Stanford’s 16 Fulbright scholars set sights on global justice

Aug. 16, 2022, 8:43 p.m.

When Karen Chen ʼ22 returns to the U.S. next year from South Korea, she’ll have all eyes on her. That is, if everything goes according to plan. Chen, one of the 16 Stanford affiliates awarded Fulbright scholarships in 2022, will devote her year abroad to engineering an alternative to human transplants to cure corneal blindness, a condition that impacts more than 12.7 million worldwide.

The rest of the students in this year’s Fulbright cohort are no slouches either — consisting of seniors, graduate students and alumni, the scholars will to 14 different countries for their research during the 2022-2023 academic year.

Fifteen of the 16 scholars received a Study/Research grant, which allows them to design their own projects and work with advisors at foreign universities, according to the organization’s website. Two also received the Fulbright National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, whose recipients undertake “an in-depth examination of a globally relevant issue.”

Sierra Garcia ʼ20, a recipient of both grants, is taking her research to Honduras. There, she will research mass ecosystem restoration in the 21st century, specifically related to threats to coral reef in the country’s Bay Islands.

Garcia will get the opportunity to answer the very questions that have fascinated her since she came to Stanford, she said. Examining how people perceive climate change and other threats to coral reef is an area ripe for exploration.

“I just kept an eye out for people doing similar work, but there’s really no research right now,” Garcia said.

Like Garcia, many other recipients intend to explore under-researched areas with their grants. Natasha Jain-Poster M.A. ʼ22 plans to both continue her prior research on sexual assault rates, and also work toward implementing policies against sexual assault in Mexico. 

Jain-Poster’s work was originally inspired by a visit to Mexico City as an undergraduate student, during which she saw that the Metro was separated by gender; she learned then that women’s protests in the 1970s had led to the creation of pink trains reserved exclusively for women so that they could feel safe in a city where sexual violence is common.

“I made it my mission that I was going to go back and I was going to continue to study this issue ever since 2020,” Jain-Poster said. “It was really at that moment when I was in Mexico City where I learned that I’m interested in transportation justice. I’m interested in feminism, urban planning and Latin America, so I put all those things together.”

Justice, whether it is across racial, gender or socio-economic lines is a common theme for the Fulbright scholars. Chen’s research on treatments for corneal blindness in South Korea will aim to address socioeconomic disparities in developing Asian countries, where corneal implants are priced far above what most of the population can afford.

“I came into Stanford really interested in global health, so I joined a lab with a focus on global health and ophthalmology happened to be the focus of the lab,” Chen said. “It’s cool to work on interventions that most other labs or groups wouldn’t really think of, because patients in the developing world are so often overlooked.”

Garcia, Jain-Poster, Chen and the rest of their cohort join a growing community of Stanford affiliates with Fulbright scholarships, with an AdmissionSight survey this year finding that the University has had the 11th most recipients of all U.S. institutions since 2011.

At Stanford, the Fulbright process is supervised by the Overseas Resource Center at Bechtel International Center, which helps advise Stanford students and recent alumni. With the Sept. 7 deadline for the next Fulbright application cycle fast approaching, the resource center can help interested students learn more about the grant and its requirements.

Kayleen Kim is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at'

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