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Twenty Penn students and alumni, including Megan Everts (Top Left), Bhavana Penmetsa (Top Right), Gabe DeSantis (Bottom Left), Neelima Paleti (Bottom Middle), and Edward Stevens (Bottom Right) were awarded Fulbright grants this year.

Twenty Penn students and alumni were awarded Fulbright grants for the 2021-2022 academic year to conduct research, pursue graduate studies, or teach English abroad.

The Fulbright Program, paid for by the United States government, funds up to 12 months of international experience for the award recipients. Of the 20 recipients from Penn, 12 are graduating seniors, six are graduate students, and two are alumni.

The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with five of the recipients to discuss their plans, motivations, and goals for the upcoming year.

Gabe DeSantis

Gabe DeSantis, who received Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Engineering in 2020 and 2021, respectively, received a Fulbright grant to pursue his interest in cultivated, lab-grown meat. He will be joining a research group at the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory in Braga, Portugal, to build a model that can use 3-D bioprinting to cultivate meat.

DeSantis learned about bioprinting as an intern at Allevi, a tissue engineering company based in Philadelphia, and credits classes he took at Penn, such as “Global Food Security,” for his interest in lab-grown meats.

He was first introduced to cultivating meat while studying abroad in Zürich. He decided to apply for a Fulbright grant to conduct research internationally because of the many “cutting-edge” cultured meat companies he saw based in Europe, he said.

“It’s an industry that is super exciting, super impactful, and has high potential [to have] an impact on society [and] move us towards a more sustainable future,” he added.

Megan Everts

2021 College graduate Megan Everts received a Fulbright grant to teach English in South Korea.

During her first year at Penn, Everts said she became friends with a South Korean exchange student who spoke positively about her home country. The interaction, as well as a semester abroad in South Korea, led her to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to teach there, she said. Everts also credits the support and guidance of her International Relations major advisor Frank Plantan Jr., who shared her interests in Korean studies, for her decision to apply for the grant.

Everts said the other international experiences she had at Penn — such as summer internships in France and a semester abroad in Japan — shaped her career interest in public diplomacy.

“I’m interested in [participating in the Fulbright Program] because it’s a program I can help facilitate in the future if I eventually achieve my goal of becoming a public diplomacy officer in the [U.S.] Foreign Service,” she said. 

Neelima Paleti

2021 College graduate Neelima Paleti received a Fulbright grant to study high C-section rates in India. 

Paleti plans to conduct her research by interviewing C-section patients in Hyderabad, India. She said she chose to conduct her research in Hyderabad because of her knowledge of Telugu, the language commonly spoken in that region. The research is a continuation of her Health and Societies senior honors thesis, which she was unable to complete due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Paleti said she has experience interacting with patients because of the Penn Global Research and Internship Program, through which she spent a summer in Sri Lanka interacting with chronic kidney disease patients to complete an anthropology research project. The patient interactions she had in Sri Lanka led to her interests in how patients make decisions about health care, she said, adding that she hopes to earn a doctor of medicine and a master’s in public health in the future.

"Seeing how the patient is experiencing healthcare and how we can design [healthcare] to best optimize their needs is something that I want to do in the future,” she said.

Bhavana Penmetsa

2021 College graduate Bhavana Penmetsa received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Spain. 

Penmetsa said she chose to teach in Spain because of her experience studying Spanish in high school and at Penn. She added that her experience visiting Spain during her semester abroad in London also influenced her decision.

“I found the people were so joyful, warm, and full of life,” she said.

Penmetsa credits her experience growing up bilingual with immigrant parents for her desire to help others learn English. She added that her experience as a Penn Writing Center tutor has helped prepare her to teach others.

“[In my application], I gave different examples of different types of students I’ve worked with and strategies I’ve developed, and how I can use those strategies as a Fulbright teaching assistant,” she said.

Penmetsa said she plans to use her experience abroad to help shape her interests after recently changing her career path.

"[At] the beginning of this year, I applied to graduate programs in computer science. I thought I wanted to do that, but I realized I don’t and instead want to go to law school,” she said. “I’m excited to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people, and figure out who I am outside of being a student.”

Edward Stevens IV

2021 College graduate Edward Stevens IV will use his Fulbright award at the University of Helsinki in Finland to pursue a master’s degree in contemporary societies.

Stevens chose to study in Finland because of the country’s criminal justice system, which has a large focus on rehabilitation, he said. He added that he was specifically interested in Finland’s “open prisons” system, which allows some prisoners to study at universities, work jobs, and occasionally leave the prison facility on weekends.

Stevens said he views this opportunity as a chance to learn about Finnish culture while also investigating the possibility of implementing similar prison reforms in the U.S., a topic he is interested in researching during his graduate studies. 

When applying to the Fulbright Program, Stevens said he emphasized the personal connection he had to his career goals as a Black man from a low-income background, adding that he hopes to teach people in Finland about his life experiences while also learning from theirs. 

“I really wanted to use my time through Fulbright to help better outcomes for individuals [who] come from backgrounds like my own [in] the criminal justice system,” he said.