Three Ithaca College seniors have received Fulbrights to spend the 2016–17 academic year working on projects overseas. Taylor Graham will use his creative arts award to make a documentary film on water issues in India; Jaime Lisack will use her research award to study cell development at the University of Würzburg, Germany; and Erika Bucior will use her research award to study an invasive plant species in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. It provides college seniors and recent graduates — chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchanging ideas and contributing to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
A Park Scholar at IC, Graham is majoring in emerging media with a minor in web programming. He will travel to Ladakh and Rajasthan, India, where uncertainty over the access to and quality of water is reaching crisis levels. He will make a documentary, titled “Tale of Two Deserts,” which will analyze the causes of the crisis and explore creative solutions — including the regeneration of a once-depleted river and the creation of artificial glaciers. He also hopes to demonstrate how these ideas may be replicated elsewhere in India and around the world.
Graham, who wrote in his Fulbright application that he is committed to searching for constructive solutions to global water issues, intends to pursue a dual graduate degree program in journalism and international policy. “It is my belief that the power of narrative can be harnessed to initiate real political change. Ultimately, I plan to continue my advocacy work aimed at promoting multilateral action on water issues around the world.”
Graham already has extensive international travel experience. He previously produced a short documentary, “Taming the Teesta,” which explores the repercussions that hydroelectric dam developments on the Teesta River have on the Lepcha people in India’s Himalayan Mountains. He served as a volunteer photographer with the Himalayan Cultural Heritage Foundation at the Silk Route Festival, and he has started an online, nonprofit marketplace, Lanapo.org, through which Native American artisans can sell their crafts.
Lisack, who is majoring in biochemistry, will be studying polar bodies, which are three tiny cells that are the byproduct of uneven division during the creation of an egg cell. The laboratory where she will be studying has recently discovered that one of these polar bodies — once thought to be waste products — gets reabsorbed into the egg cell.
“The human body, a complex machine, wastes almost nothing in its functions,” Lisack wrote in her Fulbright application. “The question then stands: Why would a cell go through the effort of excising something if it is just reabsorbed? But that is exactly what happens in the case of polar bodies. For example, do these polar bodies give signals to the maturing egg? Does this have an effect on a developing embryo? The answers to these questions would hold an incredible significance to our understanding of development, unlocking secrets of the early stages of an egg cell, which will eventually provide the information to form an organism.”
Lisack will work with Ann Wehman, whose lab offers one of the cutting-edge environments in scientific innovation and discovery as part of the Rudolf Virchow Center at the University of Würzburg. A member of the Sigma Xi scientific research society and president of the Ithaca College Bio Club, Lisack intends to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology and work on discovering new genetic and disease therapies.
Bucior is majoring in environmental studies, with minors in biology and anthropology. She will be studying the competition between two coastal dune species, the valuable endemic Scaevola plumieri and the invasive Scaevola taccada, growing on the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
By examining how these plants interact and compete, Bucior hopes to discover the potential for the native species to be driven to extinction by the newcomer. That could have negative implications for dune stabilization and coastal biodiversity. She will collaborate with the University of the West Indies and with the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, a group which is responsible for invasive species control and agricultural management on the islands.
“Understanding the physiological and morphological adaptations of these species is critical for predicting plant responses to competition and the ecological consequences of invasion,” she wrote in her Fulbright application. “I hope to work closely with this citizen science group and provide my skills in GIS mapping, field sampling and community based communication to encourage coastline conservation throughout the country.”
A member of the Beta Beta Beta national biological honor society and Sigma Xi scientific research society, Bucior won an award for her presentation at the Botanical Society of America Annual Meeting. She is currently working as a research technician in the Bauerle lab in Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture, and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in plant ecophysiology.
Ithaca College has a lengthy track record of successfully placing student Fulbright applicants. Two recent graduates who were awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) last year are currently serving their terms abroad. Karly Placek ’15, who earned her degree in documentary studies and production, is teaching in Malaysia; while Abigail Jamiel ’11, who earned her degree in art history, is teaching in South Africa. Grace Wivell ’14, who earned her degree in English education and was awarded a Fulbright ETA to teach in Indonesia for 2014–15, had her appointment renewed for a second year.
For more information on the Fulbright program, visit eca.state.gov/fulbright.