Even though the COVID-19 pandemic required students to complete their spring semester studies virtually, four Clark students — and one alumna — earned prestigious awards and fellowships to support their academic work this summer and beyond. Casey Bush ’18, M.A. ’19, and Aran Valente, M.A. ’20, received awards from the Fulbright program, while Max DeFaria ’20, Liana Shpani ’21, and Rafael Levin ’21 earned fellowships and placements to support their academic work this summer.
Casey Bush ’18, M.A. ’19, won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award (ETA) to the Czech Republic — but ultimately declined the award. “Receiving such an honor was bittersweet,” she says. “While I was proud to be considered for the prestigious award, I ultimately had to turn down the opportunity as I had already accepted a job offer at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, in my dream role as Museum Educator.” Bush said hers was “a difficult decision”; she plans to apply for a Fulbright again in the future.
Bush studied abroad in the Czech Republic in 2017 and interned at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Prague, where she researched Holocaust education in Czech schools and created materials teachers could use in their classrooms. She later interned at the Buchenwald Memorial, the concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, and at the CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. Bush earned a master’s in history with a focus on Holocaust and genocide studies; her adviser was Prof. Thomas Kühne.
Aran Valente, MHS ’20, was named an alternate for a Fulbright Research Award to Romania. If selected to receive the award, he will pursue ethnographic research on how former orphans who were administered iatrogenic HIV/AIDS by the state mitigated their health risks. The research, he says, is about both health and politics. “This is a population that may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to reasons related to state practice,” Valente says.
Valente’s master’s thesis, “SEWERS VS. CENTERS: Politics of Choice and Localized Public Health in the Underground Community at the Gara de Nord- Bucharest,” was also based on ethnographic research in Romania; he received a Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Fellowship to support his work toward the master of health sciences in community and global health degree.
The Fulbright program at Clark has been growing tremendously, according to Jessica Bane-Robert, director of Prestigious Fellowships & Scholarships. In the past two years, approximately 10 students applied for awards. “This fall we are slated to easily triple those numbers, which is exciting,” she adds.
“More than 400 students visited our office this year,” Bane-Robert says. And Clark students have expanded their outreach to include many new awards including the Goldwater, the Paul and Daisy Sorros, the Harry S. Truman, and the Knight-Hennessy scholarships.
Max De Faria ’20 won both a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) and The Emerson National Hunger Fellowship. Despite the fact that the CLS opportunity (studying Portuguese in Brazil) was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, De Faria said he was “still honored to have been selected as a finalist for the program.” The Emerson Fellowship, for which De Faria was the first Clark student to apply, is happening remotely, so De Faria can still develop and expand on their food advocacy experience.
De Faria, a double major in geography and Spanish with a minor in political science, is passionate about food justice and sustainable agriculture. “I have dedicated much of my academic and professional pursuits towards the goals of food justice, and the Emerson Fellowship provides me with an opportunity to build community with other individuals who are dedicated to the same goals,” De Faria says. The fellowship involves fieldwork with a community organization as well as policy research.
Liana Shpani ’21 was accepted to the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education (CLASSE) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU); she is studying particle and nuclear physics this summer.
Because of COVID-19, REU offered a selected number of projects that could be done remotely. “Luckily, I was one of the students selected to work remotely, so the whole program will happen online while I live in my off-campus apartment at Clark,” says Shpani.
Shpani, a physics and mathematics double major, originally applied to REU to get research experience outside of Clark before applying to graduate school. “This opportunity will give me exposure to topics I am interested in pursuing in graduate school, and will prepare me for my future as a physicist,” she says.
Rafael Levin ’21 won a Summer Undergraduate Research Program fellowship in the Gerstner Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, N.Y. This fellowship is awarded annually to approximately 20 undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in the biomedical sciences.
“I was thrilled to receive this offer because you get to work on your own research project under the supervision of outstanding faculty,” says Levin. Even though the program in NYC became an online program, Levin said, “I am confident that I will still be able to get the quality training I was to receive at GSK’s facilities, and will still have a positive impact on my education.”
Levin, who is a biochemistry and molecular biology major, plans to pursue a doctorate in the biomedical sciences after graduation.
The students extolled Bane-Robert’s ability to support them through the application process for their prestigious awards and fellowships.
“She was very quick and helpful to proofread my personal statements, and supportive and motivating throughout the whole process,” says Shpani.
Levin added, “[Jessica Bane-Robert] truly cares about student success and takes the time to give the best feedback possible.”
De Faria, who is working with Bane-Robert to find other fellowships to fully fund a master’s program in Food Sovereignty, agreed.
“Clark has many serious students challenging convention and changing our world,” Bane-Robert says. “It is my honor to support them as they reflect on their experiences and stories and articulate their future aspirations.”