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The fabulous Fulbrights

The award will take USC's Fulbright scholars to India, Italy, Laos, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and Vietnam. (Graphic/Letty Avila)

Ten Trojans have been selected for the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship, an annual award that recognizes academic achievement and commitment to cultural engagement.

Established in 1946 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright is the largest international fellowship program in the country. Each year, about 2,000 grants are given to support independent study, research and teaching in more than 150 countries worldwide.

Since its establishment, Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in government, science, the arts, business, philanthropy, education and athletics. Forty Fulbright alumni from 11 countries have been awarded the Nobel Prize, and 75 alumni have received Pulitzer Prizes.

Last year, USC was recognized as one of the top producers of Fulbright recipients among U.S. research institutions.

The 2013-14 USC Fulbright recipients include:

Women in power

Jasneet Aulakh was thrilled when one of her aunts in India won a seat on her village government board.

Jasneet Aulakh, a senior triple-major in history, English and philosophy at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

Jasneet Aulakh, a senior triple-major in history, English and philosophy at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

That was until she learned that her aunt’s appointment was mainly intended to facilitate her uncle’s entry into local government — known as a proxy vote.

“It’s easier for women to get these positions, so sometimes a man will put his wife’s name on the ballot and basically run the show himself and attend all the meetings,” said Aulakh, a senior triple-major in history, English and philosophy at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Aulakh is using her Fulbright to study the role of women in village governments in India. A speaker of Punjabi and Hindi whose parents migrated from India, Aulakh will travel throughout the country for a year, interviewing elected women from various socio-economic, religious, partisan and caste backgrounds.

She plans to study the effects of India’s 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1993, which mandates that village governments reserve one-third of seats for women.

“I was motivated, in part, because I couldn’t find much literature or criticism on the topic of ‘proxy votes’ beyond a few paragraphs or very biased pieces in which the practice was discredited as a rumor,” she said. “I want to see if anyone has been combatting these issues in a constructive way, so that India isn’t just paying lip service to reforms for equality.”

She hopes to find examples of the system that do work.

“If so,” said Aulakh, who plans to pursue graduate school at Cambridge University, “I will see how they made it work and perhaps identify practical models that could be shared.”

Content is king

The Associated Press officially dropped the term “illegal immigrant” in its stylebook in early April, preferring the phrase “undocumented,” and the Los Angeles Times followed suit a month later.

Juan Espinoza, a senior double-major in international relations at USC Dornsife with a minor at USC Annenberg (Photo/Courtesy of Laura Barraclough)

Juan Espinoza, a senior double-major in international relations at USC Dornsife with a minor at USC Annenberg (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

For Juan Espinoza, this is an important victory.

“The media absolutely shapes how we think and who we are,” he said, emphasizing that the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area has the nation’s largest Latino population. “So understanding communication, culture and the way content gets produced is something I’m really passionate about.”

Espinoza, a senior double-major in international relations at USC Dornsife and communications at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is among three Americans selected for Fulbright-funded graduate study in Mexico.

He will spend the next two years earning a master’s degree at Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana, considered the country’s top university for communication studies.

He will investigate how popular culture content for new media, newspapers, radio and television is produced in Mexico and the United States. He’s interested in how content affects communities and how Latino communities can be better and more accurately represented in the media.

Espinoza said he’s excited to be attending the same university where his role model in Spanish-language media, Jorge Ramos of Univision, studied. Former president of Mexico Vicente Fox, whom Espinoza recently met on campus at a USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy event, is also an alumnus.

“I’ve always wanted to be a student in Mexico — it has such significant growth potential for the 21st century,” said Espinoza, who speaks fluent Spanish. “I’d like to think of myself as being on the cusp of that growth — bridging the gap between Mexico and the U.S. in terms of media and communications.”

Diplomacy in India

Each day while studying in India, Travis Glynn passed the same man on the street vending grilled corn from a little stand. And each day, the man greeted him in Urdu. Near the end of Glynn’s 12-week stay, the vendor waved him over and asked him to try his corn.

