Fulbright Scholar Stories


Stories from Fulbrighters

Ffulbright-gaskellruit Crop Training in Morocco: Berries For Export

Mark Gaskell, UC Davis Extension, 2011-2012 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Morocco

The objective of my Fulbright scholarship was to help the Moroccan Agronomic Research Institute (INRA) develop programs with small fruit berry crops, thereby contributing to long-term rural development in Morocco. I would continue to train Moroccan agronomic researchers in small fruit crops and assist them in establishing a network of berry field trial sites.

My contacts and collaborators in Morocco helped me enormously in carrying out the program. For my wife and me, the opportunity to live and work in an Arab and Muslim culture has been an unforgettably enriching experience.

Morocco’s proximity to Europe, a climate similar to California and manual labor supply enable Moroccan farms to supply many out-of-season fruits and vegetables for the European Union. However, for farmers to be successful with these new crops, they need sound technical advice based on knowledge gained from research under local conditions.

Morocco’s INRA has developed field and laboratory research with traditional Moroccan crops such as wheat, barley, citrus, figs and olives, but it has lacked prior knowledge and experience with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. I was able to offer my knowledge and experience. I have seen beneficial effects also for my work with growers in California because my experience with small fruit crops in diverse conditions also improves my effectiveness with research and development of these crops in California.

For carrying out the work, I had a great ally in an INRA researcher who was completing a Ph.D. thesis on blueberries, who took charge of the field trials, helped put together training events and assisted in developing a network of research collaborators for the new berry crops. I worked closely with her on specific field and classroom training, selecting sites, designing and planning the field trials, and enlisting the collaboration of growers. In developing a three day workshop for training INRA scientists and interested growers, I received assistance from the Agricultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat.

This initial series of training events fulfilled the objective of familiarizing Moroccan agricultural field technicians and researchers on essential aspects of production and post-harvest management of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Field visits enabled the Moroccans—some of whom had never had the opportunity to even taste the fruit—to feel comfortable about the growing requirements of these crops. As a result, more than 20 researchers and field technical personnel have formed a small fruit research network to continue to exchange information and expand involvement in research and training opportunities for small fruit crops. In addition, some successful strawberry producers are beginning to produce blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to export to the EU via established strawberry marketing channels.

Fulbright-christopherRiding Egypt’s Revolution

Mary Christopher, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 2010-2011 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Egypt

Welcome to Egypt! It’s a phrase foreigners hear often on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. When Professor Mary Christopher arrived in Egypt as a Fulbright Scholar in November 2010, she had no way of knowing her welcome would be transformed by the tumultuous popular uprising of the Arab Spring. 

A veterinary pathologist, Christopher immersed herself in teaching and advising, working with universities and ministries to develop resources in animal and public health and helping to enhance the international competitiveness of Egypt’s scientists in writing and publication.

As Egypt’s 2011 revolution unfurled, Christopher found herself in the midst of a demonstration, roamed Tahrir Square in the calm between protests, and experienced the eerie vacuum of a communication blackout, before finally securing a flight out of the country. Her advice in a revolution: “Carry plenty of cash, have a plan B, and embrace uncertainty!” Welcome to Egypt!

After a two-month hiatus in Greece, Christopher returned to Egypt to complete her grant period. “Although the revolution scuttled some activities, the Fulbright offered ample flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances, and new opportunities quickly took their place.”  

Christopher also made the most of the revolution to explore Egypt’s culture, geography, and ancient history. The dearth of tourists meant crowd-free travel to the heights of Mount Sinai, the Red Sea at Hurghada, and the pyramid fields and tombs of Dahshur and Saqqara.

Just as bonds are forged deeply during moments of crisis, the revolution strengthened the connections made between Christopher and her Egyptian colleagues and students. “The revolution stimulated discussions about oppression and democracy—people felt free to share opinions and ideas they might not otherwise have voiced.”

For Christopher, the revolution emphasized the social and political forces that affect people’s lives, whether they are peasants raising ducks and cattle, academics trying to conduct research, or students learning to be veterinarians.

“One goal of a Fulbright is to enable you to view and understand your work in a new environment. The revolution added a unique and indelible context to this understanding.”

Christopher has documented her experiences in a photo exhibit, “A Fulbright in Egypt: Continuity amid Change,” on display in Gladys Valley Hall at the School of Veterinary Medicine through June 2014. Her photographs tell a compelling story of her journey and capture the beauty and chaos of Egypt at this critical and convulsive juncture in its history.

Her images also focus attention on the animals of Egypt, and their intimate connections with people. “The Fulbright enriched and transformed my world-view of the many ways in which animals, science, and medicine intersect with culture, politics, and religion, shaping a deeper understanding of the unique opportunities and challenges that face veterinary medicine in Egypt.”

fulbright-thorsenTreatment Methods of Metastatic Melanoma

Frits Thorsen, University of Bergen, 2011-2012 Visiting U.S. Fulbright Scholar from Norway

Frits Thorsen is a Fulbright scholar at the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He started his career as a Medical Physicist at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway.

