UB lands record-number of Fulbright, Boren scholars

UB's student Fulbright scholars, from left: Farhana Hasan, Ashlee Hart, Michael Surrett, Antara Majumdar (alternate), Sushmita Gelda, Sarah Stanford, Lisa Gagnon and Jacob Caldwell. Photo: Douglas Levere

Release Date: May 15, 2017

Lisa Gagnon

Sushmita Gelda

Ashlee Hart

Farhana Hasan

Sarah Stanford

Michael Surrett

Jacob Caldwell

Antara Majumdar

“This year, UB has won more Fulbright awards and Boren awards than we ever have.”
Elizabeth Colucci, director, Office of Fellowships and Scholarships
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo’s aspiration to become a “top-producing Fulbright institution” took another significant step forward this month when a record number of undergraduates were chosen as recipients of Fulbright awards.

This year’s UB Fulbright honorees include seven winners, as well as one student chosen as an alternate. These winners include six students chosen for the prestigious Fulbright English Teacher Assistantship.

Also among the elite scholarships awarded to UB students this year are two Boren Scholarships, which support international study for undergraduate students with an emphasis on learning foreign languages.

“This year, UB has won more Fulbright awards and Boren awards than we ever have,” says Elizabeth Colucci, director of the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships.

“The Fulbrights are significant in that we have students winning at both the undergraduate and graduate level,” Colucci says. “In past years, UB has had between one and three Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships, and this year we have six.”

UB’s success in the Boren Scholarship competition is equally impressive, according to Colucci.

“We have two Boren scholars this year,” she says. “UB has only had three in the past five years, so this, too, is significant.

Colucci credits Megan Stewart, fellowship adviser, and Colleen Culleton, assistant professor of Spanish and UB’s Fulbright program administrator, with raising awareness of these awards among students and working with them to strengthen their applications.

She also acknowledged the contribution of Walt Hakala, assistant professor in the Department of English and the Asian Studies Program.

“His assistance can be seen in our Fulbright, Boren and Critical Language results,” Colucci says. “Students become fascinated with East Asian history and languages as a result of Walt’s classes. Our two Boren and Critical Language winners were mentored and encouraged to apply by Walt.”

The roll call of UB’s latest class of elite scholarship and fellowship recipients is as diverse as it is deep.

The seven Fulbright Scholars and their areas of study:

  • Lisa Gagnon, a graduating senior majoring in English and linguistics, will study and teach English in Latvia as part of a Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistantship. Gagnon, who also studied music performance and plays the cello, says she wants to teach and enrich the lives of Latvian students through music and creative writing, while learning cross-cultural communication skills to bring back to Buffalo.

“I chose Latvia because of the Eastern European heritage of my late-grandmother and an interest in the countries of the former Soviet Union,” Gagnon wrote in her Fulbright application.

“The creative arts are powerful. Music, literature, art and dance not only cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, but also represent the very best of one’s own culture. During my English Teaching Assistantship experience, I hope to learn about and appreciate Latvian literature and music and my own heritage, as well as offer a new view of American culture to the students so they can better understand their own lives.”

Gagnon is a native of Amherst and a graduate of Sweet Home High School.  She is the daughter of Evelyn and Michael Gagnon of Amherst.

  • Sushmita Gelda, a graduating senior majoring in English, will study and teach in India, also on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. Gelda will lead a writing workshop that follows guidelines to motivate participants to take risks in their writing and reduce the vulnerability they may feel when sharing personal stories. Gelda plans to offer Indian students the chance to electronically exchange stories with students in Buffalo.

“I aspire to research how the English classroom can become a place for critically examining the social processes that inform language use,” Gelda wrote in her application. “I plan to develop English curriculum that teaches students from diverse socioeconomic contexts to blend academic discourse with out-of-school literacy practice.”

Gelda is a Syracuse native and graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius High School in the Syracuse suburb of Manlius. She is the daughter of Shailja and Rakesh Gelda of Tivoli.

  • Ashlee Hart, a PhD student studying archaeology and anthropology, will conduct an archeological examination of indigenous ceramics from late Iron Age sites in Thracian Bulgaria. She will classify the ceramics across several sites, conduct isotopic tests to source the clay and then use modern archaeological theory to draw conclusions about the results.

“I will travel around the country to excavate archaeological sites to create a digital, internationally available database, both in English and Bulgarian, for published archeological finds,” Hart wrote in her Fulbright application. “This will allow archaeologists, students, local Bulgarians and the world at large to see what Bulgarian history has to offer.”

Hart is a native of Boise, Idaho, and a graduate of Boise High School. She earned her undergraduate degree in anthropology and history from the University of Idaho, and a master’s degree in anthropology and history from UB in 2016. Hart is the daughter of LeeAnn Lloyd and Robert Hart of Boise.

  • Farhana Hasan, a teacher of English as a second language in the Buffalo Public Schools who earned her bachelor’s degree at UB in 2014, will serve as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Malaysia. Hasan says she sees the diversity of Malaysia — and the integral role Malaysia plays in the lives of Buffalo’s refugee population —as an opportunity to expand her international perspective.

“My specific civic engagement idea is to host a nature writing club,” she wrote in her application. “I would like to host local excursions in the natural environment and have students of any age read and write descriptively about the setting. Not only will this club establish basic scientific knowledge of the student, but it will train the student to analyze, notice details and inspire creativity.”

