UIC announces students, alumni offered Fulbright awards for 2020-2021

Seven students and alumni from the University of Illinois Chicago are among over 2,100 U.S. citizens offered the opportunity to study, conduct research and teach abroad for the 2020-2021 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

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.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fulbright programs are either being delayed or canceled, with the status of some countries yet to be determined.

“UIC students are exactly the kind of candidates that Fulbright is seeking,” said Kim Germain, director of UIC’s Office of External Fellowships and one of UIC’s two Fulbright Program Advisors. Since its inception in 1949, approximately 150 UIC students and alumni have received Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants.

This year’s UIC-affiliated finalists, who were selected for their academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their respective fields, are:

Pedro Antonino, a 2020 UIC master’s graduate in French and Francophone studies, has accepted a Fulbright English teaching assistantship, or ETA, to teach in Mexico. The exact city and institution where he’ll be based is yet to be determined, but the usual 10-month program is now scheduled to take place from January through May 2021.

“I’ve had a passion for language learning since I was a teenager, and I’ve spent the past two years teaching beginning and intermediate French courses at UIC. Through Fulbright, I wish to gain more experience in the field of second-language acquisition while tackling a challenge I’ve yet to face in my previous work: teaching my own native language,” he said.

Antonino, a native of Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood and 2010 graduate of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, also serves as a Spanish translator and occasional interpreter.

“I’m Mexican by origin but have not visited Mexico since the age of 4. Working as an ETA will give me the opportunity to reconnect with my culture in an immersive way,” he said. “I hope this experience will help perfect my Spanish.”

Antonino, who received bachelor’s degrees in French and Spanish from DePaul University in 2018, plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in the field of Romance languages and literature and teach at the university level.                      

Cruz Bonlarron, a 2019 master’s graduate in Latin American and Latino studies, would have been based in Medellin, Colombia, for the 2020-2021 academic year. He planned to use the Fulbright to begin work on a doctoral dissertation on agrarian reform in Latin America, with a specific focus on the implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Reform section of the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

“This section sought to remedy many of the rural inequalities that led to the start of the internal conflict in 1964, and persist today,” said Bonlarron, a native of Columbus, Ohio, and current Chicago resident.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Fulbright to cancel the program in Colombia, Bonlarron has started working with an organization that focuses on building solidarity with social movements in Latin America and creating awareness about the negative effects of U.S. foreign policy and military aid in the region.

“As a Puerto Rican and first-generation college graduate, the diverse learning environment at UIC helped me grow on an academic, professional, and personal level that I feel would not be possible at other universities. The support that I received from the Department of Latin American and Latino studies was key to allowing me to realize my potential as a graduate student and researcher,” said Bonlarron, who hopes to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in political geography or development studies. 

Josh Henkin, a 2019 Ph.D. graduate in pharmacognosy, is currently scheduled to begin nine months of Fulbright-supported research in March 2021. Through an affiliation with the University of Santiago, Chile, he will continue his interdisciplinary studies in archaeological residue analysis.

Henkin said he seeks to “harness the diversity of archaeological materials, such as ceramics and stone items, recovered in northern Chile’s Antofagasta region alongside contemporary plant collections that I intend to generate and use myself to undertake a rigorous, multipronged approach that can produce new interpretations of their botanical residues. The Atacama Desert, bearing some of the driest locations on Earth, preserves organic remains exceptionally well.”

While at UIC, he conducted doctoral research in the College of Pharmacy that involved field collection of plants in Laos, and laboratory study of botanical extracts and isolates for their cytotoxic potential against human cancer cells.

“My involvement in all this dates back more than a decade through various projects involving ancient wine and alcohol worldwide, in regions such as the Mediterranean and Andean South America, among other studies of ancient botanicals,” said Henkin, who holds a research associateship in the Field Museum of Natural History’s department of botany.

Henkin, a native of Philadelphia who earned a bachelor’s in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, plans to pursue postdoctoral opportunities after his fellowship.

Lauren Leving, a 2017 master’s graduate in museum and exhibition studies, was slated for a 10-month stint at the Dublin City Gallery, also known as The Hugh Lane, in Ireland, but declined the Fulbright offer due to the pandemic. The institution is home to the preserved and disordered working space of Francis Bacon, the influential and mercurial Irish-born painter.

“The Hugh Lane relocated Francis Bacon’s studio in its entirety and it is now inside of the museum, said Leving, a native of La Grange Park, Illinois. “I was going to employ a pedagogical approach, social-emotional learning, to develop a suite of programs for children using Bacon’s studio to assist in cultivating their appreciation for the arts.”

Leving is currently curator of public programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland.

“I am interested in working with living artists to help realize their most ambitious projects and programs, while also prioritizing the audience’s ability to access and understand the work,” she said.  