Travis Glynn, a senior international relations major at USC Dornsife with a focus on securities studies (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

Travis Glynn, a senior international relations major at USC Dornsife with a focus on securities studies (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

“He started asking me all these questions about America — in Urdu,” Glynn recalled of the research trip he took in 2011 through the Critical Language Scholarship Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

“First it was just the corn vender, then his whole family came over, asking all these questions,” he said. “To be able to actually understand them and then formulate responses was really exciting. I loved the familial, genuine nature of the exchange. I’m sure I made plenty of mistakes, but it was awesome.”

Glynn, a senior international relations major with a focus on securities studies at USC Dornsife, will spend his Fulbright year in India as an English teaching assistant and researcher. His focus will be diplomacy and how culture plays into policy — specifically, how Indian students learn about the United States through English-language instruction by Americans and how their perceptions of the U.S. change as their exposure to Americans increases. He also wants to investigate how diplomats in Indian government interact with U.S. diplomats.

“I want to truly understand Indian culture and how U.S. policy affects India’s people,” Glynn said. “I believe in working with countries rather than working for them.”

Upon his return to the United States, Glynn will attend graduate school on a prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, awarded in 2012 in recognition of his public service, academics and leadership. Eventually, he wants to work for the foreign service in public diplomacy.

Fission and fusion

Senior Andrew Ju is a Southern Californian through and through. His demeanor is relaxed and friendly, he travels via long board and has never experienced a true “winter.”

Andrew Ju, a senior international relations (global business) major at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

Andrew Ju, a senior international relations major at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

At least one of those things will forever change during his year studying the political economy of the nuclear energy industry in Seoul, South Korea.

The son of South Korean immigrants, Ju already speaks some Korean. Two years ago he spent a summer in Seoul studying the politics of North and South Korea, which included a visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as the buffer between North and South.

“The DMZ is such a tangible representation of what I study in international relations: conflict between two countries. It became very real,” he said.

Through his coursework as a global business major at USC Dornsife, Ju has shifted his research interests toward nuclear energy, which he considers one of the great paradoxes of today’s world.

“On the one hand, with its enormous carbon-free energy output, it offers a solution to today’s major problems of pollution and unsustainable energy use,” he said. “But on the other hand, it carries equally enormous risks for the environment and human safety.”

While the use of nuclear energy has always been debated, countries such as the United States and Japan as well as western Europe in the past have been nuclear power’s most vociferous champions. Now, countries such as China and South Korea are emerging as the potential future leaders of this technology, Ju said.

“This is an incredible opportunity to study such an exciting technology in a country that might one day become one of the centers of nuclear energy importance,” he said. “I can’t imagine a better time to study this topic.”

Chinoiserie chic

A descendent of Chinese grandparents and Taiwanese parents, Ana Paulina Lee grew up between the climes of São Paulo, Brazil, and Queens, N.Y.

Ana Lee, a PhD student in comparative literature at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

Ana Lee, a PhD student in comparative literature at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

As a doctoral scholar of comparative literature, Lee in her research draws upon her upbringing living across East, West, North and South to challenge the dominant geographical paradigms that compose such boundaries.

As a Fulbright scholar, Lee will examine the rich trade partnership that flourished between China and the Portuguese empire during the latter’s 16th-century seaborne expansion into the 19th century. The trading extended to chinoiserie — art such as export porcelain or paintings reflecting Chinese influences and characterized by the use of fanciful Chinese imagery, designs and locations.

“Starting in the 16th century, the Portuguese empire began to embrace Asian art and chinoiserie as a way of portraying itself around the world,” Lee explained. “In Portuguese colonies like Goa, Macau and Brazil, a hybrid Luso-Asian art developed to depict the Portuguese maritime expansion.”

