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Study/Research grant

U.S. Fulbright Unknown

Working on a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship application? Read about current fellow Megan Banick.

December 21, 2012

Megan Banick’s Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship placement is in the Guatemalan Ministry of Education as an Educational Researcher consulting on various education topics such as intercultural-bilingual education quality, civic education through student government, and international standardized testing. She is also leading a project for the Ministry on academic disinterest and cultural perceptions in Guatemala. Previously interning at a local NGO, she supported an agriculture and microbusiness training program in the same rural area where her current work will take place. Further, as an observer of a local mayoral candidate’s campaign, she gained a stronger understanding of the complex challenges facing democracy and public participation in rural, indigenous areas.

Ms. Banick has experience in preschool through adult education, having spent time working with bilingual education in Spain, vocational training in Chile, and immigrant/refugee education in the United States. Having recently completed an MA in International Development at the University of Denver, her research interests include education reform and political economic development in Latin America. She received her BS in Modern Languages and Marketing Communications from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. As a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, she hopes to further her understanding of institution building in a development context, how to support large-scale educational reform, and methods for integrating marginalized populations into public life.

Interested in pursuing a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship or want to learn more? Click here and  here. Also, be sure to sign up for the last two Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship webinars.

Applications will be accepted from November 1, 2012 – February 1, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

U.S. Fulbright

360 Degrees of Ice: How My Global Perspective Expanded with Fulbright, By Zane Thimmesch-Gill, 2008-2009, Canada

November 5, 2012











I remember the exact moment I found out that I’d received a Fulbright grant to study in Canada’s Northwest Territories. I was driving cross-country when a series of tornadoes forced me to take shelter in a ramshackle motel in Eastern Colorado. The walls of the room were hand painted, floor to ceiling, in murals of ducks flying over forested lakes.

When I logged into my email and found the acceptance letter, I literally jumped up and gave the ducks high fives. Later that night as I ate a celebratory dinner of soggy pizza from the gas station next door, I stood by the tiny window in my bathroom, watching tumbleweed lash the still grazing bison.

My memory of that night is so vivid because I had fantasized about living in the Arctic since I was a little kid. I was drawn to the remoteness, to nature in its most pristine form. I understood that climate change was having a profound effect on the Northern ecosystem, but it was still some of the most untouched land on earth.

My Fulbright project would investigate how the Inuit were adjusting, physically and culturally, to the changes brought to the region by a warming planet. Earlier ice melt and later freeze up were altering the migration patterns of the herds the Inuit relied on for sustenance. Non-perishable foods shipped in on barges during the summer had introduced high levels of salt, sugar and preservatives to their diet. From the extensive research I’d done, I’d concluded that these nutritional challenges were the largest risk factor for public and community health. I packed my parka and boots and boarded the plane; confident that I knew what I’d find when I arrived.

My final flight was on an eight seat plane that was built like a tank. We flew over the Northwest Passage and landed on a rocky strip of gravel outside a small community. I’d gotten permission from the mayor and town council to conduct research, so I was uncomfortably surprised the next day when no one would make eye contact or talk to me.

I spent most of my first month wandering along the shore of the ocean and watching the sled dogs pace restlessly. Over that time I slowly came to realize that everything I thought I knew about the Arctic was wrong. No one wanted to talk to me about my research, because the questions I was asking weren’t relevant to their lives. It was a humbling experience. I felt betrayed by the years of research I’d conducted in preparation for my project. With the ubiquity of videos, photos and written material, it was easy to feel as though I already knew the Arctic before I arrived.

Once I was able to let go of my preconceived notions, the community really opened up to me. I started to learn about all of the concerns they did have, their struggles with poverty, questions of sovereignty, justice, education, land use and tourism. As we built trust, people started to confide in me, sharing stories that had seldom passed their lips. By the time the fellowship ended, I had gained a much more nuanced and powerful understanding of how climate change and shifting global economic structures were impacting the Inuit’s public and community health.

It would have been impossible for me to develop such a complex understanding without actually living in the Arctic. That’s the power of Fulbright. I learned how to listen for what was really being said, rather than what I thought I should hear. I learned that conducting literature-based research is important, but books can never tell the whole story. The only way to really know the world is to reach across the globe and make human connections.

Since my Fulbright grant, I’ve gone on to locate funding for two large research projects, learn a new language, and secure a contract for my first book, Hiding in Plain Sight, which will be published in 2013. The skills and knowledge I developed through the grant helped me in every one of those endeavors. Fulbright applicants tend to be intelligent, confident, driven, and resilient. But the grant helps hone those abilities on a professional level.

