Two doctoral students and a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee were recently awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarships, the premier international exchange program of the U.S. government, for 2009-10.
Amy Samuelson, a doctoral student in anthropology; Richard Shaker, a doctoral student in geography; and Kyle Meyer, who graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and French, are three of 1,500 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad this academic year through the Fulbright Program.
Samuelson will study the practices of environmental NGOs, or nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations, in Moldova (Eastern Europe). Samuelson’s research will examine how Moldovan environmentalism fits into the political and socioeconomic landscape. For example, the country’s largely agricultural society is affected by a diverse and competing array of international political actors. Samuelson believes some of the projects on which environmental groups may focus will involve implementing sustainable agricultural practices.
“By focusing on what it takes to put together a workable environmental project,” she says, “I hope to gain a better understanding of the institutional changes that have taken place since the end of the Soviet era, and how Moldovan environmentalists have developed new ways to address the problems they perceive.”
Shaker, who is also studying in Moldova, will focus his work on developing a model that could lead to long-term sustainability planning. Specifically, he is analyzing the Ecological Footprint (EF), a tool used by large organizations like the World Bank which measures the effects of human behavior on the biocapacity of the Earth. That is, it indicates the ability of the Earth to sustain itself in the face of toxins produced by people’s lifestyles. Shaker believes the EF and other indices could be used more effectively if the data collected reflected individual local areas rather than whole countries.
“If sustainability is the goal,” he says, “bringing the data down to small areas, comparable to the U.S. Census tracks, you can see the factors in each landscape that correlate with either good or bad human behaviors.” He is working at the Institute of Ecology and Geography at the country’s Academy of Science.
Meyer will study marine sponges in New Zealand. Sponges are one of the greatest sources of bioactive chemicals with potential applications in pharmaceutical research. His purpose is to learn more about the important symbiotic relationship between sponges and the huge numbers of microorganisms living inside them. Many of these microbes could be responsible for manufacturing bioactive chemicals, but little is known about the ecology and evolution of these symbioses.
To examine the stability of these microbial communities, Meyer says, “I hope to treat some sponges with an antibiotic, essentially to wipe out the microbial community inside, and then track how the community of microorganisms reassembles.”
Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program was created in 1946 to promote mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.