A fluent speaker of Portuguese, Spanish and Mandarin, Lee will use her Fulbright award to study chinoiserie in Lisbon, Portugal, at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. The university has a unique master’s program focused on the role of art during the Portuguese seaborne expansion from the 16th through 19th centuries.

In addition to taking classes, Lee will conduct research in churches, archives, private collections and museums. She plans to study porcelain objects made by Chinese artists, commissioned by Portuguese merchants, and chinoiserie used in religion, such as on church altars.

Global health advocate

Seattle native Molly Levine vividly remembers the ninth-grade reading assignment that changed her life. It was Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, a book chronicling the life of Paul Farmer and his international nongovernmental organization Partners in Health.

Molly Levine, a global health major at the Keck School with a minor in psychology at USC Dornsife

Molly Levine, a senior global health major at the Keck School with a minor in psychology at USC Dornsife

When Farmer came to speak at her school, Levine knew that her future path was in global health.

For the past four years, Levine has continued to pursue her passion for the field at USC. And through the Fulbright grant, the Keck School of Medicine of USC senior, who is minoring in psychology at USC Dornsife, will be taking her interests globally as an English teaching assistant in Thailand.

Levine said she applied to Thailand because of the interesting dichotomy the country faces in the health realm.

“As a country with an emerging economy, Thailand has a growing middle class and faces many health problems that developed countries face, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” she said. “It also has a large population living under the poverty line [who are] facing issues of malnutrition and maternal and infant mortality.”

Levine, who is captain of the USC Women’s Lacrosse Club, previously taught English at a secondary school for girls in the Nyganga township of Cape Town, South Africa.

“Working with the girls was one of my favorite things that I did during my semester,” Levine recalled, “and it made me want to continue teaching and working with kids.”

An active member of the university’s student-run philanthropic organization Troy Camp, Levine also tutored elementary-school students in math and literary through USC Dornsife’s Joint Education Project (JEP).

“I could not be more excited to have the opportunity to teach English in Thailand next year,” she said. “I hope to use my global health background to teach a health education course to my students as well and cannot wait to fully immerse myself in the Thai culture.”

Development in real time

Megan Rilkoff was eager to travel abroad following graduation, somewhere in Southeast Asia and “completely different.”

After three years of working as a program assistant for the JEP, she wanted to continue her involvement with education, particularly to examine its role in economic and cultural development.

Megan Rilkoff, a comparative literature and French double-major at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

Megan Rilkoff, a comparative literature and French double-major at USC Dornsife (USC Photo/Laura Paisley)

A comparative literature and French double major at USC Dornsife, Rilkoff recalled how one of her favorite professors, Panivong Norindr, talked to her about Laos, the professor’s native country.

“He said it was very beautiful, safe and welcoming. I thought it sounded perfect,” she said.

Admittedly, she had to double check the map to pinpoint its exact location. But now that she’ll be spending a year there as a Fulbright fellow teaching English at a local university, Rilkoff knows the country with a population of 6.5 million is bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west.

The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, Laos is the poorest country in the region. However, foreign investment in hydro, mining and construction has spurred Laos’ growth and reduction of poverty over the past two decades. The country currently has among the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia.

Rilkoff is interested in the field of international development, so she’s excited about experiencing a developing nation firsthand. In addition to teaching, she plans to take Lao language classes and volunteer with a local — and ideally French-speaking — nongovernmental organization.

“Teaching at the university in Laos, it will be really interesting to see where the country is trying to go and how they’re training their future scholars and leaders,” she said.

A poet’s painter

While completing his Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at the University of Houston, Joshua Rivkin worked as a teacher/writer-in-residence with the Writers in the Schools program. One of his jobs included leadings students through the Menil Collection, including the art museum’s Cy Twombly Gallery.

Joshua Rivkin, a PhD student in creative writing and literature at USC Dornsife (Photo/Erin Beeghly)

Joshua Rivkin, a PhD student in creative writing and literature at USC Dornsife (Photo/Erin Beeghly)

Repeatedly visiting the gallery, Rivkin grew fascinated with the work of Twombly, a mid-century American artist who moved to Italy in the ’50s and developed a distinctive style, drawing inspiration from ancient Mediterranean mythology and epic poetry. Twombly died in 2011 at the age of 83.