Nanyombi Lubimbi, a UIC Ph.D. student in nursing, has accepted a Fulbright fellowship to study in Kigali, Rwanda, beginning in January. As part of her dissertation research and through an affiliation with the University of Rwanda, she will study the factors that affect collaborative partnerships and sustainability of implemented activities in global health nursing leadership.

Lubimbi has been a nurse for 16 years and her interest in working as a global health nurse developed while working in Rwanda over four years for the Human Resources for Health program, or HRH, through the UIC College of Nursing.

“Together, we accomplished many leadership initiatives that resulted in improvements of clinical care and management strategies,” Lubimbi said. “I also participated in the implementation of the first master’s program in nursing at the University of Rwanda School of Nursing and Midwifery, which was initiated by the HRH program.”

Originally from Kampala, Uganda, she is familiar with challenges that affect the health care systems and patient outcomes in developing countries.

“My research findings will be disseminated in scientific journals and conferences, which will contribute to my professional development,” she said. “Most importantly, this will provide me the opportunity to strengthen relationships in low-income countries where I hope to continue collaborating.”

Lubimbi, who has lived in the U.S. for over 27 years, earned a bachelor’s in biology from Notre Dame of Maryland University, a bachelor’s in nursing science from the University of Maryland, a master’s in nursing science with a concentration in nursing administration from Notre Dame of Maryland University, and a certificate in public health management from UIC.

Larissa Mukundwa, a Ph.D. student in anthropology, was born in Rwanda but moved to America with her family as a refugee to escape the impending genocide in 1993. She will return to Rwanda in January 2021 as she has accepted a Fulbright offer to study for nine months in the capital city of Kigali.

“I briefly returned to Rwanda in 2018 to do preliminary research for a month. This will be the most time that I have spent in my birth country since I left in 1993,” she said. “I look forward to reconnecting with my family members who are there and my native culture.”

Her research involves an oral history project about the political period between 1990 and 1994 when the country was opened up to political organizing and genocide took place.

“I will be focusing on the different democratic political parties and specific politicians who tried to navigate the power nodes and try to create change in the one-party dictatorship. Many of them were subsequently killed the first week or so of the genocide. I will be interviewing surviving politicians and family members about how the politicians developed their interests and strategies they used for political organizing,” she said.

Mukundwa, who previously earned a master’s in comparative politics from UIC, envisions a potential career in education and foreign service.

“I hope to become a political anthropology professor teaching about African and American local city politics and also would like to serve as a political archivist and curator,” said Mukundwa, who is a 2007 graduate of Grayslake Central High School in Grayslake, Illinois.

Suvidya (Suvi) Pachigolla, a medical student at the UIC College of Medicine at Peoria, applied for a 10-month Fulbright research position in Villigen, Switzerland, where she planned to study novel pediatric cancer therapies at the Center for Proton Therapy at Paul Scherrer Institute. She declined the Fulbright offer due to uncertainty and program truncation as a result of COVID-19.

With hopes of pursuing a career where she could apply her engineering skills to improve cancer therapy, she continued her research path and accepted a mentored research training position at Washington University in St. Louis in the master of science in clinical investigation program. Pachigolla, who earned a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from UIC in 2017, is working with her mentor, Dr. Perry Grigsby, to build a deep learning model to correlate magnetic resonance imaging with treatment failure.

“Fulbright would have given me the opportunity to experience oncology research and patient care from a completely different health care system,” she said. “Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful for the opportunities at Washington University as the education and mentoring have been wonderful and in-line with my long-term goals.”

Pachigolla, a native of Schaumburg, Illinois, plans to complete medical school in 2022 and pursue specialty training in radiation oncology. Afterward, she hopes to become an academic physician and continue caring for cancer patients while simultaneously carrying out image analysis-based treatment outcomes research.                    

UIC-affiliated applicants named Fulbright semifinalists based on recommendations by the program’s national screening committee are Shivani Majmudar, a 2020 graduate in biological sciences, pre-med and economics; Yash Mehta, a 2020 graduate in biochemistry; Mirielle Nauman, a Ph.D. student in pharmacognosy; Jose Ramirez, a Ph.D. student in history; Sief Aldine Salameh, a 2020 graduate in public policy; and Jeffery Schuhrke, a 2020 Ph.D. graduate in history.

Fulbright advising at UIC is split between Germain of the Office of External Fellowships, or OEF, and the Graduate College, where Benn Williams, the other campus Fulbright Program Advisor, is assisted by Lindsay Marshall in administering internal funding competitions and in providing comprehensive assistance to students and alumni of the Graduate College who seek outside fellowships and awards. OEF provides advising and assistance to current undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships, and grants.

Fulbright alumni include 60 Nobel Prize laureates, 88 Pulitzer Prize recipients, and 37 heads of state or government.

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