Two KU doctoral students receive Fulbright-Hays dissertation award
LAWRENCE — Two doctoral candidates at the University of Kansas have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award, receiving a combined $92,000 to conduct research in South America.
Pere DeRoy, a doctoral candidate in women, gender & sexuality studies, received $51,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to travel to Guyana for 10 months to study reproductive health.
Micah Unruh, a doctoral candidate in ecology & evolutionary biology, received $41,000 to travel to Chile to research soil carbon storage.
The Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship Program provides opportunities for doctoral candidates to engage in full-time dissertation research abroad in modern foreign languages and area studies. The program is designed to contribute to the development and improvement of the study of modern foreign languages and area studies in the United States.
“Pere and Micah’s projects, as well as their focal languages of Guyanese Creole and Spanish, respectively, reflect the disciplinary and linguistic breadth of scholarly work that is supported by the Fulbright-Hays program,” said Rachel Sherman Johnson, director of internationalization and partnerships at KU International Affairs. “The training and language study they have undertaken at KU has prepared them well for their fieldwork abroad, where they will continue to advance their research and language skills.”
In January, DeRoy will travel to Guyana to examine the gaps between high maternal death rates and the reproductive policies that aim to reduce such deaths. The research will position Guyana as a case study for how international reproductive policies address high pregnancy-related death rates in the Global South and across non-white populations.
Located in Georgetown, DeRoy will be affiliated with the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Guyana and Red Thread, a local women’s rights organization.
DeRoy will research pregnancy and birthing experience, as well as maternal mortality in both state-sanctioned and informal, traditional health care settings. The award will allow DeRoy to collect data from diverse populations of Guyanese through interviews and focus groups, exploring how pregnancy and birthing stories, beliefs and politics intersect with interpretations of pregnancy-related deaths.
“Being named a Fulbright-Hays scholar strengthens and inspires my belief in the purpose and potential of my research as it removes financial constraints that can limit research quality and provides the resources to assist me to delve deeper into my research,” DeRoy said.
From Georgetown, Guyana, DeRoy received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Guyana in sociology and master’s degrees in development studies from York University in Toronto and women, gender & sexuality studies from KU. She also had a three-year Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship through the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies.
Beginning in January, Unruh will travel to Chile to collect soil samples near the base of the Llaima Volcano in Conguillio National Park, which is 400 miles south of Santiago. This unique soil spans different time periods but was formed with the same volcanic material under the same climatic conditions.
Unruh will study how soil development over time alters the interaction between plant roots and the soil structure, influencing the distribution and persistence of carbon in the earth’s deep subsurface. Ultimately, his work will allow scientists to better understand what regulates carbon stored in the soil and the effect that carbon released from soils has on climate change.
Unruh will be living in Santiago, where he will work with Aurora Gaxiola, associate professor in the ecology department at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
Conducting ecosystem ecology research in the Southern Hemisphere mitigates the overrepresentation of North American and European ecosystems in the field of earth science, Unruh said. That overrepresentation contributes to a source of uncertainty in climate models, making the need for varied points of view especially urgent in the context of global change.
“The Global North sets the international scientific agenda, and this arrangement does not give enough space for contributions from scientists working elsewhere,” Unruh said. “This project will strengthen ties between South American and U.S. scientists, and the diversity of perspectives emerging from these collaborations will advance both U.S. and international science.”
From Lewis, Unruh received his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Rockhurst University.
Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad grants are part of the larger competitive Fulbright-Hays Program, which dates to 1961 when the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright sponsored legislation for several programs that aim to increase mutual understanding between America and the rest of the world. Since the broader Fulbright program’s inception in 1946, 494 KU students, including DeRoy and Unruh, have been awarded Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays grants.