Hasan wrote that a visit to see her grandmother in Bangladesh when she was 10 changed her life’s perspective. “It opened my eyes to the brutal reality of starving children, child labor and unsanitary environments,” Hasan wrote. “But it also allowed me to discover and appreciate the diversity of my ancestry.”

Hasan is a native of Brooklyn and earned her GED while living in Buffalo.

  • Sarah Stanford, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English this month, will serve as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Malaysia. Stanford applied for the fellowship because of her “passion for empowering students, my interest in working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations, and my desire to learn and grow as an educator.”

“With the large numbers of Muslim and Southeast Asian refugees coming into the United States, I hope to learn more about this religion and area of the world,” Stanford wrote in her application. “I plan to engage the host community through a bilingual interview project. Students will interview their families in their native language about topics of their choice. They then will work in groups to present their experience in English and to explore classroom diversity. I also plan to create a class blog in which students will share the interesting events and thoughts in their lives.”

Stanford, a native of Amherst and a graduate of Williamsville North High School, is the daughter of Sue and Martin Stanford of Williamsville.

  • Michael Surrett, a PhD candidate in anthropology, received a Fulbright award to study anthropology in Indonesia. Surrett plans to study the Papuans who have resettled in another part of Indonesia to increase their standard of living rather than waiting for development projects to come to their province.

“I propose to study how the Papuans who have resettled in Maluku re-established their communities, reinvented traditions and subsequently built new local identities advantageous to them for different purposes in a complex and growing Indonesia,” he wrote in his application.

Surrett is a native of Enfield, Connecticut, and a graduate from the former Enrico Fermi High School in Enfield. He is the son of Diane and Gene Surrett of Enfield.

  • Jacob Caldwell, a graduating senior majoring in biomedical engineering and Spanish, has accepted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to teach in an urban area in northern Spain.

“I will use American football to support health and learning at my placement,” Caldwell wrote in his application. “An after-school flag football program requires little equipment while introducing a key piece of the U.S. identity. Showing football films and games will complement the physical activity. Introducing the variety of cities that host professional teams will display the variety of American society. Finally, I will play soccer as well, in order to ensure an equal exchange of culture.”

Caldwell intends to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering when he returns to the U.S.

Caldwell is a native of Frewsburg and a graduate of Frewsburg High School. He is the son of Amy and William Caldwell of Frewsburg.

  • Antara Majumdar, a graduating senior majoring in biomedical sciences, was chosen as a Fulbright alternate. Majumdar’s Fulbright project proposed expanding the international education program Beyond the Block in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the United Kingdom.

“By working with students in a local secondary school, I would like to introduce to them the work that biomedical researchers are conducting in universities,” Majumdar wrote in her application. “In turn, these students will engage in digital literacy projects in which they discuss issues in their communities with students in India and America.”

Majumdar was born in West Bengal, India, She graduated from Bedford Stuyvesant Preparatory High School in Brooklyn. Majumdar is the daughter of Sangita and Ashoke Majumdar of Queens.

UB’s two Boren Scholarships winners also will study abroad. They are:

  • Hanna Santanam, a rising junior majoring in English and anthropology, received a Boren Award for her proposal to study Hindi in Jaipur, India.

Santanam also received a Critical Language Scholarship to study in Jaipur. The CLS is a fully funded, summer overseas language and cultural immersion program designed to increase the number of American students mastering languages and building relationships between the U.S. and other key countries.

She accepted the Critical Language Scholarship instead of the Boren, and will travel to Jaipur for 10 weeks this summer to study Hindi. She will return to UB for the fall semester.

Santanam plans to use her new language skills to access the archive of Hindi films in the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, which is the world’s largest collection of contemporary Indian cinema held by a museum or film archive.

“I will be able to use my knowledge of Hindi to further my expertise of the history of Bollywood film as it pertains to political and cultural change in India,” she wrote in her application.

Santanam is a native of Syracuse and a graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius High School. She is the daughter of Linda and Suresh Santanam of Manlius.

  • Kayleigh Hamernik, a rising junior majoring in environmental studies with a minor in Asian studies. Hamernik also received a Critical Language Scholarship, but chose to take the 12-month Boren Scholarship to India.

She will study Hindi at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur, Rajasthan. While there, her course study will focus on conversation, vocabulary, grammar and reading. She also will take part in such cultural activities as cooking, dance, photography and drama class throughout the rest of the week.  

Hamernik plans to use her training in Hindi to supplement her interest in the effects of climate change.

“India’s rapidly growing economy, coupled with its huge population of over 1.2 billion people, has created an alarming, yet predictable result: tons upon tons of waste,” she wrote in her fellowship application. “The rate of garbage generation raises not only immediate health concerns for India’s citizens, but environmental concerns for all global citizens.”

Learning Hindi, Hamernik wrote, “is the first step toward a career that will allow me to do what I love. While I am in Jaipur for the semester, I will push myself to speak with as many locals as I can and conduct interviews with them on their experiences interacting with waste.”

Hamernik is a native of Syracuse and a graduate of Jamesville-Dewitt High School. She is the daughter of Cathy and Marc Hamernik of Syracuse.

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Education, Educational Opportunity Center, Law

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