Fulbright Week, Peace Corps Fair Honor Global Scholars

Numerous UA students and faculty hold scholarship and fellowships granted by the Fulbright Scholars Program, including those involved in efforts to conserve the Andean bear habitat and investigate the presence of Latino popular culture in contemporary India.
Feb. 27, 2017
Extra Info: 

The full calendar for Fulbright Week at the UA is available online.

The Fulbright Scholar Program, managed by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, offers more than 500 teaching, research or combination awards in more than 125 countries, providing faculty members with profound experiences they can connect to their courses. The application deadline for most Fulbright awards is Aug. 1. For more details, see the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Catalog of Awards: http://awards.cies.org/. For more information, contact Dale LaFleur, the UA Fulbright scholar liaison, at 520-621-1900 or dlafleur@email.arizona.edu.

What: 
Fulbright Week
When: 
Feb. 27-March 3
Where: 
Various locations at the UA
Fulbright scholar Ivan Mauricio Vela-Vargas talks with a rural resident about managing conflict with big felids (puma in this case) in the Cundinamarca department in Colombia. Of Vela-Vargas, John Koprowski, associate director of the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, says he "adds to the diversity of scientific inquiry focused on enabling informed decision-making related to our environmental challenges."
Fulbright scholar Ivan Mauricio Vela-Vargas talks with a rural resident about managing conflict with big felids (puma in this case) in the Cundinamarca department in Colombia. Of Vela-Vargas, John Koprowski, associate director of the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, says he "adds to the diversity of scientific inquiry focused on enabling informed decision-making related to our environmental challenges."
UA researcher Melissa Fitch established her research and teaching in India by addressing the ways in which meaning is created, sustained, transformed and challenged around the world. “The learning curve is quite steep. I have been in awe of much of what I have seen and experienced here and deeply moved by the kindness that has greeted me everywhere I have gone.”
UA researcher Melissa Fitch established her research and teaching in India by addressing the ways in which meaning is created, sustained, transformed and challenged around the world. “The learning curve is quite steep. I have been in awe of much of what I have seen and experienced here and deeply moved by the kindness that has greeted me everywhere I have gone.”
During the 2016-2017 program, Jeannine Relly of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences was awarded a Fulbright to research India’s Right to Information Act. Relly said the highlight of her Fulbright experience was interviewing study participants in unique villages, towns and cities and within newsrooms, non-governmental organization offices and other gathering places of Right to Information Act advocates.
During the 2016-2017 program, Jeannine Relly of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences was awarded a Fulbright to research India’s Right to Information Act. Relly said the highlight of her Fulbright experience was interviewing study participants in unique villages, towns and cities and within newsrooms, non-governmental organization offices and other gathering places of Right to Information Act advocates.

Ivan Mauricio Vela-Vargas grew up hearing of jaguars, tapirs, monkeys and other animals of the Amazon region from his father, a professor who taught productive systems to indigenous people in Colombia.

Vela-Vargas began his professional journey in Colombia at Proyecto de Conservación de Aguas y Tierras, a non-governmental organization conservation project for waters and lands. While studying biological corridor and protected area design, he was introduced to the Andean bear, the effects of its loss of habitat and a gap in information. 

"I love bears, but Andean bears have something that makes me crazy. Their 'favorite' habitats are the páramos, the alpine tundra ecosystems most concentrated in Colombia, and the cloud forests, which generate the most water in Colombia," Vela-Vargas said. "Andean bears are a bioindicator of the health of these ecosystems. For the indigenous people of the Andes, they are the symbol of water, and a figure of power. Although they are an iconic species for Colombia — the Andean bear is in the logo of the Protected Areas System of Colombia — we don't understand much about the species."

Vela-Vargas has brought his passion for wildlife research to the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment, housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. To fund his research, he applied for the Fulbright Scholarship and the staff helped him extensively, from navigating the U.S. educational system to making arrangements to move his family. 

Vela-Vargas is among the UA students and faculty who hold scholarship and fellowships granted by the Fulbright Scholars Program.

This week, the UA Office of Global Initiatives, Graduate College and Honors College will host a series of events during Fulbright Week, acknowledging past Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays recipients and also presenting workshops, information sessions and open houses to inform the campus community about upcoming Fulbright opportunities.

Coinciding with Fulbright Week is the Peace Corps Fair, to be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesday in the North Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center. Special guests from the U.S. Peace Corps are Manuel Colon, a program specialist for the Office of University Programs and Sophia Ewing, Arizona regional recruiter. The theme of this year's fair is "Making the World Your Home." About 140 exhibitors representing UA departments and community groups that work with immigrants and refugees will be on hand, and visitors can learn more about the experiences of volunteers and opportunities with the Peace Corps around the world.

Melissa A. Fitch, a 2016-2017 UA Fulbright Faculty Scholar, is currently based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, investigating the presence of Latin American and Latino popular culture in contemporary India.

"There are very few Latin Americans in the country, so ideas Indians have about Latin America or U.S. Latino culture primarily come from mass media — often produced in the United States — and increasingly from social media. It is the simultaneous presence and absence that I find so intriguing," said Fitch, a professor in the UA Department of Spanish and Portuguese in the College of Humanities.

