Serving the state as cultural ambassadors

A record number of University students travel abroad with Fulbright Scholarships

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A record number of 14 University students received Fulbright scholarships from the State Department this past year.

Courtesy Fulbright

This year, a record number of 14 students from the University received scholarships from the Fulbright Student Program, an organization run by the Department of State. Next academic year, the scholarship recipients will travel abroad to serve as cultural ambassadors, pursue personal research and further their education through graduate school or teaching English.

University alumna Janet Rafner, who graduated with a Physics major and a minor in Studio Art, plans to spend two years in Denmark at Aarhus University. Through her research, she will have the opportunity to merge science and art.

“I have been interested in physics and design since my first year in college,” Rafner said. “I was always really interested in how visualizations could be used to improve learning. Not very many people understand quantum physics, and it’s one of the most important sciences in the modern world. I’m very interested in how I can spark interest in the general public.”

At Aarhus, renowned for its Science Animation and Science Communication fields, Rafner will work with a team of scientists, artists, science communication experts and animation experts.

“[We will be] using aesthetic means, or principals in art or design, to convey concepts in quantum physics, [specifically] quantum mechanical interactions,” Rafner said. “So how to visualize dynamic interactions that are invisible to the human eye.”

Another Fulbright scholar, Katherine Huang, graduated with a double major in Linguistics and Asian Studies. She applied for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant and will serve as an English teacher in Peru for nine months. Peru’s East Asian influence and diversity of languages interested Huang.

“There are multiple languages [including] Quechuan and Spanish, and the Chinese that came to Peru had a significant impact on the language,” Huang said. “The Chinese are really interested in natural resources in South America, so they’re building relationships with them. They’re setting up Confucius institutes, which are Chinese institutes to learn about Chinese culture and language.”

After her trip to Peru, Huang hopes to pursue a master’s in International Development and apply to the Peace Corps.

“I know I want to be able to dedicate my life to helping people, and it’s really exciting to be able to do that on behalf of the U.S. government,” Huang said. “I’m really excited to have a positive impact.”

Julia Haines, another newly anointed Fulbright scholar, just finished her third year in the University’s Anthropology Ph.D. program. She will be starting her dissertation research in Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean.

“My professor suggested I look at Mauritius because it’s an interesting island,” Haines said. “The island itself was uninhabited before European colonization. After he suggested that, I went to Mauritius with another professor and I really loved it. It’s a really vibrant place.”

While in Mauritius, Haines will work as an archaeologist on a 18th to 19th century sugar plantation. Haines will focus on the everyday life of laborers, including slaves and indentured servants.

“The whole settlement of the island has been migrant labor from the French and the British rule, predominantly from Africa,” Haines said. “The British took the island over during the Napoleonic Wars. When they abolished slavery, they replaced all the African labor with indentured labor from India. It was settled by a very wide variety of people. It’s a very culturally diverse, mixed place — today still. Mauritius provides a completely different context to look at different patterns in history.”

Another recipient, Adam Newman, is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies. Newman will use his grant to study the history of a temple dedicated to the god Shiva, called Eklingji, in northern India. Newman’s Ph.D. work over the last several years has focused on Shiva.

“My dissertation studies the history of the temple and its relationship to the modern royal family in the region,” Newman said. “This is very important to the god Shiva, and it’s also a very important temple in terms of its relationship to that specific region of India. I really hope to work with this specific temple for the remainder of my career. I’m interested in the past, the history of the temple and what the temple is today in modernity.”

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