Two URI grad students and a 2020 alumna awarded prestigious Fulbright grants

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 8, 2022 – Two University of Rhode Island graduate students and a 2020 alumna have been awarded Fulbright grants to teach and conduct research abroad.

The recipients are Rachel Cohn, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who is pursuing her master’s degree in marine affairs; Lizmaylin Ramos, a native of Providence who graduated in 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology and a minor in sustainability; and Victoria Fulfer, of Narragansett, who is a doctoral student at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

Cohn will leave for Kilifi, Kenya in September to further her research into gender differences in the decision making of coastal Kenyan fishing families and how that affects food security. She will be based at Pwani University and will work with the Samaki Salama project, a fisheries nutrition intervention. Cohn has been working remotely with the team over the course of the pandemic as a research assistant under the supervision of Professor Austin Humphries and was able to travel to Kenya for two weeks last August. Samaki Salama is Swahili for “fish security.”

This trip will enable Cohn to pursue her own research that will delve more deeply into women’s empowerment and connecting issues of conservation to people’s livelihoods. She is looking forward to the hands-on aspect of being immersed in the community, environment and culture that she will be studying and how that will contribute to her research.

“The purpose of my research is really to improve our scientific understanding of the knowledge and experiences families in this area have when it comes to the environment, environmental degradation and the value of these resources,” said Cohn. “There is a depth of knowledge held by people who are living their lives with this work that the scientific community often doesn’t often take into account. Rather than coming in with an agenda, I think there are a lot of gaps we can fill by digging in a little deeper – by doing so and working together I think there is opportunity to benefit both people and the environment.”

Before she leaves, Cohn will also participate in an intensive summer language program in Swahili as the winner of a 2022 Critical Language Scholarship, a program of the U.S. Department of State.

Lizmaylin Ramos, a 2020 URI graduate, will spend nine months in Brazil as an English Teaching Assistant.

Beginning this March, Ramos will spend nine months in Brazil as an English Teaching Assistant. With her background in biology and psychology, Ramos is interested in studying neuroscience as well as teaching. Her ultimate goal is to obtain her doctorate, become a professor and have her own neuroscience lab.

Ramos recently completed a post-baccalaureate research education program at Brown funded by the National Institutes of Health but teaching is not a specific requirement of her doctoral program, a graduate partnership program in neuroscience between NIH and Brown. Knowing this and her hope to teach after obtaining her Ph.D., Ramos specifically chose to apply to the Fulbright program in Brazil because it would give her experience teaching at the university level. As an undergraduate, Ramos worked as a teaching and research assistant under Professor Bryan Dewsbury whose lab was focused on the delivery and practice of STEM teaching to students from Pre-K to higher education.

As a Dominican-American, first-generation college student and URI Talent Development scholar, inclusive teaching and pedagogy is a passion for Ramos. Drawing on her own experience, she believes teaching to a diverse group of students who may be from underserved or underrepresented backgrounds is intentional work and looks forward to her upcoming teaching assistantship as a way to bring her closer to her goal.

“Coming into college I was a little caught between two worlds – the world of my parents and the bubble that can be academia. I was working three jobs and going to school full time – working hard is what I knew but I didn’t come into college with a support system. It took me making meaningful connections with people and having meaningful relationships with professors and mentors at URI to help me navigate college properly,” said Ramos. “I think this is going to be a great platform for me to focus on doing the type of meaningful work, in terms of inclusive teaching, that I am interested in.”

Victoria Fulfer, a doctoral student at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, will conduct plastics research in Vietnam.

Fulfer will travel to Vietnam at the end of August to study plastics pollution while also teaching coastal sciences at Nha Trang University in its newly formed doctoral program in Marine Resource Economics and Management. The University’s location, along the Cai River and a newly established marine protected area in the Nha Trang Bay, will enable Fulfer to examine the history of plastics pollution in the area.

Fulfer chose Vietnam because, while plastics pollution is a global problem, the nation is one of the top contributors to marine plastic pollution. The area she is traveling to, which is close to the South China Sea, is heavily dependent on tourism and has been impacted by plastics over the past several years. Fulfer will be taking sediment core samples throughout the river and the bay to determine how or if the pollution has been increasing over time, where the plastics are traveling and how they are affecting the coastline and nearby coral reefs. Given the length of her stay – 10 months, which will enable her to witness both the dry season and the monsoon season – she will also be looking at seasonal trends.

“By combining these efforts I’m hoping to be able to tell where most of this plastic is ending up and using that information to better target cleanup efforts, which is something we’re attempting in Rhode Island right now too,” said Fulfer, who also graduated from URI in 2016 and received her Master of Science in oceanography in 2019. The research will become a chapter in Fulfer’s dissertation; she also hopes to work with her colleagues in Vietnam to author and publish additional papers based on her work there.

“I am really looking forward to taking what I’ve learned in my time at URI and bringing it to Vietnam to help with the plastics issue, which is so seriously affecting environmental, economic and human health in the area. Likewise, I’ll be doing so much work in the community and with scientists in Nha Trang – I am excited to take what I learn and put it to use here as well.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by providing high-achieving students with the opportunity to research, study or teach abroad. The Fulbright Study/Research Awards program, which is funding this year’s URI recipients, enables applicants to design their own research projects to work with institutions abroad.

Named for a prominent U.S. senator who was the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the J. William Fulbright Scholarship Program sponsors U.S. and foreign participants for exchanges in all areas of endeavor, including the sciences, business, academia, public service, government and the arts.

URI students and recent graduates who are interested in applying to the Fulbright program should contact the URI Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities for guidance and institutional endorsement.