In the aftermath of World War II,  the United States Congress set aside  funds to create the Fulbright Program,  a “flagship international academic exchange program.” Arkansas senator  J. William Fulbright introduced the  program through legislation in 1946  and President Harry Truman signed  it into law. The goal was to promote  the educational value of international  understanding and collaboration. This  vision is reflected nearly 80 years after  its initiation into western society. Fulbrighters, as they are fondly  nicknamed, come from all backgrounds from students and teachers  to artists and professionals. The program, nevertheless, is not to be taken  lightly. It is highly competitive and  the lucky students that are accepted  receive the opportunity to travel out of  the country. In doing so, the program  allows them to develop professionally  and learn not only about other cultures but themselves as well. The Justice spotlights four senior  fellows who will be pursuing their  passions through Fulbright following  graduation.


Annitah Nakandi ’24: Recipient  of Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan 

At the age of nine, Nakandi arrived  in the United States. As a young Black  woman who was born and raised in  Uganda, she has been grounded in East  African culture. Nonetheless, she is always excited to learn about other cultures as she has taken Mandarin Chinese since her first year at Brandeis.  The double major in Education and  East Asian studies with a Philosophy  minor shared her experience with The  Justice on April 25. 

What has your experience at  Brandeis been?

 “This is a bit vague so I’ll answer  how I best see fit. I’ve faced a lot of  barriers at Brandeis as a low-income,  first-generation student of color but  thankfully I found faculty — lecturers,  professors and advisors — who were  willing to offer any support that they  could provide. I’d also like to thank  [Student Support Services Program]  and [Generation One Network] for  creating a community for people like  me. Though I did not get to utilize the  resources as often as I’d have liked to,  it’s nice to know they exist. I’m also  thankful for the friends I’ve made here  who have provided me with a lot of  support and love. They’ve made it easier to get through [university].” 

Have you always been interested  in teaching? “Yes, but not in the way most people  might think. I’ve always helped my  siblings with their homework, and I  volunteered as a tutor at many organizations before I ever stood in front  of a classroom to teach. It was a gradual build-up, and during those days if  someone asked me if I wanted to be a  teacher I’d have said no. The main reason is that being an educator in this  country is not very attractive because  of the low pay and the terrible working  conditions. I’ve always been an educator at heart and no matter how much I  tried to deny it, the truth was as clear  as day. I’ve always gravitated towards  the education field, so I’ve taught but  I’ve also created curriculum and created and facilitated educational programs within my community.”  

Tell me about your application  process? Take me through that story. “I’ll start by saying that there was  no interview process for my program.  Everything was based on the written  application. As for my process, it was  a very long one. I started working on  my application around June of last  year and I had to rewrite my essays  many times because the quality was  negatively affected by the exhaustion  brought on by working a full-time job.  In August I decided to stop working  and focus on my application and that’s  when I started to make rapid progress.  I want to take this time to thank [Director Meredith English Monaghan]  and [Associate Director Elizabeth  Rotolo] at the [Academic] Fellowships  office for their unwavering support  and their great efforts in helping me  through the application process. I  don’t think I would’ve made it without  them.”

How did you feel when you were  accepted? “I felt a sense of triumph and relief.  The submission deadline was in October so I had been waiting for quite  some time. I was relieved that the wait  was over, and I was so thankful that all  that hard work had finally paid off.”  

What does Fulbright mean to  you? “To me, Fulbright is an opportunity  to learn and grow. One of my favorite  subjects to teach is English as a Second Language, and in Taiwan, I will  have the opportunity to learn from  experienced teachers and will have  the chance to practice all that I will  learn. Also, as someone who has taken four years of Mandarin Chinese at  Brandeis, I see this as an opportunity  to continue improving my language  skills.” 

What are you most excited about? “I am excited for all the new connections I will form, all the good food  I will eat, the sun, all the new knowledge I will be able to take in and lastly,  the cultural exchanges that will occur  as those around me learn about my  culture and as I learn about theirs.”  