The Fulbright Association maintains a large support network around the world. Your ties to that global community don’t end when you return to your home country. In addition to working as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador, I’ve also been a mentor to Fulbrighters studying in my city and participated in many events put on by my local chapter. These connections have proven invaluable both personally and professionally.

So how do you get involved in this exciting opportunity? It all starts with the application. Find someone you trust to edit your essays. Tell them you want the most honest and rigorous feedback they can give. It’s important that the proposal retains the quality of your own voice, but an editor can identify where your ideas are too vague, the language too flowery and information repeated.

Second, be willing to write and rewrite the application materials until they are clear, succinct, detailed and convey your passion. For reference, I rewrote my project proposal eight times. The degree of organization and professionalism of your application materials will speak to your ability to undertake the responsibility of teaching or researching in a foreign country.

In terms of the application itself, it’s important to approach the process strategically. At the outset it may seem that you don’t have enough space to convey everything you’d like the review committee to know. Be creative in how you include information. For example, there were a few accomplishments that I couldn’t fit into my project proposal or personal narrative, so I asked my references to discuss those achievements in the letters they were writing.

The Foundation for Educational Exchange Between Canada and the United States, or Canadian Fulbright Commission, wants to work with you. My research took place in the extreme North, where there were no realistic options for field supervisors. By planning ahead and starting the conversation with the Foundation early in the process, we were able to come up with a solution that allowed me to conduct my research and have adequate supervision.

Lastly, I was initially nervous to apply to the program because I’m a female-to-male transsexual. I’d read Fulbright’s statement about celebrating and supporting diversity, but it didn’t say anything about transsexuals. Trans people still face extreme discrimination in the United States and I wasn’t sure a government organization would want me. I spent a long time agonizing over whether to apply to the program. I’m glad I did. As a Fulbright Ambassador, I now have a professional relationship with many of the people who are on the application committee. I can attest that they truly seek out and value all diversity, even if they haven’t listed every permutation in their statement. So dream big and know that you, with all that encompasses, are welcome and wanted at Fulbright.

Photo: Zane Thimmesch-Gill, 2008-2009, Canada, filming on an ice road connecting two communities on the shores of Great Slavey Lake in the Northwest Territories

U.S. Fulbright

A Slew of New Opportunities

September 27, 2012

In the last couple months, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has added several new opportunities throughout the world, from Laos to Greece to Senegal, in both English Teaching Assistanship and Study/Research (full) categories of grants. Here’s a quick listing below, with three from just the last two days!

With the deadline only a few weeks away, could one of these new opportunities be the one you were looking for?

U.S. Fulbright

Food Web Interactions in a Changing Coral Reef: One Step to Forming a Baseline Ecosystem, By Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama

September 19, 2012


It’s no secret that the world’s coral reefs are declining at alarming rates. I witnessed this fact firsthand during my journey as a Fulbright U.S. Student in Panama. I conducted my research at Galeta Marine Laboratory, which is situated on Panama’s Atlantic Coast ten miles away from the Panama Canal. Disturbances to coral reefs, such as overfishing, waste disposal and oil release from ship traffic, have negatively affected many coastal communities whose livelihoods depend on healthy, productive oceans. To understand how these changes will impact the coral reef ecosystem, researchers must study interactions between coral reef organisms so that when a group of organisms is in decline, researchers will know how other organisms and overall reef health will be affected.

I studied feeding interactions between a ubiquitous coral reef predator, the stomatopod crustacean (or mantis shrimp), and its prey. With the help of five local undergraduate students at the Regional Branch of the University of Panama in Colón, we determined that stomatopods eat many small animals including hard-shelled prey, fish and worms. Stomatopods are also eaten by common coral reef fish. Thus, these little known creatures are actually very important links between the large and small animals that make up the Caribbean coral reef ecosystem.

Unfortunately, debris that destroys coral reefs also washes onto Galeta’s beaches. After three months of spending everyday in the water, I could no longer bear the sight of plastic, old shoes and tires on Galeta’s otherwise beautiful shores. In response, I created a beach cleanup program that organizes a cleanup every two months with local students and scientists. A highlight for me was when 350 local students, along with the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, volunteered at a beach cleanup that I organized with the U.S. Embassy. This program inspired me and Galeta Marine Laboratory staff to start recycling programs in Colón schools near Galeta. Galeta Marine Laboratory now gives talks to local schools about recycling, provides them with recycling bins and connects them to local recycling companies.












