Carnegie Mellon University
June 10, 2022

Fulbrights Put Nine Tartans on Global Path

By Heidi Opdyke

Peter Kerwin
  • University Communications & Marketing
Ryan Scarpino
  • University Communications & Marketing
  • 412-268-2902

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program has awarded grants to nine Carnegie Mellon University students and recent alumni to teach English or pursue research on four continents.

Richelle Bernazzoli, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development, said that the process for Fulbright applications begins with informational sessions in the spring, and crafting competitive submissions throughout the summer, fall and winter. Faculty and staff from across the university sit on Fulbright interview committees for each candidate, allowing applicants to discuss their plans with subject matter and area experts.

"It is incredibly gratifying to see these students and alumni receive grants after nearly a year of hard work on applications, interviews and correspondence with overseas affiliations," Bernazzoli said. "These grantees are to be commended for the immense effort they poured into their applications. We are so proud that they will be representing CMU!"

Counting this year's recipients more than 100 Tartans have earned Fulbright awards.

Julia Conti

Julia Conti, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2021 in professional writing with an additional major in Hispanic studies, was awarded an English Teaching Assistantship to Bucaramanga, Colombia.

"In researching for the application, I learned a lot about the Colombian education system, and there's a focus on using education as a form of peace," Conti said. "I'm very excited to see how this is playing out in everyday classrooms and to use the techniques."

For her supplementary project, she aims to work with immigrants living in Colombia. As of 2021, some 1.7 million migrants from Venezuela have concentrated into about two dozen cities.

"It's an interesting opportunity to examine an immigration system and see how people living in cities are reacting to the changes," Conti said. She said she hopes the work will lay the foundation for future projects related to immigration in the United States. Upon returning from Colombia, Conti aims to use her communication skills to support underrepresented communities through advocacy work.

Conti previously traveled to South America on a study abroad experience in Chile, which was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also traveled to the Dominican Republic twice through Juntos, a service organization in which Conti served as co-president that works to create sustainable connections between Pittsburgh and Latin American countries.

"I was able to get that hands on experience in other countries through Juntos as well as learn some things about myself that I didn't necessarily know before I went to college," she said. "CMU offered me so many different opportunities to travel and get out of my comfort zone as well as to be a teacher and connect with other people through education and language."

Emily Gallagher

For Emily Gallagher, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in music performance in 2019, a second time was a charm.

Gallagher, a professional singer and part-time staff member of CMU's School of Music, was awarded a community-based combined award for English Teaching and and a community-based project in Vienna, Austria, on her second Fulbright application.

"It was the connections I made with the previous application that ended up leading to the successful Fulbright application," said Gallagher. She worked closely on her Fulbright application with Talespin, a woman-owned, Vienna-based production company.

Starting this fall, Gallagher will work on "Morgiana and the 40 Thieves," a retelling of a classic fairytale centering on a strong, female protagonist. The show, composed by Jason Gray, comprises a soloist, pianist and violinist and will begin performances in 2023 in German, French, English and Arabic. Talespin will release an accompanying storybook illustrated by Rima Al-Juburi. Gallagher will work on preproduction, coordinating printing and managing artists. She also will perform in the show's English version.

In Pittsburgh, Gallagher volunteers for Hello Neighbor, a nonprofit that supports refugees and immigrant families. She said she is excited to continue similar work through Talespin's outreach opportunities with Vienna's Arabic-speaking immigrant population.

"This ended up being the perfect set of circumstances," said Gallagher who will teach English at an international school and take courses at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. "Johanna Lacroix and Chanda VanderHart [Talespin's artistic directors] needed an extra set of hands, but they didn't have a budget to support hiring an additional person. This partnership helps the company and speaks to my interests in a way that combines my passion for music and volunteer work."

Tanvi Jakkampudi

Tanvi Jakkampudi, who graduated in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in physics (biological physics track) and a minor in biomedical engineering, earned a research award to study antimicrobial peptides, known as AMPs, at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, Germany. DESY is home to one of the largest centers for particle accelerators.

"At DESY I will have the opportunity to utilize the world's leading high-energy synchrotron to characterize the peptides' structure and analyze interactions between the peptides and lipid model membranes to reveal possible bacterial-killing mechanisms," Jakkampudi said.

She said that Germany was interesting for her because of its drive to lead international innovation in physics as well as Germany's dedication to the health and well-being of its residents.

"I want to volunteer at a Hamburg clinic and explore how the German government sustainably runs their national health care program, so I can implement these practices through my nonprofit, Health Hub, to expand free access to health care to underserved communities across America," she said.

