Despite challenges from pandemic, JHU once again a top producer of Fulbright awardees

As a new cohort from Hopkins prepares to join the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, take a look back at the students who have explored the world as Fulbright awardees

For the 11th year in a row, Johns Hopkins University appears on Chronicle of Higher Education's list of top producers for the 2020–21 Fulbright Scholarship application cycle. With 22 of 49 applicants awarded grants across the English Teaching Assistant and Study/Research programs, Hopkins has the third-highest rate of Fulbright grantees among research universities.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers funding to graduating seniors, recent graduates, master's and doctoral candidates, and young professionals for one year abroad to carry out study/research projects or serve as English teaching assistants.

As with most teaching, studying, and researching opportunities, the past year has been a bit different for Fulbright awardees. According to the team of the National Fellowships Program of Johns Hopkins, all but one winner from the 2019–20 cycle had to delay the start dates of their grants.

"I didn't expect my Fulbright year to coincide with a pandemic, but I did expect to love living in Bristol and I do."
Kiana Boroumand
JHU Class of 2019

With COVID-19 numbers varying from country to country and global vaccination on the rise, the Fulbright Commission is cautiously optimistic: This year's finalists will be awarded on a case-by-case basis regarding health guidelines, and some 2020–21 winners still await the start of grants that were delayed due to COVID-19. The Johns Hopkins National Fellowships Program will continue its rigorous application process as usual—though remotely—and eagerly anticipates applications from JHU's diverse student body.

From Mongolia to Mexico and everywhere in between, JHU Fulbright awardees have traveled across six continents and visited more than 50 countries since 2010. Here are just a few students who have represented JHU over the past several years.

Aisvarya “Ash” Panakam

Image caption: Aisvarya “Ash” Panakam poses in front of a mural in Barcelona made by the artist Keith Haring, who died from HIV a year after the mural was completed. The text of the mural reads 'Together, we can stop AIDS' in Spanish. "This piece is significant to me because it encapsulates my Fulbright Year," Panakam says. "Like the artist, I am an American in Spain doing my own small part fighting against HIV."

Image credit: Courtesy of Ash Panakam

Aisvarya "Ash" Panakam: In 2019, Panakam built on her bachelor's degree in public health and molecular and cellular biology by contributing to HIV vaccine research in Majadahonda, a municipality of Madrid. As a speaker at the annual Fulbright Spain Conference, Panakam says she was proud to use her platform to "promote health literacy and to introduce immunotherapies in an accessible and engaging way," as well as to "contribute toward de-stigmatizing HIV/AIDS."

"I am grateful for every day I spent in Madrid and the personal and professional growth I experienced during my fellowship year," Panakam writes. "My Fulbright year informs many of my goals in medicine, and I hope to incorporate my past experiences in immunopathology into my future clinical practice and research."

Cole Stalter: A 2018 graduate with a master's degree in education studies, Stalter has always looked at teaching as a way to build meaningful relationships, and his ability to do so in Malaysia as an English teaching assistant solidified his passion for education. "To me," he writes, "this experience reinforced the value and excitement in creating relationships rooted in humanity—touching our core—rather than the familiarity we had in our shaped identities. These relationships dug deeper as they did not stem from shared interests but were catalyzed by the core of our beings interacting and finding value in one another."

Cole Stalter

Image caption: Cole Stalter, in a classroom in Malaysia where he served as an English Teaching Assistant as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Image credit: Courtesy of Cole Stalter

Due to COVID-19, Stalter's Fulbright year was cut short at nine months, and though the transition was jarring, he says the experience had a significant impact on him. "In some ways, that sense of limbo still remains as I think back on what the year could have been. To me, the circumstances only made the Malaysia ETA group that once was more special."

Kush Mansuria: A 2018 graduate in molecular and cellular biology, Mansuria traveled to Indonesia in 2019, where he was able to use his own language skills as an English teaching assistant. He remarks that the experience instilled in him greater patience and adaptability. "The students I worked with came from different backgrounds and also had a different attitude toward learning than people I had worked with in the past, and so it was an adjustment to figure out what [worked] best for these students."

Mansuria made the most of community engagement—an essential component of the Fulbright experience—by hosting English clubs for both teachers and students, an activity that allowed him to "build community with [his] co-teachers and students outside of the classroom." He also helped lead workshops in teaching English as a foreign language that were available to the broader community outside of his school.

Kiana Boroumand

Image caption: Kiana Boroumand on Bristol's Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of the city's most famous landmarks.

Image credit: Courtesy of Kiana Bourmand

Kiana Boroumand: Though COVID-19 threw a wrench in much of the last Fulbright application cycle, one intrepid JHU winner managed to carry out her project. Boroumand, who graduated in 2019 with a BA in sociology and English, began her master's degree in socio-legal studies at the University of Bristol, England. Though Boroumand has adhered to the same rigorous precautions one would expect for international travel—two-week quarantine upon arrival and social distancing, for example—she has not allowed this to put a damper on her time abroad. Rather than focusing on what she can't do, Boroumand insists that the pandemic has fostered greater appreciation for the things she can: "These past few months have been full of sunset walks along Bristol's Harbourside; hikes with friends through the gorgeous nature that surrounds the city; picnics on the edge of a castle, overlooking the River Avon, across from my building downtown. It's beautiful here—to say nothing of the incredible street art."

It is worth noting that study grants to the UK are among the most competitive Fulbright grants, so Boroumand's positive attitude about her time in Bristol is not the only thing worth celebrating. Through her master's degree at the University of Bristol, she is researching the "financialization of student housing," a topic for which she was recently featured in the Yale Law and Political Economy Project blog. In the fall, she will begin law school.

Summing up her time abroad, Boroumand writes, "Sometimes murals will greet me on every corner, a daily reminder that I'm exactly where I need to be. I didn't expect my Fulbright year to coincide with a pandemic, but I did expect to love living in Bristol and I do."

Information on how to apply to Fulbright for the upcoming year can be found on the National Fellowships Program website.