Combining Language Skills and Satellites to Break the Story of the Year

Megha Rajagopalan
2010 Fulbright U.S. Student to China

Person standing against wall, smiling and with arms crossed, in a black dress with quarter sleeves

In a series of stories published in 2020, Megha Rajagopalan harnessed geospatial technology and old-fashioned reporting to expose the scale of the internment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Province. For this piece of groundbreaking journalism Rajagopalan, along with her BuzzFeed News colleagues Alison Killing and Christo Buschek, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. She became one of 89 Fulbright alumni who have won a total of 95 Pulitzer Prizes.

Rajagopalan previously reported on the links between Facebook and religious violence in Sri Lanka, for which she won a Mirror Award in 2019. She is also the recipient of the Asia 21 Young Leader Award (2019) and the Human Rights Press Award (2018). In her spare time, she volunteers as a career mentor for the Coalition for Women in Journalism and Report For America.

Rajagopalan’s work has been translated into 7 languages, read in classrooms at Columbia and New York Universities, and anthologized in 2018’s What Future: The Year’s Best Writing on What’s Next for People, Technology, and the Planet. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TIME, WIRED,, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Rajagopalan, who speaks Tamil and Mandarin Chinese, says she was inspired by her time living and working in China. As a Fulbright U.S. Student in Beijing, she conducted research on the Chinese news media. This experience assisted her during her first job in international reporting at Reuters in Beijing, allowing her to better understand some of the major issues in China and to develop new sources.

While on her Fulbright in China, she received a Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), which enabled her to undertake Chinese language immersion at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University, strengthening her language skills to the point that she could carry out interviews and consume Chinese news. She also had the chance to meet and learn from accomplished Chinese journalists and scholars whose knowledge and advice helped to shape her career path. 

Rajagopalan has reported from 23 countries in Asia and the Middle East on stories ranging from the North Korean nuclear crisis to the peace process in Afghanistan. She has covered stories across the region from the Philippines to North Korea, with her recent work focusing on technology and human rights. As a staff correspondent for BuzzFeed News for five years, she was previously based in China, Thailand, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Prior to her time at BuzzFeed, she worked as a political correspondent for Reuters in China, where she reported on diplomacy and security. She was previously a research fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington, D.C., and an intern at ProPublica, reporting on digital privacy, security and freedom.

Rajagopalan, born to parents from India, was raised in Maryland and graduated from the University of Maryland. She is grateful for her supportive family, but she understands the importance of getting outside of one’s comfort zone. To that end, she provides some advice for students considering going on an international exchange program like Fulbright stating, “I would encourage [students] to acquire language skills if they can because that’s a great thing to spend time on in college … Also, keep an open mind and try not to spend all your time with your American friends.”

The Fulbright Program congratulates Megha Rajagopalan on her 2021 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and salutes her for shining a light on stories that offer readers a chance to be better informed about the world that we all share.

Fighting Against Invisibility in Indigenous Health Care

Victor Anthony Lopez-Carmen
Indigenous Health Advocate
2017 Fulbright U.S. Student to Australia

Person wearing a tan polo with a design standing in front of a backdrop of people dressed in traditional cultural clothing

Victor Lopez-Carmen is all too aware of the disparities Indigenous Americans encounter in the U.S. healthcare system – as a child he suffered third-degree burns that could only be treated at a hospital many miles away from his village. As he told The Harvard Gazette: “I know that invisibility in the field of health care can be life or death for my people.” His decision to become a doctor is rooted in his desire to challenge that invisibility and ensure that Indigenous Americans have equal access to health care. Lopez-Carmen is a member of both the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and the Pascua Yaqui Nation. He was raised among a passionate community of activists who have dedicated their lives to preserving their cultures and languages, and to raising awareness of the vast inequities many Indigenous communities face.

As an undergraduate student at Ithaca College, Lopez-Carmen was a vocal activist for increased Native American representation on campus. His leadership among the student body resulted in the establishment of a Native American Studies program at the college.

