Oct182010

Fulbright Scholarships Send Mason Alumnae Abroad

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By Catherine Ferraro and Corey Jenkins Schaut

Each year, more than 1,500 American students are given the opportunity to study, teach or conduct research in countries all over the world through the U.S. Fulbright Student Award.

This year, five of those Americans are Mason alumnae who will fan out across the globe in pursuit of very different interests.

One of the winners is Patricia Rivera, BA Government and International Politics ’03 and MS Conflict Analysis and Resolution ’07.

Rivera will travel to Brazil in February 2011 to conduct research for her project, “Community Organizing and Girl Empowerment as a Conflict Prevention Strategy.”

Specifically, she will be trying to highlight the participation of women and young girls in community organization peace-creation programs to help eliminate violence in “favelas,” which are shanty towns or slums, in Rio de Janeiro.

“This award is very important to me because it will allow me to contribute to the field of conflict resolution and gender studies,” says Rivera. “In addition, I hope that my research will both empower women and highlight the role they play in the creation of peace in Brazilian favelas.”

Lauren-Claire Kelley, BA English ’10, is another Fulbright winner.

Kelley left in September to travel to the town of Matera in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, where she will spend eight months. Kelley is working as an English teaching assistant to instructors at two local high schools specializing in classical studies and science.

Specifically, Kelley will assist the instructors with lesson plans and share with students her own stories about American culture through folklore.

“Since I eventually want to teach Italian at the high school or college level, this is a great opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture,” says Kelley. “Furthermore, this Fulbright allows me to begin research on the efficacy of using folk narratives and fairy tales to teach another language.”

She adds, “I look forward to enriching my understanding of the multifaceted process of learning a foreign language, while at the same time helping Italian speakers learn the quirky, vigorous and always-surprising elements of the English language!”

Carol Petty, BA Sociology ’10, is also working as a foreign language assistant. She left in August to spend nine months in Duisburg, Germany.

Petty is spending much of her time conducting ethnographic research on the sociology of education, specifically examining the relationship between language education and a student’s ability to excel in other fields of study.

“As a student who has studied a foreign language, I am very interested in learning more about the positive effect that speaking more than one language can have on one’s abilities in other academic fields,” says Petty.

“Moreover, foreign language courses allow students, often for the first time, to interact with a culture different than their own. The Fulbright program allows me to pursue my academic interests while at the same time contributing valuable research to my field.”

Erica Porter. Creative Services photo

Erica R. Porter, BS Chemistry ’10, received a Fulbright to study tuberculosis at the Pasteur Institute in France.

“I combined my love of science with my desire to help sick people,” Porter says, speaking of her choice to major in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry at Mason, where she received scholarship support and was in the Honors College.

“When I think about conducting research with one of the world’s leading scientists in the field, I can’t help but get excited,” Porter enthuses. “It’s an experience I never imagined for myself.”

While an undergraduate, Porter participated in a research apprenticeship in molecular microbiology and biochemistry through the College of Science’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases. Her research has focused on the biochemistry of the bacteria Francisella tularensis.

Porter also attended the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program at Harvard Medical School and the Amgen Scholars Program in Undergraduate Research at the University of Washington.

When she returns from France, Porter plans to enroll in an MD-PhD program.

Azita Ranjbar. Creative Services photo

In January 2011, Azita Ranjbar, MS Peace Operations Policy ’08, will travel to Tajikistan, where she will spend the year working with a local nongovernmental organization called the League of Women Lawyers based near the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

While in Tajikistan, Ranjbar, who also holds bachelor’s degrees in international relations and religious studies from the College of William and Mary, will conduct research for her project, “Informal Justice Systems in Tajikistan and the Impact on Women’s Rights.”

Her research will focus on the existence of multiple legal systems within one geographic area (commonly known as legal pluralism) and its impact on women’s rights.

Specifically, Ranjbar is interested in determining the relationship between traditional conflict-mediation practices and state law with regards to women’s rights. She also wants to identify critical legal challenges facing Tajik women and how they navigate the formal and informal legal systems.

Ranjbar traveled to Tajikistan for the first time last year when she completed an International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) fellowship.

IREX is an international nonprofit organization that provides leadership and innovative programs to improve the quality of education, strengthen independent media and foster pluralistic civil society development.

As an IREX fellow, Ranjbar conducted research on economic and legal challenges facing women who are married to migrant workers.

She has also spent time in Afghanistan examining women’s access to justice systems.

“The Fulbright program provides a valuable opportunity to conduct independent research on a topic on which very little research has been done in post-Soviet Tajikistan,” says Ranjbar.

“In addition, this funding will allow me to work side-by-side with nongovernmental and grassroots organizations that are doing incredible work with local communities, contributing greatly to cultural understanding.”

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