7 Rice University students awarded Fulbright grants

Seven Rice University students have been awarded 2016 Fulbright grants to study, teach and/or conduct research in a foreign country.

Each will receive support from the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. The Fulbright Program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and people of other countries. The primary source of funding is an annual appropriation made by Congress to the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“The students who receive a Fulbright grant have a strong academic background, leadership potential and a passion for expanding mutual understanding among different nations and cultures,” said Madalina Akli, associate director for global engagement at Rice. “We are excited and honored to have seven Fulbright winners at Rice in one year.”

Below are the Rice recipients of this year’s Fulbright grants and their plans for travel:

photo of Joao Ascensao

Joao Ascensao

Joao Ascensao, a Brown College senior from McLean, Va., is majoring in bioengineering. He plans to conduct research on the dynamics of gene regulatory circuits at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, for one year in the Dynamical Systems Biology Lab under Dr. Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo. “I will work on investigating how single bacteria control the copy number of certain plasmids, which are small, circular pieces of DNA,” Ascensao said. “This line of research has applications in a number of areas, including potentially gaining a better understanding of bacterial antibiotic resistance.”

photo of Michael Donatti

Michael Donatti

Michael Donatti, a Duncan College senior from Houston, is majoring in mechanical engineering. He will spend a year in the United Kingdom working on a Master of Science degree in environmental policy and management at the University of Bristol with a Fulbright U.K. Partnership Award for the university. “The program covers many aspects of environmental policy, including corporate environmental sustainability, legal and economic frameworks and climate science,” Donatti said. “I will also write a thesis as part of the degree. I hope to one day craft policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions from energy production.”

Photo of Beatrice Herrmann

Beatrice Herrmann

Beatrice Herrmann, a Lovett College senior from Bogotá, Colombia, who was raised in Houston, is majoring in biochemistry and cell biology. She will study fundamental microbiology with a focus on molecular and cellular bacteriology to earn a master’s degree in research at the École Normale Supérieure de Cachanto in France. “I hope to perform research at the Pasteur Institute or Institute Marie Curie within the domain of infectious diseases and immunology,” Herrmann said. “My research project will involve the exploration of modes of bacterial cell invasion, metabolism and evolution. The results will be focused on the development of novel and accessible therapeutic and preventive agents to infections and inflammation.”

Photo of Clare Monfredo

Clare Monfredo

Clare Monfredo, from Seal Harbor, Maine, is a third-year master’s student at the Shepherd School of Music majoring in music (cello performance). She will spend 10 months doing research with the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig, Germany, where she will study the six “Unaccompanied Suites for Cello” by J.S. Bach under the guidance of cellist Peter Bruns. “My research will examine the influence of historical practice on modern performance of the Bach Suites,” Monfredo said. “While in Leipzig, I will explore the wide array of resources Germany has to offer on the history of Bach performance practice as well as the multitude of modern interpretations and performances of the composer’s repertoire.”

photo of Erin Rieger

Erin Rieger

Erin Rieger, a Duncan College senior from Ithaca, N.Y., is majoring in chemistry and sociology. For 10 months at the Norwegian Centre for Minority Health Research and University of Oslo in Norway, she will research behavioral prevention strategies to address the high prevalence of obesity among female Turkish immigrants in Oslo. “Specifically, I will perform semi-structured interviews to better understand the barriers and facilitators of communication of obesity-related health information to this population,” Rieger said. “I will learn about the Norwegian health care context
and propose methods for effective communication.”

photo of Spencer Seballos

Spencer Seballos

Spencer Seballos, a Brown College senior from Shaker Heights, Ohio, is majoring in biochemistry and cell biology and also Hispanic studies. As a Fulbright English teaching assistant to Laos, he will teach English at the only medical school in the country, the University of Health Sciences in Vientiane, the capital. “In addition to sharing American culture with Lao students, I will also have the opportunity to develop my Lao language skills and learn about diverse cultures in Southeast Asia, particularly in the context of medical care,” Seballos said. “Upon returning to the United States, I will attend medical school at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Cleveland.”

Photo of Abraham Younes

Abraham Younes

Abraham Younes, a Will Rice College senior from Alexandria, La., is majoring in sociology. He will serve as an English teaching assistant for nine months in Madrid. Younes will be assigned to a high school where he will assist permanent teaching staff in English and other subjects, such as history and social studies. For the first five or six months of his grant, Younes will prepare students at his school for the Global Classrooms (Model U.N.) project and will participate in the program proceedings. “From time to time I will also serve as a resource in conversation groups, provide small-group tutorials and give presentations related to American culture at extracurricular events,” Younes said. “Having studied abroad in Madrid during the spring semester of my junior year, I am excited to return to Spain and continue to forge friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.”

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 and named for William Fulbright, who served more than 30 years in the U.S. Congress and had the longest tenure as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had a profound influence on America’s foreign policy. For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit www.cies.org.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.