Thorsen is currently employed as Professor at the Department of Biomedicine, University of Bergen, Norway. He is Platform Leader of the Molecular Imaging Center, which is an open core imaging facility, harboring imaging equipment from electron microscopes, via confocal microscopes to animal imaging (bioluminescence, fluorescence and MRI).

The research interest of Thorsen includes primary and secondary malignant brain tumors. He has just developed novel animal models, where cell lines developed from brain tumor biopsies from patients with malignant melanomas, are injected systemically into immunodeficient animals. Tumors develop specifically in the brains of the animals, and Thorsen is currently studying whether genetic signatures can be found in these tumors.

Thorsen's research group in Bergen is studying therapeutic responses to melanoma brain metastases, including the use of established as well as novel therapeutic drugs, and miRNAs as potential new therapeutic candidates. During his stay in Davis, Thorsen collaborates with the research group of Professor Katherine Ferrara, in developing novel treatment methods of metastatic melanoma in animal models, using chemotherapeutic drugs encapsulated into liposomes.


Yin Yeh, UC Davis, College of Engineering, 2012-13 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Taiwan

Immediately upon my retirement from UC Davis, I thought about giving something back to both the University that has been my strong support for nearly 40 years and to the world at large. I have been at UC Davis since 1973, starting as a newly recruited faculty in the Department of Applied Science, in the College of Engineering, and ending as Professor and its last Chair prior our being absorbed into other interdisciplinary departments. Earlier, I came to the U.S. in 1949 from China with my parents during the Chinese civil war. Growing up in the U.S., I have often heard about Senator J. William Fulbright, who was always thinking about peace, even in times of war. So when the call for application for a Fulbright Scholarship came from our International Relations office, I eagerly absorbed the introduction and proceeded to apply for a Senior Scholar position with Fulbright Taiwan.

Taiwan is Chinese and yet it is not Chinese. I did not have a chance to visit Taiwan until 2005. My association with this beautiful island nation began with my meeting Professor Arthur Chiou of National Yang Ming University of Taiwan. Both of our research areas focused on “biophotonics”, a new field involving the use of light waves or particles to probe materials both biological and biomedical. Representing our NSF-funded Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China at various conferences, my in-depth associations in the Far East grew. I developed an appreciation that in the scientific research arena, the world is very flat already, and excellence can be found anywhere in the world. For the Fulbright project I chose a project that has world impact. Together with my UC Davis colleague, Professor Atul Parikh and my Taiwan colleague, Professor Chien Chou of Chang Gung University, we decided to explore the idea that the very early onset of neuronal cell toxicity involves Amyloid-beta molecules playing an important role in inducing toxicity and cell death. This of course describes Alzheimer’s Disease, which still has no definitive cause, but is now the dreaded “old-age” mental disease of world-wide impact. Together we decided to initiate a study using Professor Chou’s world-class, ultra-sensitive label-free method to probe the early invasion of Amyloid particles against cellular membranes that Professor Parikh and I can prepare with many variants. I was awarded both the Fulbright Senior Scholar and the UC Davis Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship for 2012–2013. I am deeply grateful for both awards.

A Fulbright award is not simply a grant application that is funded. Fulbright experience is a total one in scholarship and in human interaction.

Indeed, paraphrasing Senator Fulbright’s words, “A little shared knowledge can lead to a world with much more understanding and far less conflict” is perhaps even more true now in our age of rapid communication. The Fulbright Taiwan experience included interacting with many Fulbright colleagues who are teachers, educators, artists, musicians, political scientists and economists, each exploring ways to use his or her own expertise to better the world by understanding one another more. We had a private audience with President Ma Ying-Jeou of Taiwan. From that meeting, we learned about his plans for improving relations between China and Taiwan in ways that economically it is advantageous to both sides. We also had a Cross-Strait session with our Fulbright Scholars in China. Again, the theme is that problems of one touch upon many others, and indeed touch all human kind world over.

On a personal scale, I benefited further by receiving an EAP Regional Travel Award and embarked on my first visit to Vietnam, where citizens’ aspirations are as high as anywhere else, and their goal is to catch up to China’s level of success in approximately 30 years. Indeed, my interaction with the University of Science of the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City has already led to a successful beginning of international collaboration between that institute and UC Davis in the area of computer science research and education.

In my focal area of research, I was invited by Director Professor Din-Ping Tsai to give six hours of lectures in which I was able to enlighten over 100 graduate students and senior scholars at the Research Center of Applied Science of the ROC Academia Sinica, on the topic of Biophotonics. My collaboration with Professors Chou and Parikh continues today. We have made contributions to two international symposia (China and Taiwan) and I communicate with the Ph.D. student shared between Professor Chou and myself via email and skype. I look forward to new opportunities to reacquaint with the language and culture of this part of the world while we continue to pursue the goals of our joint research.