UW Bioengineering undergraduates Sarah Slack and Vidhi Singh, and Ph.D. student Hannah VanBenschoten, were awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarships for the 2020-21 academic year. They join 19 other UW student awardees and about 1,900 students and recent graduates nationwide who will study and teach abroad when international travel resumes. The program has delayed the start of programs until Jan. 1, 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
UW was named a top producer of Fulbright students and scholars last year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Vidhi Singh, a senior in Professor Paul Yager’s lab and member of UW’s Husky 100 Class of 2020, was offered a research grant to study in India.
- Sarah Slack, a senior in Associate Professor Kim Woodrow’s lab and member of UW’s Husky 100 Class of 2019, was offered a research grant to study in Brazil.
- Hannah VanBenschoten, a Ph.D. student in Associate Professor Kim Woodrow’s lab, was offered a research grant to study in Sweden.
Vidhi Singh – India, Open Study/ Research
Senior, Bioengineering major
“The disparities I observed during medical shadowing prompted me to understand how socioeconomic, political, and technological factors impact healthcare. To do so, I learn about medical advancements and their broader social implications at UW Seattle. My time at UW has been defined by the communities I entered: bioengineering, research, and journalism. Learning within these networks, I gained skills that inadvertently led me to the most rewarding leadership opportunities. I have been an undergraduate researcher under Dr. Paul Yager, whose lab develops inexpensive diagnostic tests for low-resource settings. Here, I develop imaging tools for our lab’s devices using smartphones. The research independence I gained here motivated me to accept a leadership role in a global health organization, Bioengineers without Borders, designing a dehydration monitor. Likewise, writing for the science and health + wellness sections of The Daily, UW’s student-led newspaper, led me to diverse perspectives in healthcare through interactions within the broad UW community. I have had the opportunity to speak with the most impressive and inspirational Huskies. Through these experiences, I understood the importance of applying evidence-based decision making and critical thinking in global health settings, recognizing interventions will only be successful with thoughtful consideration of the context, individuals, and current workflows. Bioengineering provided me the opportunity to leverage my comprehensive research background, commitment to improving medical access for diverse groups, and bridge a passion for technology, medicine, and global health. The professional, personal, and academic development experiences UW offered me has started my journey to a lifetime of work devoted towards improving the health of diverse communities.”
Sarah Slack – Brazil, Open Study/ Research
Senior, Bioengineering major
“As a Bioengineering major, I started at the University of Washington determined to contribute to medicine. Since a few months into my first year here, I have been researching in the global health-oriented Woodrow Lab, which has confirmed my desire to pursue a career focusing on international health, likely infectious disease. I started taking Portuguese classes during my second year, primarily motivated by the uniquely welcoming culture I experienced while traveling in Brazil with my father as an eighth grader to visit his old exchange family. Since then, my motivation for learning Portuguese has shifted towards integrating it, and what I have learned from studying it, into my work. My language studies have shown me the importance of researchers being able to communicate with the different communities they work in, improving my perspective as a researcher. While studying for two months in São Paulo, I noticed that my ability to speak Portuguese surprised and opened a door to connection with each person that I talked with. Returning to Ribeirão Preto as a Fulbright student would allow me to make connections in the community and in the laboratory, where my focus would be using genetic sequencing to combat drug-resistant tuberculosis by decreasing the time needed to make clinical decisions about treatment. To continue conducting similar work, I ultimately plan to attend medical school and specialize in infectious disease – a field where research collaboration with Brazil will remain important and the connections I would build as a Fulbright student relevant.”
Read about the 14 UW undergraduate level Fulbright students and five alternates in the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards announcement.
Doctoral student, Department of Bioengineering, Associate Professor Kim Woodrow’s lab
Award to conduct drug delivery research related to reproductive health in Sweden
Growing up in a family of engineers, Hannah VanBenschoten always knew she wanted to pursue an academic path that employed technical solutions to make a difference in people’s lives. As an undergraduate studying Biomedical Engineering at Boston University, Hannah was interested in the issue of equity when it comes to health, particularly equitable investment in medical innovation for conditions that affect underserved and marginalized populations.
One field Hannah felt particularly drawn to was reproductive health. She worked with NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts to help form a Reproductive Rights and Policy Advocates Club at BU. Canvassing for pro-choice candidates, especially around the time of the 2016 election, highlighted to Hannah the significance of working to ensure both political and biomedical commitment to women’s health and reproductive freedom.
Pursuing a Ph.D. in Bioengineering at UW, Hannah felt lucky to join a research group that marries her technical interests, specifically biomaterials and drug delivery, with a broader aim of designing tools for contraception and STI prevention. Hannah’s work so far has been focused on developing biodegradable polyester nano fibers that offer tunable release of contraceptive agents to mucosal surfaces within the female reproductive tract. She is excited to continue related research during her Fulbright grant through a collaboration with a group at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where she will work on developing a simplified drug delivery system for pharmacologically mediated abortion.
“I am incredibly honored and excited to travel to Sweden, where I will research a new drug delivery modality designed to simplify the current medical abortion protocol that was originally developed there,” Hannah said. “I am looking forward to undertaking this project in collaboration with a research group at the World Health Organization Center in Stockholm that seeks to understand and improve immigrant and refugee women’s experiences with abortion. Ultimately, I hope this opportunity will contribute to my Ph.D. in Bioengineering focused on expanding family planning options for women in high need and at-risk groups.”
UW Bioengineering Fulbright Students
Sarah, Vidhi and Hannah double the number of students in BioE’s history to receive a Fulbright Student Research/Study Award, now totaling six. BioE’s first Fulbright alumnus, Hani Mahmoud (B.S., ’14), collaborated with Kuwait’s Dasman Diabetes Institute on research and outreach aimed at improving children’s health. Sharon Newman (B.S., ’15) traveled to Europe to work with researchers in Switzerland, Germany and Italy to advance neuroprosthetic devices. Caleb Perez (B.S. ’18) traveled to Switzerland to work with researchers on novel approaches for cancer immunotherapy.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering grants for U.S. students to undertake individually designed international graduate study projects, advanced research, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide. During their grants, Fulbright students participate in a cultural exchange as they live with and learn from their host communities. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program operates in over 160 countries and annually offers about 2,000 grants.