My most rewarding experience was working with Cambio Creativo (Creative Change), a non-profit organization started by former Fulbright Students. Cambio Creativo works with youth in the underserved community of Coco Solo, Colón. With Cambio Creativo, I taught students about biology and paleontology in their own “backyard.” Although only five minutes from Coco Solo, we took a field trip to Galeta since most students had never visited this unique marine reserve. These students are now regular participants in Galeta’s beach cleanup program.












Working on these outreach projects dramatically changed how I view my role as a scientist. In Panama, I learned that many important scientific research findings never reach a broad audience.  Yet, interacting with Panamanians at Galeta forced me to find concrete connections between the public and my academic research. The Fulbright Program encourages its participants to engage in cross-cultural exchange and direct involvement with local communities. This focus taught me how to bridge the gap between local Panamanians and academics so that their communities could benefit from the valuable scientific research generated in their country.

The Fulbright Program also gave me the courage to take chances.

For those who are interested in applying for this amazing opportunity, here are a few pieces of advice:

  • Have a relative or friend outside of your field read your whole application. That person should understand every word of your application and find it interesting. For example, my mother read mine!
  • If you are applying for a research/study grant, explain why your past experiences are relevant your project and your future goals in the personal and grant purpose statements instead of simply stating your accomplishments.
  • If your application is accepted and you become a Fulbrighter, try to say yes to as many opportunities in country as you can to get to know your local community, even if they are not directly related to your research. Your Fulbright year is your time to learn as many new things as you can about your country, so enjoy it!

Top photo: Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama (second from left), watches videos of stomatopod feeding behavior with undergraduate students from the Regional Branch of the University of Panama in Colon (from left to right: Nayara Rodriguez, Yarlenis, Gina Ruíz, Eudocia Rodriguez and Roxana Martinez)

Middle photo: Over 350 volunteers participated in Galeta’s beach cleanup sponsored by the Embassy of the United States, Panama

Bottom photo: Maya deVries, 2010-2011, Panama (third from left) with Coco Solo students learning about fossil snails found in dirt left from dredging for the Panama Canal in Cambio Creativo’s afterschool program

U.S. Fulbright

The Very Best Part of Conducting Biomedical Engineering Research in Portugal, By Kara Spiller, 2010-2011, Portugal

August 22, 2012












As a Fulbrighter to Portugal, I conducted biomedical engineering research in the 3B’s (Biomaterials, Biodegradables and Biomimetics) Research Group at the University of Minho’s Department of Polymer Engineering. I developed “smart” materials that can control the body’s cell behavior; a technology that might be useful for promoting new blood vessel growth in heart tissue after a heart attack, or for producing functioning tissues like cartilage and bone from stem cells. The Department’s lab is also the headquarters of the European Institute of Excellence on Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, which places special emphasis on international collaboration. The 3B’s Research Group attracts students and postdocs from all over the world, and collaborates with partner laboratories in 14 countries. The coolest part of my research experience was working on a team comprised of members from diverse backgrounds conducting experiments in Portugal and abroad. The next coolest part was the food!

During the week, I worked in the lab, which had a distinctly Portuguese flair. Everyone ate lunch together and we often dined together in the evenings as well. We also organized lab trips to other European cities. Every weekend, I traveled to a different town in Portugal, a small country with varied landscapes and lots of festivals. The people I met were very friendly and appeared to love Portuguese spoken with an extremely thick American accent. (My first Portuguese lesson was a sign on the doors: PUXE, pronounced “push,” which means “pull.”)

Having conducted some of my doctoral research in China and my postdoctoral research as a Fulbrighter in Portugal, I believe that international experience should be a requirement for all students, especially those in science and engineering. I loved living in and traveling around Portugal, but what was even more interesting was discovering how one’s science can benefit from learning another language and way of thinking in a different culture. For example, I learned that working on research at a slower, more relaxed pace fosters new ideas, more efficient experiments and an overall more pleasant work experience. In my labs in the United States, I ate lunch while staring at my computer, rushing to finish my work so that I could leave and enjoy the rest of my day elsewhere. In Portugal, I socialized with my colleagues during regular coffee breaks and long lunches. We discussed the bioethics of embryonic stem cell technologies, the philosophy of growing tissues in the lab, the politics of global academic research, the nuances of football (both soccer and American football) and the differences between wines from Northern and Southern Portugal. We often spent 10-12 hours per day at work, but they were fun hours. And, when it was time to leave Portugal, I realized that my ideas and experiments had achieved a level of creativity that I had deemed impossible before I left. My colleagues and I submitted an international patent publication and we continue to collaborate on the same project. These kinds of perspective-broadening experiences can only come from studying overseas and are exactly what the Fulbright Program promotes.