In 2018, Lopez-Carmen was selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program – the first recipient of a Fulbright grant from his tribal nation. His Fulbright took him to Western Sydney University in Australia, where he completed a master’s in public health with high honors. His research focused on Indigenous health equality and increasing culturally sensitive care for Aboriginal youth and their families.

The scope of Lopez-Carmen’s accomplishments as a Fulbrighter extended well beyond his academic achievements. He leveraged his time in Australia to connect with Indigenous community leaders, key decision makers, and policy makers in higher education and the private sector to maximize the impact of his research. He received an award from the Lois Roth Endowment in 2018 to extend the scope of his research to the Lokono-Arawak Tribe in Barbados and spoke at a TEDx event about the philosophy behind the Seventh Generation Earth Ethic, the Indigenous idea of making environmental decisions in accordance with how those decisions will impact the land for the next seven generations.

Since 2018, Lopez-Carmen has also served on the UN Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (UNGIYC) as a representative of his tribal nation. The UNGIYC works with policy makers and organizations to participate in international decision-making processes and to raise awareness of the issues that will impact their lives, especially regarding the effects of climate change on Indigenous communities.

Lopez-Carmen’s goal has always remained to become a doctor and provide his community with comprehensive physical and spiritual healthcare. When the onset of COVID-19 emphasized the scarcity of proper resources, guidance, and care for Native communities in the U.S., he raised thousands of dollars in relief funds for Native communities and founded Translations 4 Our Nations, an initiative to translate critical COVID-19 information into Indigenous languages. Within the first six months of the pandemic, his organization had recruited 140 translators from around the world with experience in at least 100 languages.

Lopez-Carmen is currently in his third year at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and is the first member of his tribal nation to attend medical school. He is co-president of the HMS Native American Health Organization and has collaborated with faculty and students to make HMS and the U.S. healthcare system a more inclusive place by developing modules on Indigenous health for the HMS curriculum and working with faculty to create an Indigenous youth pipeline to the medical school. Earlier in 2021, he was recognized for his advocacy for Indigenous rights and health and his efforts to increase inclusivity in medical education by becoming the first Indigenous American to be awarded the national Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship. 

Giving Back Beyond the Laboratory

Nataly Naser Al Deen
Cancer Researcher and
Pink Steps Founder
2014 Fulbright Foreign Student from Lebanon

Person in a lab wearing a white lab coat and blue gloves, smiling at the camera as they hold a lab tool

Nataly Naser Al Deen has dedicated herself to the fight against cancer, both as a leading researcher and as the founder of an NGO that encourages fitness for breast cancer survivors. A three-time recipient of U.S. Department of State-funded scholarships, she is currently conducting postdoctoral cancer research at the Ding Lab at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Naser Al Deen is also an outspoken advocate for women in STEM and a proponent of cultural exchange and study abroad for personal and academic growth. She credits her scholarships for helping her to become the woman and researcher she is today.

Naser Al Deen first found her passion for cancer research while studying as a Lebanese student at the American University in Cairo. Since childhood, she has been fascinated by science and medicine, looking up to her family members in the medical profession. “I was impressed by their work and wanted to impact the medical and research field myself,” she said. Her studies, funded by the U.S. Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Tomorrow’s Leaders Program, introduced her to medical research, and inspired her to pursue it as a career.  She was selected in 2014 for a Fulbright Foreign Student grant, which allowed her to earn her M.Sc. in tumor biology from Georgetown University Medical Center and join a research team at Lombardi Cancer Center testing the efficacy of a treatment for triple negative breast cancer. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the American University of Beirut.

While studying at Georgetown, Naser Al Deen learned that her cousin had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This inspired her to start what eventually became the NGO, Pink Steps. “Through my experiences in the U.S., I learned the importance of providing for the community, especially when it comes to cancer prevention and lifestyle changes,” says Naser Al Deen. Pink Steps empowers women cancer survivors by offering a healthier lifestyle and better quality of life. Funded by a Fulbright Alumni Community Action Grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Pink Steps encourages increased fitness levels in cancer survivors through daily walks monitored by pedometers. Pink Steps is Naser Al Deen’s way of effecting immediate change in her community while working steadfastly in the laboratory to contribute to a cure for the disease.

