Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Seven U.Va. Graduates Receive Fulbright Awards

Seven University of Virginia scholars – six May graduates and an alumnus from 2009 – have received Fulbright Scholarships to study abroad.

The federally sponsored Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program designed to increase mutual understanding among Americans and people of other countries. The U.Va. awardees are among more than 1,700 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2013-14 academic year through the program.

Katherine V. Walters, director of national scholarship and fellowship opportunities for U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence, said she is confident this year’s winners will take good advantage of their opportunities.

“I had the pleasure of working closely with a few of the recipients on various other programs throughout the last few years and know that they will take full advantage of this incredible opportunity and create meaningful relationships abroad,” she said. “I am so happy for all of the awardees; they have an exciting and fruitful year ahead of them.  They are wonderful U.Va. and American ambassadors who will undoubtedly carry out the Fulbright mission of promoting international understanding through cultural and educational exchange.”

This year’s Fulbright recipients are:

  • Liz Lagerfeld, 22, of McLean, an economics distinguished major and Spanish major in the College of Arts & Sciences, who will use her Fulbright for English teaching assistantship in Mexico.
  • Kelvin Chan, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a double major in chemistry, with specialization in biochemistry in the distinguished majors program, and economics, with concentration in public policy, in the College, who will use his Fulbright fellowship to study neuronal migration disorders at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna with Dr. David Keays.
  • John Joseph Vater, 22, of Oklahoma City, a modern studies in English and South Asian area studies major in the College, who will use his Fulbright to research the political economy of how Dalit literature is produced, distributed and consumed in North India.
  • Emily Rebecca Morrison, 22, of Austin, Texas, a Middle Eastern languages and literatures major, with a concentration in Persian, in the College, who will use her Fulbright to study efforts to create a national identity in post-Soviet Union Tajikistan.
  • Rowan Sprague, 22, of Richmond, a civil and environmental engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who will use her Fulbright in New Zealand to further her research into protecting honeybees.
  • Hans Verkerke, 23, of Charlottesville, a biology major in the College, who will use his Fulbright to study host factors in amebiasis, an intestinal illness, in Bangladesh.
  • Christina Stamper, 26, of Burke, who graduated from the Engineering School in 2009 with a degree in chemical engineering and a minor in engineering business, who will have an English teaching assistantship in Zwelibanzi High School in Umlazi, South Africa.

The Fulbright Program receives its primary funding from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with indirect support coming from participating governments, host institutions, corporations and foundations. Grant recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Lagerfeld, an Echols Scholar, received the Duncan Clark Hyde Award for Academic Achievement in Economics and the T. Braxton Woody Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Spanish Language and Culture. She has been on the dean’s list, and received Intermediate Honors. She was a co-founder of the Portuguese Club, president of U.Va. KIVA Microfinance and a volunteer teaching assistant for the Madison House English as a Second Language Program. She is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

“The teaching assistantship is an opportunity to improve my language teaching skills and to immerse myself in Mexican culture, as well as conducting research on a part-time basis,” she said.

Chan will be involved in a multi-disciplinary and multi-national cooperative to bridge clinical genomics and basic research in an effort to characterize diseases like autism and lissencephaly from both perspectives.

“I worked with professor Chris Deppmann, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, to study cell death during neural development,” Chan said. “Death is a double-edged sword in molecular biology; we need it to properly develop into functional adults, and diseases can exploit it to create many of the symptoms we see in patients.”

Chan was an Echols Scholar and received Intermediate Honors, a David A. Harrison III Undergraduate Research Award, a Robert G. Bryant Award for Excellence in Chemistry, a duPont Scholarship, an Alanen-Tyska Scholarship, an Ingrasia Family Research Grant and a Kenneth C. Bass Research Scholarship. A dean’s list student, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, chaired the Undergraduate Research Network and is a member of the American Chemical Society and the Society for Neuroscience. He will pursue a medical scientist training program when he returns from Vienna.

Vater wants to examine how Dalit literature entered the Indian literary mainstream through interviewing Dalit writers, editors, publishers, critics and university professors in New Delhi and Lucknow.

“Dalit literature is written by India’s lower castes,” Vater said. “They employ autobiographies, short stories, drama and poetry as a part of a social movement to mobilize lower-caste individuals into social and political consciousness and to raise awareness about caste inequalities in India and abroad.”