At CMU, Jakkampudi conducted research with Stephanie Tristram-Nagle, a research professor emerita of biophysics and Peter Di, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh. She said the collaboration shaped her college experience and has sparked an interest and appreciation for combining physics and medicine.

"I have had incredible opportunities to explore this intersectional interest during my college years, and while my intended goal is to attend medical school and become a physician-scientist, I want to take one year between graduating from Carnegie Mellon and matriculating to medical school to further strengthen my research experience," she said.

Selina Lee

Selina Lee, who graduated in 2020 with a bachelor's degree of fine arts from the School of Art and a minor in media design, earned a research award to study diasporic artists in Germany who have roots from the northwest desert region of China known as Xinjiang.

I'm interested in telling the region's story from a lens which sheds light on its cultural diversity and how those tensions/histories/artistic outputs play out in a foreign context," Lee said.

"Germany serves as a pretty fitting backdrop for my professional interests," Lee said. "It has a huge media hub and it has amazing funding for the arts. The creative culture in Germany is really vibrant and exciting."

Lee has been working as a visual journalist, first as an intern for organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as a freelancer for outlets such as Foreign Policy Magazine, Factal and the Hustle. The Fulbright opportunity allows her to use her German and Mandarin language skills.

Lee previously traveled abroad as part of CMU's IMPAQT program, where she visited Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar's Doha campus, and to the United Kingdom as part of the Art, Conflict and Technology in Northern Ireland course taught by John Carson, Jennifer Keating and Illah Nourbakhsh.

"We studied the Troubles of Northern Ireland and took a trip to observe remnants and contemporary symbols of that conflict on site there. It was a useful case study on how artists grappled with the many tragedies and sensations conflict manifests itself as," Lee said. "Seeing different circumstances can really challenge you and bring out more knowledge about the world."

Haider Nazir

Haider Nazir, who graduated with majors in global studies and Chinese studies and a minor in religious studies in 2020, is getting a second chance at a Fulbright experience. In 2020, he was awarded an English Teaching Assistantship to Taiwan but declined. Instead, he accepted a Yenching Scholar award to study law with a concentration in politics and international relations at Yenching Academy of Peking University.

Nazir was an Andrew Carnegie Scholar and a Phi Beta Kappa inductee at CMU. He also served as president of the Lambda Sigma National Honor Society, participated in the Emerging Leaders Program and founded The Chinese-English Third Space, a club that provided opportunities for students to work on English and Chinese speaking skills while playing games.

Nazir said that CMU broadened his scope of knowledge through his academic and extracurricular activities.

"It awakened my passion for global affairs, politics and diplomacy," Nazir said. "With the help of the History Department as well as Richelle and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development, I have been able to explore and find various amazing opportunities to realize my ambitions in these fields."

Nazir spent the summer of 2019 in Taiwan as part of the U.S. State Department's Critical Language Scholarship program. He called the experience "incredible."

"The Taiwan issue has always been significant from the lens of U.S.-China relations and thus the international balance of power," he said. "With recent events shaping up the way they have, Taiwan has become increasingly relevant, which has pushed me to see which ways I could contribute most to the issue."

In 2017, he received a Freeman Asia Scholarship to study in China through CMU's Shanghai International Studies University program.

Victoria Nguyen

Victoria Nguyen, a rising sophomore in mechanical engineering with an additional major in biomedical engineering, has been selected by the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission to attend the Fulbright Scotland Summer Institute on Technology, Innovation and Creativity hosted by the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Strathclyde.

The three-week academic and cultural program is aimed at U.S. undergraduate students who have little or no travel experience outside of North America, and participants can explore the culture, heritage and history of the U.K.

"What I found really interesting about this program is that they combined engineering practices and design. At its core it is trying to show how these two disciplines come together to lead to innovation," Nguyen said. "These are the two main disciplines I want to explore at my time at CMU. I'm an engineering student, but I want to dabble in user design to lead to innovation in engineering biomedical devices."

Among her career goals are making medical devices more accessible, in part from watching a family member live with an autoimmune disease.

"There isn't a cure, but there are treatments that can prolong and increase a person's quality of life. These types of treatments are a luxury that a lot of people don't have access to," said Nguyen, who is a first-generation student and a Tartan Scholar at CMU. "Throughout my college career, I want to see what health care looks like in other countries and also create more accessible options in underserved areas."

A member of the Global Medical Brigades at CMU, she virtually shadowed doctors in Honduras to understand some of that nation's medical challenges.

