Four-times the success – students and alumni awarded Fulbright Scholarships

 Sophie Burling (top left), Maryna Sokolova, Eilish Wilson and Victoria Macann have all received Fulbright Scholarships. 

Two Massey University PhD candidates and an alumni have been awarded Fulbright New Zealand scholarships.

Maryna Sokolova, Sophie Burling, Victoria Macann and Eilish Wilson have all received the prestigious scholarships and the opportunity to pursue their research internationally.

Established in the US in 1946, the Fulbright programme is one of the largest and most significant educational exchanges of scholars in the world. New Zealand was only the fifth Fulbright Commission in the world, signing onto the programme in 1948, and has since awarded thousands of life changing scholarships.

Maryna Sokolova's research focuses on a strain of leptospirosis, a widespread disease that is transmitted to humans from animals.

Maryna Sokolova

Manawatū-based PhD candidate Maryna Sokolova will continue her research at the Yale School of Public Health in Connecticut, United States, starting in June 2022 for six months. Her research focuses on the isolation of a Leptospira strain that when completed will lead to the development of a new vaccine and diagnostic tests resulting in a significant reduction in the risk of infection to people in New Zealand.

Leptospirosis remains a widespread disease that is transmitted to humans from animals. A person infected can be sick for several weeks, and currently, leptospirosis in people is controlled via animal vaccination and by the use of personal protective gear.

Ms Sokolova says recent research has identified a novel strain that is not currently included in commercially available vaccines. Therefore, the immune protection of animals against the novel strain needs to be developed.

After moving to Palmerston North in 2018 to start her Master of Veterinary Studies she settled in a small rural community, gaining many opportunities to chat with those at risk of diseases, such as farmers. She hopes her studies will help raise awareness of leptospirosis within New Zealand’s  farming community.

“I'm looking forward to furthering my research in collaboration with leading scientists at one of the US's main hubs of public health research facilities.”

Sophie Burling will continue her research of tissue engineering techniques at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sophie Burling

Sophie Burling graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2018, a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours in 2019, and is a PhD candidate at Massey. She will continue her research of tissue engineering techniques at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, United States. Her work seeks to develop models of neuromuscular disease that could change the way we approach diagnostics, research, and drug discovery. The eventual goal is to move toward a human clinical trial in the incubator that would allow the testing of a broad range of drug compounds on the tissues of real people who suffer from these conditions.

Studying globally has always been an aspiration of hers. “Being in the Southern Hemisphere is a bit lonely in my chosen field of research. The United States has always been of particular interest as it is the epicenter of organ chip work,” she says.

“I think many of us suffer from imposter syndrome, me included, so when I found out about my Fulbright success, it was a huge personal affirmation to keep striving for what I believe in. It’s more than obtaining a prestigious scholarship; it places one amongst a community of internationally recognised alumni, of which I am immensely proud.”

Ms Burling plans to leave in March 2022 and will have six to 12 months to complete her research.

“I took a lot of time to find a lab with areas of research that I find exciting and that I thought would challenge me.” She plans to visit Professor Robert Langer's lab dubbed the "Edison of Medicine". The serial biomedical entrepreneur holds more than 1400 patents and is one of the world's most highly cited researchers. His research and inventions are thought to have improved the lives of over 4.7 billion people.

Victoria Macann's research focuses on relationships between the teaching of computational thinking in schools and teachers beliefs.

Victoria Macann

Victoria Macann will continue her PhD studies focusing on the implementation and teaching of computational thinking in primary and intermediate schools, and how this is affected by the beliefs and behaviours of teachers, at Michigan State University, United States.

Ms Macann graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Canterbury in 2009, and a Master of Education (Digital Education) with First Class Honours from Massey University in 2018.

Computational thinking focuses on computer science principles and formulating solutions to problems which can be solved with or without technology.

With the compulsory teaching of computational thinking from year one to year 10 in all New Zealand schools to prepare young people for a digital future, Ms Macanna will conduct two case studies in New Zealand primary and intermediate schools and two case studies will be conducted next year in America.

As a professional learning and development facilitator, Ms Macann has been introduced to hundreds of teachers.

“Their stories, goals and aspirations resonate with me, driving me to focus on how I can build confidence and alleviate some of their stress about teaching computational thinking.

“Given the importance of computational thinking and digital technology in general to the development of New Zealand society in the future, it is important that research is undertaken that explores its implementation and use.”

Being based in Michighan, she says, will be an opportunity to learn from leaders in the field and enable her to think more deeply about her research that may be limited in New Zealand where the curriculum content is so new.

“It will also give me the chance to observe and interview teachers in the United States familiar with computational thinking, and will strengthen, and give contrast to, my own research conducted in New Zealand. This knowledge will not only assist my PhD but also my role as a professional learning and development facilitator in the future.”

Ms Macann leaves New Zealand in December to begin her studies in January until mid-July 2022.

Eilish Wilson had always wanted to complete her Masters in the US as it is the birthplace of jazz

Eilish Wilson

Eilish Wilson will continue her Master of Fine Arts in Los Angeles where she aims to take her skillset and knowledge of jazz to the next level. While abroad she will complete the Masters program in jazz performance at California's Institute of the Arts.

She will travel to Los Angeles late August, hoping to return to be involved in the Wellington Jazz Festival in 2022 and will then return for her second and final year of study in 2023.

She says she had always wanted to complete her Masters in the US as it is the birthplace of jazz, being black American music. "I believe context is incredibly important and the only way for me to observe and experience the context of jazz is to go to the heart of where it is from."

She says the program she is about to delve into is detailed and holistic, "at the heart of the course is creativity and positive relationships. I believe that studying in America will cultivate the intense creative environment that I need to propel me forward as a musician, and allow me to form networks within a community of musicians who share many of my aspirations."

Wilson says she feels incredibly grateful and honoured to receive a Fulbright award. "The previous year, I gained 'alternate placement' status for the award, and was encouraged to apply again. The support from the Fulbright New Zealand team has been unbelievably positive and heart-warming.

Wilson says the award is "a culmination of 17 years playing her saxophone, 10 years working as a musician in the Wellington scene, the countless students who have inspired me, and a large list of people who have mentored and supported my development during that time. There are too many people to thank, but I hope they know how grateful I am to them."

She feels incredibly honoured to receive the award, “receiving the Fulbright Award is a huge privilege, and also a great responsibility I am excited to take on."

Scholars@Massey, a scholar development programme funded by the Massey University Foundation, provided advice and support to these awardees and Dean Research Professor Tracy Riley says she is delighted with these results.

“Scholars@Massey was very successful identifying eligible students and assisting them with their applications and interview preparations.”

Scholars@Massey is an innovative and structured programme for scholar development coordinated by Dr Aniek Hilkens. The programme aims to enhance the personal qualities and experiences of scholars, as well as increase their success in ongoing scholarships, grants and awards.

As part of enabling scholar development, Scholars@Massey informs current Massey University students about opportunities like the Fulbright NZ Graduate Awards and encourages and supports them to apply.

Recipients were honoured at a special awards ceremony at Parliament on 7 July, 2021.

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