Erick Comas Hernandez ’24: Recipient of Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Colombia A fellow first-generation college  student and immigrant, Comas Hernandez grew up in the Dominican  Republic. He is double majoring in International Global Studies and Health:  Science, Society and Policy. Hernandez shared his excitement with being a  senior at Brandeis and now Fulbright  Scholar with The Justice on April 25. 

What has been your experience at  Brandeis?

“My experience has been very positive  at Brandeis. I was fortunate enough to get  a [World of Work] fellowship and that introduced me to the field of social justice  and the concept of popular education. I  was also able to study abroad through  Brandeis-funded scholarships. Without  these opportunities, I do not think I would  have been able to win a Fulbright so I am  very grateful.”  

Have you always been interested in  teaching? 

“I have a lot of experience teaching  through mentorship programs like Prospect Hills Kids’ Club for Waltham Group,  SSSP [Student Support Services Program]  and [Myra Kraft Achievers Program]  for Brandeis First Generation Students,  and Roses in Concrete for Waltham High  School Seniors. I think the best part of  the Fulbright opportunity is the part that  I’ll get to do a side project with the local  community. I look forward to getting to do  some hands-on work outside of the classroom like with the Red Cross or a Cardiovascular Health Foundation.” 

Can you tell me about your application process? “The application process was very intense. I worked with [Monaghan] and  [Rotolo] on [five to six] different drafts,  each, highlighting something different  about me. It was a lot of rewording and  reevaluating, but I think it allowed me to  understand who I was and what my values  were. I’m not sure how much I can say, but the  interview was with three other potential  awardees. I assume that I was competing  against them. I had to study Colombia for  three days before the interview to stand  out.”  

How did you feel when you got accepted? 

“I didn’t cry when I got accepted to  Brandeis University, but I cried with joy  when I got this opportunity. This opportunity just reaffirmed that all the hard work  I’ve done as an undergraduate and professionally is enough and that with hard  work things work out.”  

What does Fulbright mean to you? 

“It means the opportunity to serve the  Colombian community sustainably —  teaching English — while helping spread  understanding of U.S. multiculturalism. It  also means developing professionally and  a good first step to representing the U.S.,  which I consider to be my country.”  What are you excited about? “I am most excited about exploring Colombia outside of the classroom. It is one  of the most biodiverse countries in the  world. I also hope to go to their rivers and  their beaches and participate in their Kite  Festivals, which is something I used to  play with in the Dominican Republic.”  

Andie Sheinbaum ’24: Recipient of  Fulbright study grant in the United  Kingdom 

Originally from Colorado, Sheinbaum  is an Environmental Studies major and  double minor in Legal Studies and English. She shared her passion for environmental action, which she explained affects  nearly every part of the world. Sheinbaum  shared her responses with The Justice on  April 25. 

Where is Fulbright taking you? “This type of grant [study grant] allows  me to get a master’s degree abroad. For  mine, I’m getting a Master of Sciences in  Green Infrastructure at the University of  Manchester, which is the only such program in the world. “ 

Can you tell me about your application process?  “In regards to my application process,  I was encouraged by the Brandeis Fellowship office to look into Fulbrights,  and I found a really good match with the  University of Manchester Study Award. I  wrote many, many many, drafts of my essays, and the Fellowship office — as well  as numerous friends and family — looked  over my application materials. I submitted everything in October and heard back  in January that I had been selected as a  semi-finalist. Then, I got told that I was  shortlisted and asked to interview. This  happened over Zoom, and they sent me the  application questions ahead of time. I did  a practice interview with [Monaghan] and  [Rotolo] at the [Academic Fellowship] office and incorporated their feedback. The  interview itself was way more relaxed  than I expected, and I was basically just  having a conversation with some U.K. Fulbright [alumni].” 

How did you feel when you were accepted? 

