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Winning Ways

Winning Ways

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.17.10] Every year, a select group of Tufts undergraduates receive distinguished awards, scholarships and fellowships. This year's list includes 17 Fulbright grants, eight National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships and a handful of other fellowships. Here are some of this year's winners.

Zachary Witlin and Talya Peltzman
Student Fulbright Grants: Research in Ukraine and English Teaching Assistantship in Indonesia

After taking a course on Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics during his junior year, Zachary Witlin (A'10) knew he had more to learn.

"When I took the class, I discovered the history that went on after my high school textbooks stopped," says the recent grad. "My generation was born when the Berlin Wall fell, and everything that happened during the post-Soviet transition was lost on the earliest days of our childhoods-I was intrigued, and I wanted to learn more."

Thanks to a Student Fulbright Grant he will be doing just that as he spends one year conducting research in Kiev, Ukraine. While abroad, he will explore the complex forces shaping the stability of energy supplies in the eastern European country for his project "Gazpolitik: The Politics of Energy Security."

According to Witlin, the Fulbright program, which is operated by the U.S. Department of State, wants students "to act as informal ambassadors for their country, people who can not only reflect well on America, but who are also eager to learn about their host country and who plan to use their experiences throughout their lives."

Through the English Teaching Assistantship, another branch of the Student Fulbright Grant, Talya Peltzman (A'10) will work for 10 months as an assistant to English teachers at an Indonesian high school. Her position will "emphasize learning and exchange between Indonesian and American cultures."

Having previously spent time abroad studying global health in Switzerland, Peltzman says she became inspired by the type of learning she encountered overseas.

"Being abroad reminded me that being in foreign places and cultures is when I feel most alive and challenged-where a simple walk down the street or conversation with a stranger can become an important learning experience, sometimes even life-changing," she says. "While I was abroad, having those types of experiences, I decided that I couldn't possibly be ready to put that part of my life aside yet."

Teaching English in Thailand before entering Tufts, Peltzman knew she wanted to return to Southeast Asia and the Fulbright program offered her an opportunity to do just that.

"As a 17-year old, I was captivated by the intermixing of culture and religion, village and metropolitan life," she says. "But beyond the prospect of international travel was the chance to engage with the main mission of the program-education and cultural exchange."

Anna Boulos and Mary Jo Pham
Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Rising seniors and international relations majors Anna Boulos (A'11) and Mary Jo Pham (A'11) recently received Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowships, which encourage students to pursue careers in the Foreign Service.
Boulos always knew that she wanted to work in the public sector and in an international capacity, and she soon realized the Foreign Service was the perfect fit. After she arrived at Tufts, her passion for international affairs continued to grow.

"The nature of certain relationships and the state of the world is always changing," she says. "There is no way for it to become uninteresting to me because it's an ever-changing field-the more I learn about it, the more interested I become."

A first-generation American, Pham views the fellowship not only as a path to a career in diplomacy, but also as means of serving a country that has given so much to her.

In 1989, Pham's mother traveled to the U.S. as a single and expectant mother after fleeing communist Vietnam in 1987 and spending two years in a Thai refugee camp. While Pham herself was born on American soil, her mother still constantly reminds her of the opportunities America offers to its citizens.

"'Work hard, try your best, and never give up!' has always been my mother's favorite line in Vietnamese and in English," Pham says. "Whether she was addressing me while I toiled over chores, applied to scholarships, or struggled with finding the right words for an article I was writing, she was always supportive and proud in her belief that if I worked hard, I would always succeed as my own person."

Lauren Wielgus
Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

Upon arriving at Tufts, Lauren Wielgus (A'11) discovered her passion for research. She worked in a polymer physics lab during the summer of her sophomore year and then completed a Summer Scholars project in neutrino physics last summer.

As a recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award-which supports promising students in the fields of engineering and science to help maintain U.S. global leadership in science and technology-Wielgus aims to continue her pursuit of physics education and research.

Wielgus believes that learning should be more hands-on and extend beyond the classroom. "I feel like a lot of people had bad experiences with science education, like having a poor teacher or it just didn't click with them or they just don't see that it can be a lot of fun," she says. "A lot of people have a gut reaction of 'Oh, it's physics; it's going to be boring,' but if you actually start looking into it, you realize it comes into your life in ways you didn't even think of before."

Thanks to this award, this summer Wielgus spent two months working in Tokyo at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan through the University of Florida's International Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

Rachel Brown
USA Today Academic All-American 3rd Team

USA Today selected Rachel Brown (A'10) as one of 60 college students for their Academic All-American Third Team, comprised of students who not only excel academically, but also serve their communities.

This July, Brown moved to Kenya to start a project entitled "Sisi ni Amani (We are Peace)," which she co-founded with rising junior Cody Valdes (A'12). The project uses crowdsourcing technology to map peace initiatives taking place in Kenya in the lead-up to the 2012 elections.

While studying abroad in Kenya during her junior year, Brown conducted research on causes of violence in the country. Despite the potential for violence there, Brown realized that many people are working towards promoting peace.

Using this knowledge Brown decided to research specific instances of peace promotion in order to provide peace organizations and leaders with an informational resource that would allow them to connect and collaborate.

"I was so amazed by the courage and dedication of these people that I wanted to figure out a way that I could support what they were doing," Brown says. "I wanted to help tell the story of peace that occurs alongside violence in Kenya, because often only the stories of violence are told in the news."

Story by Megan Dalton (A'11)

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