Fitch was inspired to undertake this research after a Fulbright experience at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin, China, during the 2011-2012 academic year. One evening at a global competition for salsa dancing, she was stunned to learn that most of the teams were not from Latin America or the United States, but from India and China. She instantly realized something culturally unique was happening between Latin America and Asia, and saw an opportunity to advance understanding.

"Anthropologist Clifford Geertz once said that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he has spun," Fitch said. "As a professor of the humanities, my role is to bring these webs into view so that we can understand the production and trafficking of meaning, the power relations inherent in structural arrangements, and the distinct social contexts in which meaning is produced and received."

Fitch said she plans to incorporate her research into her courses once she arrives back at the UA, and to continually encourage students to apply for Fulbright grants. "The Fulbright program is ideal for students who are curious about the world, respectful of those who are different from them, creative, open-minded, and intellectually courageous," she said. "The experience is both profound and transformative. It is life-changing."

America Lutz-Ley, a postdoctoral scholar at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, was awarded the Fulbright-Garcia Robles Scholarship for Graduate Studies in the U.S. Originally from Mexico, Lutz-Ley studied how people in rural communities adapt to global change, encompassing both climate change and socio-economic globalization factors.

"Ranching and farming are important sources of income, identity and food security for rural families in both Arizona and Sonora, Mexico," she said. "We need to understand the ways they are perceiving these changes and adapting to them in order to inform better policies and provide them with alternatives for adaptation of their livelihoods to face a warmer world and further economic globalization."

Lutz-Ley plans to provide policy reports and fact sheets to rural communities and decision-makers. "I want to inform policies for adaptation and development, particularly in Sonora, Mexico, and arid North America,” she added. "Mexico is known as a leader in international climate negotiations, but the people in local communities do not know what this is about, how these changes will impact their livelihoods and what they can do in this regard. I would like to help in closing this gap."

Yalda Samih Jawad, who is studying women's and children's issues, received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a Master's of Public Administration at the UA, and has plans to launch a nonprofit when she returns to her home country.

"Afghanistan is one of the developing countries where there is so much opportunity for growth in every sector and where millions of dollars is spent, but there is still lack of quality services, policies are not feasible and realistic, and there are so many areas that the government cannot efficiently work in," Jawad said. "In a situation like this, existence of nonprofit organizations is important. I am a strong believer of mission, so this field is the best platform for me to help people by providing better services without being motivated or distracted by how much revenue I make."

Jeannine Relly, an associate professor in the School of Journalism, spent four months in India studying the use of India's Right to Information Act by journalists, civil society organization representatives and social activists. She was affiliated with the Jindal School of International Affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University in the state of Haryana, but spent most of her time conducting interviews in 16 cities, towns and villages throughout the country.

"India has one of the strongest information-access laws in the world among the more than 100 nations that have adopted the legislation, according to legal experts," said Relly, also a 2016-2017 Fulbright Faculty Scholar. "Consequently, India celebrates that millions of citizens from across the socio-economic spectrum have used the Right to Information Act to uncover unjust practices, including monies embezzled from food programs for the poor, cronyism in land allotment awards and companies mining without environmental permits."

Relly recruited more than 90 study participants for her research project, which focuses on opportunities, challenges and unintended consequences of using the Right to Information Act legislation for social change.

For several weeks, her research took her to the western state of Rajasthan, where she interviewed individuals from the early years of sit-ins and social audits of government offices for information rights and public accountability. She also interviewed journalists and Right to Information activists who are new to the movement. Relly also met with Central Information Commissioners in Dehli, observed Right to Information Act appeals at the Central Information Commission and witnessed decisions about whether government offices should release information.

Now that she is back at the UA, she plans to continue to give talks about her fieldwork and has two academic articles in the works.

She credits the UA with helping to lay the groundwork for her Fulbright experience. Relly points to Fulbright sessions on campus as useful tools, as well as discussions with fellow faculty members who are former Fulbright recipients.

"Dale LaFleur, the UA Fulbright Scholar liaison, has a great knowledge of the Fulbright Scholar Program and offered important input about considering the academic collaboration and outreach aspects of the Fulbright application," Relly said. "I had also worked with the director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute over the years on other grant applications and reviewed grant applications for other organizations — an experience that truly was beneficial."

For Vela-Vargas, he is focusing on how the range of Andean bear habitats is distributed throughout Colombia, main threats for the species and biological corridors that may exist. He also is investigating how different variables, such as climate change and human populations, are affecting the movements of the bears. Lastly, he is studying the main triggers of conflict between rural human communities and Andean bears.

After completing his research, he plans to create a large-scale Andean bear conservation in Colombia and promote knowledge in rural communities about ecological processes and ecosystem services the bears and their habitats provide. 

Vela-Vargas' advice for other students is simple. 

"Give your best effort. You are not working hard for a grade, but for your future. Enjoy your career — try to be the best in your field. Read a lot, question a lot and learn how to communicate," he said. "I created a goal of being a good scientist through teamwork, honesty, ethics and enjoyment. When I got my bachelor's degree I'd already published three papers and worked in different countries. Now I'm here, having a wonderful time, working hard, taking new classes and meeting excellent people." 

Nea Petra Hamilton contributed to this article for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with Jordyn Stinnett and La Monica Everett-Haynes.