“I was not initially excited when I got  accepted. I already had another job that I  was happy with, and I was actually walking into a second job interview when I  got the email. That said, I am now feeling more sanguine about it and excited to  start my journey in the UK.” 

What does Fulbright mean to you? 

“To me, Fulbright means that I have an  opportunity to enrich my learning and development in a way I didn’t think I would  ever be able to. I never studied abroad, so  I’m really looking forward to this. In addition, Green Infrastructure is one of the  central tenets of my senior thesis, and I’m  very excited to delve deeper into it.” 

What are you most excited about? 

“I think I’m most excited to develop a  new community in the U.K. I’ve only ever  been out of the country for a week before,  so I’m looking forward to doing all the fun  things that come with meeting new people  in a new place.” 

Isabelle Aiko Shiiba ’24: Recipient of  Fulbright research grant in Japan 

Shiiba is is a STEM Posse Scholar from  Queens, New York. She describes herself  as a half-Japanese and half-Romanian  child of immigrants from a low-income  background. As a dedicated Biological  Physics major, she is the Undergraduate  Departmental Representative and the copresident and co-founder of the Brandeis  Physics Club. Beyond this she is also a  Community Advisor and on the executive  board of Femme of Color Alliance. Shiiba  shared her experience with The Justice on  April 29.  

What has been your experience at  Brandeis? 

“My experience at Brandeis started off  during peak [COVID-19] thus my first two  years of college felt isolating when it came  to academics. Fortunately, my posse kept  me going and we stuck to each other like  glue. But during this time, I lacked community in my academics, especially in my  physics classes. I also started working at  my current lab: Dr. Guillaume Duclos research group during the spring of my first  year… and I worked there over summer  2022 with the [Summer Materials Research  Undergraduate Fellowship]. Starting fall  2022 I felt more confident as a scientist  and student, and my friend Hriday Talreja  and I decided to start the Brandeis Physics  Club after that summer working together  in the Duclos Lab. I also started my role  that semester as the Biophysics UDR with  a goal to create community for underrepresented groups in physics, encourage  more majors with biophysics and physics  students and provide support/resources  such as starting the Directed Reading Program and hosting grad school panels. By being part of these two academic  roles I solidified my ‘purpose’ at Brandeis  by developing my scientific skills through  research and engaging with community  building initiatives as a response to what  I felt was lacking. Despite these roles, I  have struggled with imposter syndrome  and labor to carry out these responsibilities throughout my time at Brandeis. The  imposter syndrome is still within me, even  after I applied to Fulbright and Ph.D programs last fall 2023. I didn’t let these feelings stop my determination to try anyway,  because I convinced myself that these  paths will lead me to be the scientist I hope  to be.” 

Can you tell me about your application process? 

“My application process started at the  end of May 2023 [to] early June 2023 after  I returned from studying abroad in Osaka,  Japan through the [Consortium for Educational Travel] language intensive program. I left Japan feeling full of content,  I checked off all my bucket list items such  as wearing a kimono for my birthday,  making friends with locals, getting new  tattoos. But I had one experience I lacked:  I didn’t get to do any research or step into  a laboratory. So, I decided to look up any  way I could return to gain this experience. Fulbright’s research award was the  perfect match to help me return because it  was a 10 month award and fully funded —  the perfect gap year before I start my long  Ph.D journey. Immediately I started working with Meredith and Elizabeth from the  Fellowships office at Brandeis and began  learning about the application process.  By mid June I began corresponding with  Professor Akira Kakugo from the Active  Matter Lab at Kyoto University and began  building my application. It took until August [to] September to finish my research  proposal after many zooms from learning  about his microtubule swarming system  to cultivating a feasible project and proposal to guide these swarms. The application process felt never ending until the  final October 10, 2023 deadline. Then, it  was radio silence until I found out I was a  semi-finalist sometime at the end of January 2024. Then, I found out I received the  award on March 28, 2024 during my last  Ph.D program visit at The University of  Maryland College Park. I didn’t have to  interview for Fulbright, thankfully.” 