Before she became a cancer researcher and the face of young women scientists in Lebanon, Naser Al Deen studied abroad in Hawaii for a year through the U.S. Department of State-funded Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program. She credits her experience studying at an American high school for turning her into an outspoken, independent woman. And since that first exchange opportunity, she has never missed a chance to build her skills, nourish her passions, and spread awareness through collaboration with people from all over the world. Reflecting on what she regards as her gratitude and the responsibility she feels to her community, Naser Al Deen said “being awarded various scholarships that fully supported all of my higher education journey thus far has been my greatest driving force for me to achieve more and give back to my community and the research and scientific fields.” 


Leila Cobo

Connecting Cultures through Music

Leila Cobo
Musician, Journalist, and Novelist
1988 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia

A person leaning on a table with arms bent at the elbow, looking into the camera

Leila Cobo is a classically trained concert pianist, a novelist, and perhaps her country’s preeminent journalist focusing on Latin Music. As Latin Music has increasingly taken over the U.S. charts, Cobo has been there to document its meteoric rise. Along the way she has worked with artists such as Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Maluma, Marc Anthony, Daddy Yankee, and Rosalía; has published two award-winning novels; and was named the inaugural “Leading Latin Lady” by the Latin Grammys in 2017. Prior to these impressive accomplishments, Cobo was a 1988 Fulbright Foreign Student, pursuing a master’s degree in communication and media studies at the University of Southern California.

The multi-talented Cobo was born in Cali, Colombia and has degrees in journalism from Bogotá’s Universidad Javeriana and piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, in addition to her master’s degree from USC. Cobo is currently Billboard’s VP of Latin music and is known as one of the world’s leading experts in Latin music. In this role, she’s been able to build media coverage of Latin music in the United States, and she made Billboard the first, and only, English-language media that covers Latin music in-depth. Prior to her Fulbright grant, Cobo performed extensively in Colombia, with orchestras including Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia, Orquesta Sinfónica del Valle, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Antioquia. Cobo believes that “music is far more than entertainment; it’s an essential ingredient for the soul and as essential as humanity itself.”

In addition to her musical pursuits and accomplishments, Cobo is an accomplished author focusing on the Colombian-American experience. Tell Me Something True, Cobo’s debut novel about a Colombian-American woman who uncovers the truth about her deceased mother’s past, won the National Latino Book Award. Cobo’s second novel, The Second Time We Met, features an adopted Colombian-American boy seeking more information about his biological mother in Bogotá. The novel won the Latino Book Award for Best Popular Fiction. Cobo also writes non-fiction, penning a biography on Mexican-American songwriter and artist Jenni Rivera, which was the top-selling Spanish language book in the United States for more than two months in 2013. Her most recent book, Decoding “Despacito:” An Oral History of Latin Music was featured in the New York Times.

Woven throughout Cobo’s remarkable career is a desire to have an impact on Latin music and culture within her native region, in the United States, and across the world. Cobo enthusiastically credits Fulbright with making her “a citizen of the world and part of a global community of excellence and leadership…[being a Fulbrighter] has indelibly shaped my career and opened countless doors.” Through her work, Cobo has connected cultures to promote mutual understanding, underscoring the tremendous impact her Fulbright experience has had on her life.

Rethinking How Education Can Serve All Students

Manuel T. Pacheco, PhD
Foreign Language Educator and Higher Education Administrator
1962 Fulbright U.S. Student to France

Dr. Manuel T. Pacheco’s path to U.S. higher education leader could be considered “nontraditional.” He was the son of migrant farm workers, became the first in his family to attend college, graduated from a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), and earned a Fulbright U.S. Student award to France to immerse himself in the French language and culture while deepening his study of French literature.