"During this year's telebrigade, I had the opportunity to consider how available resources, geography, culture, amongst many other factors affect access to health care," she said. "While abroad, I look forward to seeing what factors promote innovation and creativity to one day find solutions to these disparities in health care."

Nicola (Nikki) Ritsch

Nicola Ritsch is a doctoral student in engineering and public policy who will be conducting research at the University of Rwanda and the African Center of Excellence in Internet of Things.

Growing up, Ritsch spent summers in South Africa, visiting family.

"During those visits, I grew to love the community-oriented culture and the strong affinity so many people had for the outdoors. I also saw the impact that gaps in infrastructure provision had on people having reliable access to services," she said. "This led me to seek out work opportunities throughout Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Chad as I tried to understand and learn how investment in infrastructure systems could be strengthened in rural communities where individuals don't have consistent access to basic services."

Between 2018 and 2020, Ritsch worked as a climate change consultant for the World Bank Group with time spent on a rural road infrastructure investment project in Chad, decarbonization of the shipping industry on a global scale and a Sustainable Ports Partnership along the Western coast of Africa. During her time at the University of Colorado, she was president of the Engineers Without Borders chapter, and while working on a rainwater catchment project in Rwanda, she saw how broadband was changing the way that agricultural investments were being made. 

"This piqued my interest in how broadband access had impacted people during the COVID pandemic," she said. "I grew eager to apply some of the mixed method approaches I had been developing for my research within the U.S. context to the context of Rwanda."

Ritsch, whose doctoral research focuses on how infrastructure systems impact equitable access to services within the domains of broadband and water infrastructure, will be working with Omar Gatera, head of Ph.D. students and research at the African Center of Excellence in Internet of Things.

Once her Fulbright research wraps up, Ritsch will return to CMU to complete her doctorate where she will tie the research into her larger studies.

"While the world is arguably growing more global, I think in that process we sometimes lose sight of the other cultures and contexts around us, and the Fulbright program facilitates that exchange," she said.

Ella Rosenblum

Ella Rosenblum, who graduated in 2021 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in drama with an emphasis on stage and production management and a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship, will be heading to Budapest, Hungary, on an English Teaching Assistantship. She said she was inspired to apply for the award after her friend Emma Cordray, who was part of the 2021-2022 class of Fulbright scholars.

"It seemed like the best opportunity to live abroad, immerse myself in a culture I am interested in, and do something completely out of my comfort zone," Rosenblum said.

Rosenblum chose Hungary because of familial ties.

"My grandmother was born in Munkacs (now Ukraine), and she spoke Hungarian and Yiddish. My grandfather was from Poland, so their shared tongue was Yiddish but they both refused to teach my father any Yiddish or Hungarian due to the need to assimilate to their lives in America," she said. "While I was at CMU, I spent time learning Hungarian at the University of Pittsburgh. As I spent time learning the language, I found myself more and more interested in the culture."

Along with teaching, Rosenblum will be writing a pilot episode for a historical drama based on Ilona Zrinyi, a Hungarian noblewoman and heroine from the 1600s.

"When I return from my Fulbright, I hope to pitch that pilot to some streaming and television networks. Besides that, I'm hoping to move to New York and start a career in producing television," she said.

Jenna Stanislaw

Jenna Stanislaw, who graduated in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and a minor in German studies will be conducting computational biology research in the Khmelinskaia Lab of the Life and Medical Sciences Institute (LIMES) of the University of Bonn.

"I had hoped to study abroad during my time as an undergraduate, but did not get the chance, and I planned to take a gap year after finishing undergrad to gain more research experience before going to graduate school," Stanislaw said. "A Fulbright seemed to be the perfect opportunity to allow me to accomplish both of these things."

Stanislaw, who is of German heritage and has been studying the language since high school, said a serendipitous connection made the research possible. In 2020, she started doing computational biology research with the King Lab at the University of Washington.

"My mentor from UW moved to the University of Bonn in the summer of 2021, providing me with an unexpected connection to a lab in Germany," she said. "I was thrilled at the opportunity to do research in Germany, where my interests in biology research and German culture could align."

Her research project will lay the foundations for an original platform to design two-component biosensors for detecting a molecule of interest, such as a viral antigen.

Stanislaw said she plans to apply for doctoral programs in immunology or computational biology after her Fulbright experience.

"Although I do not have extensive hands-on lab experience because my undergraduate research was remote, I am especially thankful for the chemistry and biology laboratory courses at CMU," Stanislaw said. "Though challenging, I believe these courses prepared me with the skills to learn quickly in a lab setting, taught me how to troubleshoot unexpected results, and introduced me to techniques that I will likely encounter during my research abroad."

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