Campus News

Students awarded Fulbrights to travel to Brazil, Finland, Singapore

Student fulbright winners Elizabeth Lessner, Erika Ruhl and Erin Sweeney.

From left: Student Fulbright recipients Elizabeth Lessner, Erika Ruhl and Erin Sweeney. Photos: Douglas Levere (except where noted)


Published June 1, 2018 This content is archived.


This year, UB has produced three Fulbright winners, three alternates and six finalists, in addition to five other study abroad scholarship recipients.

Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, Fulbright Scholarships are awarded to nearly 8,000 students and scholars each year. The scholarship covers airfare to the country one is studying in and a stipend to cover housing expenses. It was proposed by Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1945 as a way to promote peace and friendship among all the nations of the world.

UB’s three 2018 Fulbright winners:

headshot of Elizabeth Lessner.

Elizabeth Lessner. Photo: Claire Dibble

Elizabeth Lessner, who studied media arts production at UB, is traveling to Brazil to conduct a creative arts project on embedded electronics. While there, she will teach workshops about physical computing and embedded electronics to university members and local communities.

“My research is focused on how sensory experiences bodily engage viewers. I make objects and installations that use sensory perception to reframe interpersonal interactions. I do this by combining traditional sculpture materials with embedded electronics to create multi-sensory experiences that are sometimes interactive. This work stands on the shoulders of Brazilian sculptor Lygia Clark’s use of immersive sensorial experiences to reframe viewers’ conceptions of self,” Lessner wrote in her Fulbright application.  

Lessner received her undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon and a MFA from UB in 2016. She is from Chicago.

headshot of Erika Ruhl.

Erika Ruhl

Erika Ruhl will head to Finland where she will continue her research into the subject of children’s identity and agency in pre-modern Finnish burial textiles. She says her dissertation topic examines community views of children in Finland through the burial practices at Oulu Cathedral and the churches of Haukipudas, Hailuoto and Keminmaa between the 15th and 19th centuries. Her project analyzes the burial clothes of pre-modern mummies preserved under the floors of these churches.

“Children are often ignored or forgotten in archaeological research. By analyzing naturally mummified burials at pre-modern Finnish churches, I examine children’s active role in history, exploring what ‘childhood’ meant and ways communities responded to losing a child. This project contributes to the wider and cross-cultural understanding of children and childhood,” noted Ruhl in her application.

Ruhl is from Appleton, Wisconsin, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Marquette University. She received an MA from UB in 2014 and is currently a doctoral student in anthropology, expected to graduate in 2020.

headshot of Erin Sweeney.

Erin Sweeney

Erin Sweeney will conduct research on designing innovative policy frameworks for a resilient food system in Singapore. She explains that as an urban planner, “I believe that engaging in local projects is vital to becoming part of the host community. Through my passion for growing food, I will volunteer at the city-run community gardens to meet Singaporeans of all ages and backgrounds to learn about local crops.

“Although Singapore is among the most food-secure countries in the world, it imports 90 percent of its food, making it vulnerable to external shocks,” Sweeney wrote in her application. “Through qualitative research with farmers and policymakers, my proposed project will explore the question: How can policy effectively support farmers’ capacity to produce a more resilient food supply? I will produce a set of briefs that recommend policies to enhance Singapore’s food-system resiliency and role as a regional leader in urban planning.” 

Sweeney is from Geneseo, New York. She received her BA from Allegheny College and earned her master’s degree in urban planning from UB this May.

UB’s three Fulbright alternates are Kelly Aldinger, Avye Alexandres and Antara Majumdar. The six finalists are Harman Paul Brar, Michael Fiorica, Brentyn Mendel, Anna Porter, Stanzi Vaubel and Leslie Veloz.

Fulbright scholarships are one of the many opportunities available for students interested in studying abroad — and UB students have earned those as well.

“This year, in addition to our three Fulbright winners, two students were awarded Critical Language Scholarships and three won Gillman scholarships,” says Megan Stewart, fellows and scholarships advisor at UB.

Critical Language Scholarships are awarded to those studying foreign languages the federal government deems as critical to national security and economic prosperity, while Benjamin A. Gillman International Scholarships help students from low-income families study in locations around the world.

Three other newsworthy items Stewart mentions are the renewed focus on faculty members pursuing Fulbrights; Patrick McDevitt, associate professor of history, will take on the role of Fulbright program adviser previously filled by Colleen Culleton, associate professor of romance languages and literatures; and a Fulbright workshop review is being offered by the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships this summer for interested students, alums and faculty.