Dr. Pacheco is the eldest of 12 children. He grew up in northern New Mexico and worked on a farm before and after school. As a junior in high school, Dr. Pacheco was one of the top 30 performers on a statewide test and was offered early admission to New Mexico Highlands University. He worked two jobs to support himself while in college, where he excelled in languages. He continued his study of languages as a Fulbright U.S. Student to France at the Université de Montpellier and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from The Ohio State University in Spanish and foreign language education, respectively.

Dr. Manuel T. Pacheco, 1962 Fulbright U.S. Student to France, during his tenure as President of the University of Houston-Downtown.

Dr. Pacheco began his career teaching French and Spanish in high schools in New Mexico, before moving into higher education administration as Associate Dean of Education at the University of Texas-El Paso. There he became known as a respectful leader who listened to all voices on campus. He served as President of Laredo State University (1984-1988), the University of Houston-Downtown (1988–1991), the University of Arizona (1991–1997), and Chancellor of the University of Missouri System (1997–2002). After almost twenty years of leading institutions and systems, he retired but again was called to serve – returning as the interim president of his alma mater, New Mexico Highlands University (2006-2007), and then for two terms as the interim president of New Mexico State University (2009, 2012-2013). 

When Dr. Pacheco became President of the University of Arizona, there were no other Hispanic presidents of research universities in the United States. From his nontraditional beginning, he became an extraordinary teacher, administrator, and leader who championed student-serving policies. 

His legacy as a leader in higher education is one of strong commitment to undergraduate education and expansion of student services and support, ensuring that all students receive the financial, educational, and health-related resources they need to be successful. His vision for higher education fostered the development of the student-centered research university, altering the traditional ideas of what higher education can be. In the process, he touched the lives of thousands of students, breaking down barriers and promoting access to education for Hispanic students, including through the Karen and Manuel T. Pacheco Endowed Scholarship at the University of Arizona.

In 2015, Dr. Pacheco noted, “Paths must be identified to pave the way for ‘nontraditional’ students, the majority of students, to move forward toward degree and credential completion.” Dr. Pacheco’s words echo the Fulbright Program’s commitment to engaging traditionally underrepresented audiences in all the Program’s activities, welcoming participants “regardless of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, geographic location, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Expanding Horizons Through Internationalization: Increasing Access to Global Opportunities

Mildred García, PhD
President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
2011 Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program for Presidents to Jordan and Oman, 2017 Fulbright International Education Administrator (IEA) Seminar to France

Dr. Mildred García showing school spirit as President of California State University, Fullerton. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times.

A first-generation college graduate, Dr. García was raised in Brooklyn, New York, by parents who migrated from Puerto Rico to work in factories and provide a better life for their family. They emphasized the importance of education, telling Dr. García and her four siblings, “the only inheritance a poor family can leave you is a good education.” 

These words have shaped her life. Dr. García earned a master’s degree in higher education administration and a doctorate of education from Teachers College, Columbia University; a master’s degree in business education and higher education from New York University; a bachelor of science in business education from Baruch College, City University of New York; and an associate degree in applied science from New York City Community College.

Throughout her career, Dr. García has always been driven to help students reach their highest potential. “Many say I am a role model for being one of the first Latina women to [serve in these roles],” Dr. García says. “[…] What that means for me is that young girls and young boys can see that someone like them is in these types of positions. As I grew up, there weren’t those that we could emulate […] This is what the United States must do – educate all and provide those with the least resources the opportunity and tools to also excel in life and career and be able to bring along others.”

A two-time Fulbrighter, a key part of her philosophy lies in increasing access to global experiences, especially among students who may not have the means or ability to travel for semester- or year-long international programs. 

“I know first-hand how traveling abroad […] in a new culture and country transforms you,” Dr. García explains, “The Fulbright programs continued to fuel my passion to provide international experiences to those students who would never be able to reach them. One of the goals of my presidencies was to provide short-term international experiences for these students.” 