How did you feel when you got accepted? 

“When I found out I got accepted I just  left my last interview with professors  for the day, exhausted, I saw I had a portal update from Fulbright. Immediately  I stopped walking and found the nearest  bench at UMD, called my bestie Milena  Ferreira and opened the Fulbright portal  on my laptop. When I saw I received the  award it felt surreal, because the waiting  game was so long it almost felt like I made  up this potential Fulbright experience. I  was so happy that now I can stop dancing  around the words ‘if I get Fulbright and go  to Japan….’”  Can you share what research and  other projects you will be working on  in Japan? “At Kyoto University’s Active Matter  Lab, my project seeks to merge life sciences and physics to explore the “swarming”  phenomenon, a collective motion seen in  entities like bird flocks and fish schools,  for developing biologically-inspired machines. Harnessing Professors Kakugo and  Ichikawa’s innovative swarming mechanisms using cellular-derived biofilaments,  the aim is to conceptualize and regulate  biomaterial clusters for building efficient  man-made swarms. Employing components such as microtubules, DNA strands  and light-sensitive azobenzene, the project  will focus on guiding swarming behavior,  especially via azobenzene’s light-activated  DNA-binding properties. I plan to explore  movement manipulation by utilizing precise light patterning to propel the swarms’  formation and direction. The envisioned  outcome is directionally controlled swarm  motion, advancing materials science, medicine and energy applications. This endeavor’s success is poised to  revolutionize biomolecular swarm robots,  laying a foundation for future biophysical innovations and enhancing global  scientific collaboration. My experience at  Brandeis University’s Duclos lab aligns  seamlessly with this initiative, since I  have worked with the same biological networks such as microtubules and kinesin.  Beyond rigorous scientific inquiry, working on biomolecular swarms at Kyoto University offers collaboration opportunities  with global biophysics experts, enriching  my long-term aspiration to head my own  research lab and team. At the Active Matter Lab, I will be able to exchange cultural  practices, learn cutting-edge laboratory  techniques and foster professional relationships that will carry on beyond Fulbright. I will also join the Active Matter  Lab’s high school outreach program to  encourage STEM involvement amongst  local Kyoto students and volunteer at the  ‘Ki-Zu-Na’ language exchange program at  Kyoto University to enhance my Japanese  linguistic skills and to foster genuine connections with local college students.” 

What does Fulbright mean to you?  

“Fulbright means an opportunity to  receive funding for research that will not  only support my career trajectory but I  will be able to create transnational collaborations and facilitate this. It also means  joining a network of amazing scientists,  researchers, scholars and more who want  to help the world.” 

What are you most excited about?  

“I’m most excited about meeting my  Japanese friends again and meeting new  people and building lasting relationships  professionally and personally through the  Active Matter Lab. I chose the Active Matter Lab both for their impressive and exciting research, but also because they are  composed of many international researchers, which is more rare in Japan which  is ethnically 96% Japanese. Although I’m  half Japanese, I wasn’t accepted as Japanese — I’m in the hafu category — so I  believe working with international researchers will aid the work life culture  shock I anticipate to run into. In addition to this, being that I’m from Queens,  NYC, being immersed with people from all  walks of life is my norm, so I hope to find  comfort in the diversity of the Active Matter Lab. I’m excited to contribute to their  dynamic and work hard, but play hard as  well. My dream is to make lifelong friends,  build future scientific collaborations, contribute to a research paper and travel Japan as much as possible. I especially want  to visit the Shiiba village, Shiiba-mura, in  Miyazaki, Japan to trace back my family  roots and discover when my grandfather’s  family left the village to Nagasaki. This  quest was started by my aunts last summer of 2023, and I hope to finish the work  they started in tracing back our family  whereabouts.