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Four graduates studying overseas as winners of Fulbright competition

by Michael Kirk - September 18, 2006

Four UConn graduates are currently overseas on prestigious Fulbright scholarships, working, conducting research, and serving as cross-cultural ambassadors for the United States.

Michelle Ernst is a Long Island native who graduated from UConn's School of Allied Health in May 2005 with a bachelor's degree in diagnostic genetic science and a minor in molecular and cell biology.

She is now at the National University of Singapore researching traditional Chinese medicine with an oncologist.

"Being a Fulbright scholar allows you to take your education to a multi-dimensional level," said Ernst.

"Living in a foreign country affords you the opportunity to learn about a different culture, people, food, language, and way of life, as you conduct a research project that you are passionate about."

Ernst and the oncologist she is working with are looking at different Asian plants and herbs to extract and identify different chemical compounds.

They hope to relate their findings on a larger scale to cancer treatments.

"When I complete my Fulbright grant I hope to enter medical school specializing in oncology," she said.

"I believe our world is moving toward an integrated form of healthcare that will incorporate eastern and western ideologies, and my experience in Singapore will help me as I pursue a career in international health."

The University encourages and supports applications from students and from faculty for the various Fulbright programs.

Elizabeth Mahan, associate executive director of UConn's Office of International Affairs, is Fulbright program advisor for the University.

As chair of UConn's Fulbright Scholarship Committee, she recruits and counsels both student and faculty Fulbright applicants.

"The Fulbright program offers students an array of opportunities, from research to post-graduate study to teaching English," Mahan says.

"The primary benefit to U.S. students is the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture and, very often, language, while carrying out research or studies that advance their academic or career goals. Most people who have Fulbrights as students talk about life-altering experiences and impacts."

The student Fulbright competition opens on May 1 each year following information sessions in April.

Completed applications are due to the Fulbright Scholarship Committee in mid-September, so the committee can review them and interview each applicant.

This year's deadline for submission of revised applications is Oct. 6.

"Basically, we see our role as helping UConn students produce the strongest applications they can," says Mahan.

Laura Burmeister, a Ph.D. student in anthropology, won a Fulbright award to study in Australia.
Laura Burmeister, a Ph.D. student in anthropology, won a Fulbright award to study in Australia.
Photo suppield by Laura Burmeister

"We give suggestions, but we don't write or rewrite the application essays for the students."

Fourteen students are in the process of applying for grants for the 2007-08 academic year, up from 12 last year and nine the previous year.

Since 2001, between 25 percent and 50 percent of UConn applicants have won scholarships.

Brad Guarino, another Fulbright scholar with UConn ties, received his master of fine arts degree from UConn and is now a painter and printmaker studying independently at the National Academy of Art in Sofia, Bulgaria.

"Bulgaria is a former Eastern Bloc country that is still in transition from communism to fully functioning capitalism," says Guarino.

"They're working on becoming part of the European Union and there is a palpable sense of the rapid changes that are going on here. Since much of my past work had to do with societal change, I proposed to produce a body of work inspired by the climate of flux and the visual evidence of the changes transpiring in Bulgaria."

Guarino, a Long Islander, is also organizing an American/Bulgarian art exhibit on cultural identity that will show in Sofia and at UConn's Avery Point campus.

Following his Fulbright experience, he says, he hopes to secure a full-time teaching position.

Laura "Kat" Burmeister is a native of Hilton Head Island, S.C.

She received a master's degree in anthropology from UConn in 2004 and is now a Ph.D. student at the University.

Her Fulbright grant is supporting her research in Australia.

"I'm conducting anthropological ethnographic research investigating how migration of Australian indigenous populations to urban areas is reflexively impacting conceptions of Aboriginal identities and the Australian educational system and services as a whole in Palmerston, a suburb of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia," she says.

"I've had an overwhelmingly positive response from schools and Aboriginal people to the basis of my project."

Burmeister hopes to have an academic career after completing her Ph.D.

The fourth Fulbright scholar, Jeremi Bigosinski, graduated from UConn with a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture in May and is now studying pre-war metal casting in Poland.

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