He is a recipient of a Mastercard Asian Scholarship, a Wagenheim Scholarship, a Critical Language Scholarship for Urdu study in India, a Foreign Language Area Studies Scholarship, a Harrison Undergraduate Research Grant and Intermediate Honors. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Write Club, the European Society and was editor-in-chief of 3.7 Magazine, a literary publication. He lived at the Shea House on the Hindi/Urdu floor. He has published in The Declaration, the Virginia Literary Review and has read his work as part of the Undergraduate Reading Series.

Morrison said her Fulbright experience will deepen her knowledge of the history and culture of Central Asia, as well as increase her language skills in both Tajik and Farsi.

“I plan to study the Tajik government’s efforts to create a national Tajik identity through an analysis of state programs and policies directed toward cultural heritage and religious groups,” she said. “I specifically want to determine to what extent government efforts have been successful and identify ways in which these initiatives have either positively or negatively impacted religious and cultural groups.”

Morrisson has been a resident adviser and a faculty liaison in Brown Residential College and received a U.S. Army ROTC scholarship. She has already studied in n Tajikistan for a term through the Eurasian Regional Languages Program. A graduate of the Regents School of Austin, she will be commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and begin her service in military intelligence following her Fulbright year.

Sprague, whose research at U.Va. centered on protecting honeybees from small hive beetles, will work with Stephen Wratten, an ecology professor from Lincoln University in Canterbury, New Zealand,  as well as the Bio-Protection Centre, a research institute affiliated with Lincoln.

“I will be studying ways to modify our current agricultural system in order to benefit honeybee populations,” she said.  “Although similar research has been done recently, what makes my project unique is that I'm going to take the perspective of the honeybees and measure ways in which they are affected by these agricultural modifications.”

She has been head manager of Morven Kitchen Garden and an English as a second language tutor with the Volunteers with International Students and Scholars program. She is a recipient of a 2012 Udall scholarship, a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award, a Community-Based Undergraduate Research Grant and a Jefferson Public Citizen grant. She was also a U.Va. Community Garden Leadership team member. She was the academic achievement chair of the U.Va. chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a steering committee member of the U.Va. Food Collaborative.

“What really excites me about this research project is that it combines my engineering background, past research projects and enthusiasm for sustainable agriculture,” she said. “This project synthesizes my love of honeybees and care for the environment with my technical engineering skills of methodical problem-solving and analysis.”

Verkerke will use his fellowship to continue work he has already started.

“My Fulbright work will be on host factors that influence susceptibility to becoming malnourished in the first year of life,” he said. “In particular, I'm interested in how mutations in genes associated with lipid metabolism affect nutritional status and susceptibility to enteric infection.”

Verkerke was a finalist in the 2012 Presidential Poster Competition and he co-wrote three primary journal articles, and was first author on a review article. A graduate of 
Western Albemarle High School, he plans to attend medical school.

“I spent four months doing research in Bangladesh after high school and before attending U.Va.,” he said. “It seemed fitting to return between college and medical school, and the Fulbright has made that possible. It will give me the resources to return to Dhaka with an armory of new techniques and ideas about links between genes, nutrition and infection. I want to tackle these problems with the skills I've acquired at U.Va. and recapitulate the tremendous public health, biological and economic challenges that I first perceived as a 19-year-old in Bangladesh.”

Stamper views her teaching assistantship as a step into a new career in education.

“Someone once told me that passion is the energy that is experienced when one’s interests are fully engaged,” Stamper said. “I know that energy well; I’ve experienced it when teaching, tutoring and mentoring.”

Since graduating from U.Va., Stamper has received a Master of Philosophy degree in engineering for sustainable development from the University of Cambridge, England, and was selected for a Presidential Management Fellowship, a two-year leadership development program in the federal government. She had experience in Africa, working while a U.Va. student on a team of students from the McIntire School of Commerce and the Engineering School on a sustainably-operated clean water project in Wum, Cameroon.

Stamper served on the Rodman Scholars Council and was an officer in the Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority. She was a representative on the Multicultural Greek Council and a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society, the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, the Raven Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She was named one of the 21 most influential graduating seniors by the 21 Society and received the Dudley M. Harman Chemical Engineering Award, a National Society of Collegiate Scholars scholarship and Intermediate Honors. She is a member of the Alumni Advisory Board for the Engineering School’s Policy Internship Program.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has given approximately 300,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

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