Four Biology and Biochemistry Students Win Fulbright Awards

They Will Teach English or Do Research in Latin America, Europe and Asia

Four recent graduates and alumni from the University of Houston’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry received Fulbright awards for the 2021-2022 academic year. In total, 10 recent graduates from UH received Fulbright grants.

“As the borders begin to reopen, it is increasingly important that Americans reconnect with the world. UH has some of the finest students who will represent not just our great University, but also our great city,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “I am proud of the vibrant Fulbright culture that we are continuing to build at the University of Houston.”

The Biology and Biochemistry graduates represented are:

  • Ashley Cruz
  • Olivia Lee
  • Shailee Modi
  • Carl Suerte
Ashley Cruz

Ashley Cruz graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology and an Honors College minor in medicine and society. As a first-generation Mexican-American, her experiences have driven her to advocate for underserved communities. After spending a summer in Amman, Jordan, working with the Jordan Health Aid Society and learning about refugee and immigrant health, Cruz’s commitment to public service solidified. She served as a census leader and voter advocate with Mi Familia Vota, a national civic organization that encourages Latino allyship to promote social and economic justice. Cruz then interned with Culture of Health — Advancing Together, a non-profit that matches immigrants and refugees in Gulfton with essential resources. She will pursue a master of science in physician assistant studies, specializing in psychiatry, to continue working with underserved populations. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Mexico, Cruz hopes to better understand the origins of the Hispanic community to more effectively engage in conversations that address misconceptions.

Olivia Lee

Olivia Lee graduated summa cum laude this spring with a dual degree in biochemistry and world cultures and literatures with a concentration in German. She also earned a minor in chemistry. While at UH, Olivia played as a forward for the women’s soccer team. She traveled to the Galápagos Islands and discovered her passion for marine biology and sustainability through working on conservation research projects. She participated in the Houston Early Research Experience (HERE), worked as a biology peer facilitator and served as a German tutor for the modern and classical languages department. She received the German Studies Excellence Award and the Max Freund Award. During the 2021-2022 academic year, Olivia will work as an English Teaching Assistant in Germany. She hopes to gain insight into their perspective on conservation, sustainability and education. Olivia plans to attend graduate school to study marine biology and use what she learned from her Fulbright experience to contribute to environmental conservation.

Shailee Modi

Shailee Modi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and with two Honors College minors, medicine and society and leadership studies. She spent her time at UH serving her community and preparing for her goal of becoming a physician. Through the Science Mentoring for a Richer Tomorrow service project, she discovered her passion for teaching and mentoring students. Modi also sought to step outside her comfort zone by studying abroad in the Galápagos Islands, which fueled her desire to travel and experience different cultures. As an English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic, Modi hopes to improve her intercultural communication skills and learn more about how the Czech education system tackles inequality. Looking forward, she plans to attend medical school to continue serving others and working with diverse communities.

Carl Suerte

Carl Suerte graduated in December 2020 with a biology major and a minor in chemistry. Throughout his undergraduate career, he studied the molecular basis of complex behaviors in fruit flies under the mentorship of Brigitte Dauwalder. In 2018 and 2020, he received the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship to fund his endeavors with the Dauwalder group. As a sophomore, he received a Houston Scholars Program grant to do research at the University of Tokyo. There, as a member of Robert Campbell’s laboratory, he worked on developing tools for the real-time imaging of brain cell metabolism. While working with a diverse, international group, he was inspired to continue conducting research at an international level and applied for a Fulbright grant to resume his research in Tokyo. When Suerte returns to the Campbell Lab, he will work toward developing a high-performance tool to image a metabolic pathway implicated in neurodegeneration. Following the Fulbright Program, he plans to pursue postgraduate education and continue researching metabolism’s role in disease.

The biology and biochemistry department had the greatest showing among College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics graduates that received Fulbright awards. Five NSM students won Fulbrights; the fifth is mathematics graduate Ana Belén Gutiérrez.

Most Competitive Application Year Yet

This year marks the second time in three years that 10 or more UH students have earned Fulbright grants in the same application cycle. Since 2018, 36 UH students have been named Fulbrighters. To put that in perspective: UH received a total of 35 Fulbrights in the years between 1966 and 2017.

The 2021-2022 cycle was the most competitive application year for Fulbright. Due to the cancellation of many programs because of the pandemic, Fulbright evaluated both current and previous applicants when awarding this year’s grants.

“UH Fulbright applicants demonstrated incredible resilience. Despite the stiff competition, uncertainty caused by the pandemic, and remote advising, more UH students applied for Fulbright program than ever before (46) and UH recorded one of its largest recipient cohorts in school history,” said Ben Rayder, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards. “I am so excited for the newest cohort of UH Fulbrighters who will have transformative experiences on their grants abroad.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, is designed to build relations between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries. It is funded through an annual appropriation to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide, with the aim of solving global challenges.