Dr. Mildred García speaking as American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) President.

Dr. García has brought this same vision to AASCU, emphasizing the importance of college campuses that produce global citizens and provide a variety of international experiences for all students. Through her Fulbright IEA Seminar in France, the AASCU has partnered with the Embassy of France in the United States and the Fulbright Commission in France. The organization also builds partnerships between U.S. and higher education institutions around the world, connects with Embassies and thought leaders to maximize their impact, and has implemented an international education committee composed of university presidents who recognize the importance of international education. 

She also has noted the importance of embracing the intercultural and international future of education, “as the United States continues the amazing demographic shift of different cultures, we must find avenues to learn in this country and abroad to live in peace and harmony among the beauty of what each culture, language, and country brings.”

Nurturing Future Generations Through Science Education

Eugene Mutimura, PhD
Researcher and Executive Secretary of the National Council for Science and Technology of Rwanda
2006 Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Rwanda

Dr. Eugene Mutimura, as Minister of Education of Rwanda, addresses MBA graduates at the African Leadership University (ALU) School of Business, Class of 2019 graduation ceremony.

Known in Rwanda as a mentor and prolific researcher, Dr. Eugene Mutimura advocates for his country’s development of science, technology, and education. A 2006 Fulbright Visiting Scholar to Washington University in St. Louis, the former Rwandan Minister of Education and current Executive Secretary of the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) has drawn from his academic background and resources to support Rwandan students, educational infrastructure, and scientific research.

Dr. Mutimura earned a doctoral degree at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where he specialized in the mechanisms and management of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes, and conducted research on HIV and AIDS and the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapies. 

While his scientific research is notable, Dr. Mutimura’s contributions to promoting young scientists and the growth of Rwanda’s scientific infrastructure are equally impressive. During his tenure at the Inter-University Council of East Africa, he coordinated the World Bank-funded Eastern and Southern African Centres of Excellence Project, which supported research and education at 16 universities. As Executive Secretary at NCST, he continues to promote science and innovation in Rwanda stating, “Science and technology is a critically important enabler and a core driver for all that we do to promote our country to become a knowledge-based economy that pertains to the well-being of the people.”

Dr. Eugene Mutimura (center) observes Rwandan youth participating in the 2018 World Skills Competition Africa at Integrated Polytechnic Regional College (IPRC) Kigali.

Dr. Mutimura’s Fulbright award at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine allowed him to explore ideas which he utilized to improve care for fellow Rwandans who suffer from metabolic syndromes associated with HIV and AIDS. It also resulted in peer-reviewed publications. He has worked to establish collaborations and exchanges between Rwandan and American youth, noting: “It’s important that [this Fulbright award] becomes a cornerstone to train others and form new, wider partnerships.”

At a recent U.S. Embassy event in Rwanda, Dr. Mutimura underscored the importance of a Fulbright experience stating, “I personally believe that the Fulbright Program is one of the most important and beneficial programs for scholars in Rwanda, in the United States, and globally.”

Empowering All Students Through Inclusion

Mona Khoury-Kassabri, PhD
Vice President of Hebrew University of Jerusalem
2002 Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Israel

Dr. Mona Khoury-Kassabri is a history maker. In 2018, she was named Dean of the School of Social Work & Social Welfare at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), the first Arab woman appointed as a dean of faculty at an Israeli university. Three years later, Dr. Khoury-Kassabri was appointed Vice President of Hebrew University, a first-of-its-kind role created to strengthen diversity and inclusion. Her continued role in academics and administration at Hebrew University, informed by her Fulbright Visiting Scholar experience at the University of Chicago, empowers underrepresented communities through education.

As Vice President of HU, Dr. Khoury-Kassabri is responsible for implementing institution-wide diversity strategies and ensuring a more diverse staff and student body by promoting opportunities for underrepresented communities including Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, Arabs, Ethiopians, and people with disabilities. Professor Asher Cohen, President of Hebrew University, welcomed Dr. Khoury-Kassabri, noting that she “champions diversity without compromising on academic integrity or professionalism.”