My advice for prospective Fulbright candidates preparing research/study applications is to take time to learn about your selected country. Consult the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website’s country summaries, but also read about your country’s history and culture, and talk to people who have lived or visited there. The more I learned about Portugal, the more I wanted to study there and I conveyed this in my application.

As far as obtaining an affiliation, I met my research adviser at an academic conference (where he was giving a lecture about the importance of international education for scientists), so that part of the application process was easier for me than anticipated. If you don’t have similar opportunities to identify your host affiliation, then try emailing the organization or person with whom you might work. Explain what you’re interested in, why you’d like to do a Fulbright with that person or organization and what your plans are during and after your grant.  Your potential affiliation will not only appreciate that you want to work together, but that you also want to learn more about your host country. Then, once you’ve arrived, make sure to work hard and take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new.  Lastly, keep a journal, because the details of your Fulbright experience (that you might forget) are the very best part.

Top Photo: Kara Spiller, 2010-2011, Portugal, visiting the Douro River Valley

Middle Photo: Kara Spiller, 2010-2011, Portugal (center), with members of the University of Minho’s 3B Research Group

U.S. Fulbright

Expanding My Context of Art, By Antonio McAfee, 2009-2010, South Africa

August 13, 2012

South African contemporary art and my experience with facilitating arts programming were the basis of my Fulbright project in Johannesburg.  These interests started while I was an undergraduate at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC.  The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art held two exhibitions that surveyed contemporary African Art.  The diversity of materials and the directness to social issues resonated with me.  During that time, I was working for artists, galleries and museums, helping to maintain and organize studios, exhibitions and collections.

The Fulbright Program became an option while I was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.  Faculty members were helpful by referring me to readings about African cultures and art, which led me to develop my proposal’s context.  The texts unexpectedly planted a seed that resulted in African cultural objects and ideas becoming incorporated into my artwork.  After a conversation with a fellow student, I decided to apply for a Fulbright grant.  Shortly after, I met Cheryl Shipman, the university’s Coordinator of Research and Fellowships (and Penn’s campus Fulbright Program Adviser), who was instrumental in explaining the application process and demystifying the program.  The bulk of my proposal’s development came from research I conducted at the library, online and through writing numerous drafts.  My hope was to engage with the contemporary South African art sector and to see how certain organizations had evolved from their origins as rebellious entities during the ‘80s and ‘90s to the present.  The chair of University of Witwatersrand’s Postgraduate Arts, Culture and Heritage Management Program wrote my letter of affiliation.  I introduced myself by emailing her out of the blue and sent her a draft of my proposal.  After a positive response, I asked if she would write the letter.

In South Africa, I was a graduate student in the University’s management program.  The management courses I took included leadership and policy, arts marketing and fundraising, and operational skills.  Additionally, I conducted interviews with local artists and administrators regarding their relationships with local, provincial and national government art agencies.

Outside of school, I became very familiar with the local art scene by befriending artists and attending exhibitions and events.  Collaborating with a local artist, I worked on a group exhibition.  I juried images from a U.S. Embassy class “Photographing Your Environment,” for kids from Pretoria’s Mamelodi Township.  I also had a radio show on the University of Witwatersrand’s VOW (Voice of Wits) 90.5 FM.

Since my time in South Africa, the Fulbright Program continues to be an important part of my life.  As a 2012 Fulbright Alumni Ambassador, my responsibility is to promote the program, educate others about the application process and share my overseas experiences.  Currently, I am adjunct faculty at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and Northern Virginia Community College, work full-time at a photography lab in Maryland, and continue to expand my artistic practice.

For those interested in applying for a research/study Fulbright grant, specificity is essential in developing your project.  Pursuing a research topic that is important to you and that will allow you to be of service to others in a pertinent location is crucial.  The “to be of service” component is about reciprocal relationships.  How can a place and community assist you and your goals?  How can you assist them?  For artists, the Fulbright Program is perfect.  It encourages autonomous projects requiring individuals from around the world to inform and engage with each other and, consequently, long-lasting relationships and experiences.

Photo: Antonio McAfee (right), 2009-2010, South Africa, with a few of his Arts and Culture Management Classmates from the University of Witwatersrand