U.Va. Scholars Rake In Record Number of Fulbrights for Study Abroad

An unprecedented number of University of Virginia scholars will pursue their work on foreign shores with the help of Fulbright Scholarships this year.

Fourteen U.Va. alumni and graduate students have been offered the grants, presented by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. This puts them among 1,900 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2015-16 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential.

The U.Va. scholars will be teaching English in foreign countries such as India or pursuing their research in international academic centers.

“This is exciting news for the University and given the diversity among this group of students, I hope that it is also clear that Fulbright is an award for any student at U.Va., regardless of their field of study, interests or age,” said Andrus G. Ashoo, associate director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which helped students through the application process. “I am already looking forward to more applicants from our students and alumni in the years to come. More than anything, I can’t wait to hear the stories from our students while they are abroad next year.”

The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Its primary source of funding is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the U.S. also provide support. The program operates in more than 160 countries and is administered by the Institute of International Education.

Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright program has given approximately 360,000 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.

This year’s recipients are:

• Sarah Hansen, 22, of Pittsford, New York, who graduated this month with a degree in biomedical engineering and will continue her cardiovascular and targeted gene delivery research at the Swiss Institute of Experimental Cancer Research at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.

“I will be researching the tumor microenvironment, studying the interplay of tumor-associated macrophages and the tumor vasculature,” she said. “I was interested in pursuing research in an international setting – biomedical research increasingly involves interdisciplinary and international collaborations. Switzerland is a fascinating country, merging high-tech and tradition.”

• Janet Rafner, 22, of Richmond, who graduated this month with a bachelor’s degree in physics, and will work in the iNANO Visualization Lab at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“Working with an international team of scientists, science communicators, artists and animation experts, I will pursue a master’s in science in nanoscience with a concentration in visual communication from Aarhus University,” she said. “Through this project I will seek to advance public and academic understanding of the forces at play in the nanoworld – forces of electromagnetic or quantum nature that bond together or manipulate atoms or make it possible to visualize them with atomic microscopes. These interactions are crucial to understanding nanotechnology, polymer sciences, surface sciences, structural biology and condensed-matter physics.”

• Rebecca Lim, 22, of Burke, who graduated this month with a double major in East Asian studies and political and social thought, and will teach English in Taiwan.

“It’s such an awesome opportunity to live and work in a place where the language, history and culture are so different from what I am used to, learn by fully immersing myself in that unfamiliarity, and at the same time get to represent my own country and participate in an important cultural exchange,” said Lim, who has previously traveled in China, but will be visiting Taiwan for the first time.

• Anna Boynton, 22, of Lynchburg, who graduated this month with a dual major in global development and religious studies and will teach English in Sri Lanka. Boynton researched forced refugee repatriation in Rwanda and how post-genocide reconciliation and development policies made return to Rwanda difficult for refugees.

“Going to Sri Lanka to teach is an incredible opportunity to live and work in another post-conflict country,” she said. “It will give me invaluable on-the-ground experience in a place still recovering from conflict. I look forward to learning about their reconciliation process and comparing it to the two other post-conflict countries I have lived in: Rwanda and Cambodia.”

• Erik Pomrenke, 23, of Manassas, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in German literature and will teach English in Saxony, in the former East Germany, while performing research.

“The former East Germany is often cited as one of the most secular societies in the world, not only with the amount of people who have fallen out of the church, but specifically for those who have never been practicing members of a religion,” he said. “I wanted to pursue a part-research project/part-community engagement where I see which institutions have risen to take the place of the community-building that was once provided by the church.”

• Adam Newman, 33, of Escondido, California, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Hinduism in the religious studies department, who will explore the relationship between religion, identity and historical memory by examining the history and current conditions of the Eklingji temple complex near Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.

“My research will explore the relationship between modernity, tradition and ritual at this important temple site, and will examine in detail what this relationship can tell us about the connection between memory, history and regional identity,” Newman said.

• Rosa Waters, 22, of Richmond, who graduated this month with a double major in political and social thought and Latin American studies and will teach English in Brazil.

“This scholarship will afford me the opportunity to continue learning about Brazil, explore personal career interests and improve my Portuguese,” she said. “I am eager to return and take part in a cross-cultural exchange between the U.S. and Brazil.”

• Mary Elizabeth Pancoast, 31, of Pittsburgh, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, who will continue her research on migration and life under legal categories of citizenship in Jordan, a topic in which she became interested while working as an attorney in public interest law.

“I had also long been interested in the Middle Eastern region, studying the archaeology of the region in undergrad and writing a thesis on Islamic human rights systems in law school,” she said.

• Daniel Rosenfeld, 21, of Richmond, who graduated this month with a double major in political philosophy, policy and law and philosophy, and a minor in astronomy, and will teach English in Vietnam.

“It will make a huge difference to allow me to gain global perspective and experience a very different culture,” he said. “I hope to bring this knowledge back to the U.S. to be an ambassador for Vietnam back here and an ambassador for the U.S. while I’m there.”

• Elizabeth Borkowski, 21, of Branford, Connecticut, who graduated this month with a double major in foreign affairs and linguistics with a minor in French and will teach English in Poland.

“I wanted to broaden my life experiences before continuing my education and career path,” she said. “The Fulbright grant offers me the opportunity to apply my love of language and of teaching, while strengthening bilateral ties and gaining a deeper understanding of the world’s diversity. This experience will allow me to study and immerse myself in the Polish culture, history and language.”

• Katherine Alyssa Huang, 22, of Arlington, who graduated this month with a degree in linguistics and East Asian studies and will teach English in Peru.

“I applied for this scholarship to gain international experience in ESL teaching, to learn more about indigenous relations with Peru, the Chinese communities in Peru, and to serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States through positive cultural exchange,” she said. “I hope to pursue a career in international development and communication, and I believe this award will allow me to do something really meaningful for the community in which I’m placed.”

• Mathilda Shepard, 22, of McLean, who graduated this month with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature and culture and plans to return to U.Va. for a master’s degree in Spanish. She will teach English in Colombia.

“As a future Spanish language instructor, having the opportunity to live in a Spanish-speaking country for a year is invaluable,” she said. “Colombia – which is home to multiple Shi’i communities formed by local converts – is also a great place to begin research for what I hope could turn into a dissertation project.”

• Julia Jong Haines, 29, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a rising fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, who will conduct archaeological research in what had been an 18th- and 19th-century sugar plantation on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

“I’m focusing my research on the households and living spaces of enslaved and indentured laborers who worked on the plantation to better understand their experiences as migrant and coerced laborers,” she said.

• Caroline Louise Parker, 22, of Littleton, Colorado, who graduated this month with a double major in political and social thought and history and will teach English in South Africa.

“Upon returning, I plan to pursue work with immigrant communities in the United States, either as a teacher, college counselor or in the nonprofit sector,” she said.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications