is in Ecuador working on the prevention of violence against women with researchers from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and the Fundación Azulado.
“With all the global conversations about sexual abuse at the moment, it is incredible to be on the front line contributing to tangible changes on the issue,” Cullen said. “Fulbright has provided me the support and academic freedom to explore my interests alongside highly knowledgeable professionals and researchers in a way that would never have been possible otherwise.”
Fulbrighters in the field: How did the grant change their lives?
The University of Michigan’s success with Fulbright grants is largely due to fantastic students who are advised and inspired by the faculty and staff at U-M’s International Institute. Read about some of the 25 grant recipients from U-M are doing with their Fulbrights in 2017-18:
Laiba Hussain graduated from U-M from Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience program.
Project: “I enrolled in the Global Health Stream at the University of Birmingham, England because I wanted to be that change as a public health reformer and physician working with an international humanitarian organization such as Medecins Sans Frontieres. Besides conducting research on local refugee populations and their health care experiences, I am also working with Student Action for Refugees, a national charity to offer support and raise awareness for Syrian refugees.”
How has Fulbright changed your life?
“My Fulbright year has been, and continues to be, one of the most pivotal times in my life, education, and career.
Building a solid foundation in public health education, volunteering with local hospitals and refugees, and immersing myself in a culture very different from my own has been personally enriching and rewarding in every way and has helped me develop my own strengths and insights. Along with researching, creating, and learning, I spend a lot of time walking through the city, exploring the country, traveling, and forming lifelong friendships with people from all over the world.
Summarizing my Fulbright experience in just a few sentences will never fully describe the enormous impact this unique opportunity has had on me. Luckily, I still have a few months left in this beautiful country and I know that the Fulbright program continues and constantly enhances individual, cultural, and global discourse.”
Chiamaka Ukachukwu graduated as a master’s student in the MCDB Pathways Program from U-M. She will join the Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS) at U-M in September 2018.
Project: “I am studying protective stress responses of the cell envelope in Escherichia coli (E. coli) that confer antibiotic resistance. In other words, I study how disease-causing bacteria protect themselves in the presence of stress, such as medical treatments designed to treat human infections by killing harmful bacteria. My Fulbright grant to Belgium provided an avenue for me to work in the lab of Jean-Francois Collet, a world-renowned expert in microbiology and bacterial physiology, to study antibiotic resistance as an independent scientist.”
How has Fulbright changed your life?
My time as a Fulbright research grantee has further inflamed my passion for cultural exchange. I plan to create international research collaborations between U-M and countries in Europe and Africa. I would like to do research in multiple countries as a part of my Ph.D. training and encourage others to do the same.
My time in Belgium has been one of the most memorable and exciting experiences of my life. I have made friends from all over the world, continued preparing for the PiBS program through my research project, all while learning invaluable lessons about myself. Furthermore, Jean-Francois is a new lifelong mentor who is invested in my professional success, personal happiness, and will undoubtedly serve as an international advisor in all of my future endeavors.
Clara Cullen graduated from U-M from Spanish and International Studies programs with minors in Biochemistry and Business.
Project: My research focuses on the prevention of violence against women, which has devastating and lasting consequences on the physical and mental health of victims. I am currently working with researchers from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and the Fundación Azulado to study child sexual abuse, a pervasive problem within the Ecuadorian school system. In collaboration with Ministry of Education, we are working to implement an evidence-based abuse prevention program for children as part of the national education curriculum. In addition to my work on child abuse, I also independently investigate gender-based violence and its mitigation through innovative policies and programs.
How has Fulbright changed your life?
The project that I originally proposed did not materialize and actually it turned out to be very exciting. My research has taken me in directions I never could have imagined. Fulbright has provided me the support and academic freedom to explore my interests alongside highly knowledgeable professionals and researchers in a way that would never have been possible otherwise. With all the global conversations about sexual abuse at the moment, it is incredible to be on the front line contributing to tangible changes on the issue.
This experience has peaked my interest in using research to drive evidence-based interventions and reform, and the professional relationships that I have developed are something that I hope to continue well beyond my grant period and into my graduate studies.