Intrigued by Twombly’s use of color and line, Rivkin was also drawn to the way in which the artist integrated text into his paintings. Poetry by Stéphane Mallarmé, Rainer Maria Rilke and Ovid are often quoted or referenced in his artwork.

“Twombly is a complicated artist. He’s in some ways a ‘poet’s painter’ — writing was clearly a huge inspiration for him,” Rivkin said. “As a writer myself, I’m interested in the relationship between the visual and written image in Twombly’s painting and sculpture.”

A doctoral student in creative writing and literature at USC Dornsife, Rivkin studies with poets Mark Irwin, associate professor of English, and David St. John, professor of English.

As a Fulbright scholar, Rivkin will spend nine months in Italy working on a nonfiction book about Twombly’s life and art. He plans to interview artists and other individuals who knew Twombly. Rivkin’s book combines biography, oral history, art criticism, personal memoir and mediations on artistic making.

“The influence of Italy on his work is essential,” he said. “Seeing the places where Twombly lived and the landscapes that inspired him will allow me to better understand and capture Twombly’s life and work.”

Community organizer

Jonathan Truong ’12, his grandparents, parents and older sister sloshed through a muddy paddy field where the rice was just sprouting green blades. Carrying aloeswood incense, mango, papaya and a traditional Vietnamese meat dish, they set up an altar at the gravesite of Truong’s great-grandparents.

Truong’s great-grandparents, who had migrated to southern Vietnam from China, were buried atop a small, circular island in the middle of the rice paddy.

Jonathan Truong graduated with a bachelor's in political science from USC Dornsife last year. (USC Photo/Pamela J. Johnson)

Jonathan Truong graduated with a bachelor’s in political science from USC Dornsife last year. (USC Photo/Pamela J. Johnson)

“We prayed and gave a food offering,” recounted the Pasadena, Calif., native, who said the experience last summer connected him to his ancestry.

Shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Truong’s parents moved to Los Angeles, where they met and eventually married. When Truong’s mother first arrived in LA, she worked in a garment factory.

“She was paid per garment,” Truong said. “Some days, she spent all her earnings on bus fare to get to and from work.”

Truong, who is interested in immigrant and workers’ rights, earned his bachelor’s in political science from USC Dornsife in 2012. After graduation, he received an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellowship to conduct leadership training to high school students in Chinatown, where many youths are immigrants.

Truong’s goal is to expand his work on immigrant and low-income tenant rights, a cause he pursued while an undergraduate. In 2011 and 2012, he worked on a student campaign with advocacy groups such as UNIDAD Coalition in South LA to secure an agreement from USC to provide $20 million in affordable housing. The funding offsets USC’s plan for expansion.

Through his Fulbright fellowship, Truong will travel to Vietnam to teach English and cross-cultural education to university students. During his 10-month stay, he plans to become fluent in Vietnamese and learn more about the culture.

“Learning the language is critical,” he said. “When I return to the U.S., I’d like to get more involved in immigrant rights’ groups. Making sure immigrants have rights as tenants and access to services.”

All in the genes

Abhishek Verma, a biological sciences major at USC Dornsife

Abhishek Verma, a senior biological sciences major at USC Dornsife

Ever since high school, Abhishek Verma knew he wanted to pursue a career in medicine. Born in India, Verma lived in a number of places before settling down in Palo Alto, Calif. At USC, through persistence and a bit of luck, he landed a position as a research assistant to biological sciences professor Chien-Ping Ko.

Verma, who is majoring in biological sciences at USC Dornsife, now plans to use his Fulbright grant to work with Patrick Aebischer, professor in neurosciences and president of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Verma will examine a viable gene therapy approach to the neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy by utilizing bioimaging techniques and protein assaying in his analysis.

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