Dr. Mona Khoury-Kassabri (left) with Associate Dean Michal Hai-Attiass, presenting on the integration of Arab students in higher education in 2018. Photo Credit: Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work.

Dr. Khoury-Kassabri’s personal story aids her work in supporting students. Growing up in Haifa’s poor neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, Dr. Khoury-Kassabri’s pursuit of education was encouraged and nourished by her family, including her parents, older sister, and uncle. “The amount of support and positive expectations of my parents, that they want me and my sister to succeed, they were the drive to continue in the university,” she told ISRAEL21c in a recent interview.

She earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from HU’s School of Social Work and Social Welfare. As a researcher, Dr. Khoury-Kassabri has examined the impact of economic, social, and political factors on youth and child development, especially in Arab communities. Through her Fulbright experience, Dr. Khoury-Kassabri learned from leading researchers about children and youth well-being and examined whether theoretical models that have been primarily tested on Western, Christian youth can also be applied to non-Western cultures. Dr. Khoury-Kassabri also shared her Fulbright experience with her growing family, bringing her 11-month-old daughter to Chicago, noting, “My husband came to visit us every other month.” 

Dr. Mona Khoury-Kassabri (right) with Galit Baram, Israeli Consul General in Toronto, Canada, at Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work.

Dr. Khoury-Kassabri affirms that her Fulbright experience had a dramatic effect on her, opening doors for her early in her career. Eighteen years later, Dr. Mona Khoury-Kassabri looks to Israel’s next generation of students. Her career, born of a desire to empower youth and minority communities, continues to evolve in impressive ways. Dr. Khoury-Kassabri reflects: “Despite the difficulties, having this opportunity I believe helped me develop my independence and affected the way I perceive my abilities and helped in shaping my future career.”

An Extraordinary Return on the Fulbright Investment

Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg
1971 Fulbright Foreign Student from Venezuela

Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg presents Luis Almagro (right) of the Organization of American States (OAS) with the 2018 Global Leadership Award on behalf of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA). Hilda wears a light gray blazer and light blue silk scarf and round glasses and holds a light blue bag and a set of thin books in both hands. Luis wears a black suit with an aqua tie, holding a trophy.

 Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg presents Luis Almagro (right) of the Organization of American States (OAS) with the 2018 Global Leadership Award on behalf of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA).

Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg knows about returns on investment, having served as the chief investment officer for the World Bank for 12 years and as the founder and chairwoman of Strategic Investment Group. When she says, “I cannot think of a better return on investment” for the opportunity Fulbright provided, she speaks from experience. 

After earning her bachelor’s degree in economics and working as the treasurer of a public utility company in Caracas, Venezuela, Ochoa-Brillembourg dreamed of coming to the United States to deepen her knowledge of finance. Although she was accepted at Harvard University, she saw that dream slipping away due to the cost of tuition and travel. As she recounted years later in her acceptance speech for the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Award, she had given up hope when there was an “angel moment”- a woman who worked in the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Karla Fisher, helped her apply for a Fulbright. “I was running out of options and hope,” Ochoa-Brillembourg says. “It brings tears to my eyes, because when I couldn’t find scholarships in my own country to go to Harvard, America paid for me to study.”

As a Fulbright Foreign Student from Venezuela, she completed a master’s in public administration from Harvard University in 1972 and pursued doctoral studies in finance from 1972 to 1976 at the Harvard Business School.

Ochoa-Brillembourg emphasizes, “I cannot think of any money better spent than allowing worthy individuals to go abroad, either U.S. citizens […] to go overseas, or overseas students to come [to the United States]… and have that cultural exchange at the highest level of intelligence and knowledge and ambition – intellectual and personal ambition –and the impact that has on the well-being of the world.”

Ochoa-Brillembourg explained this return on investment in financial terms, describing how the company she founded after returning to the United States later in her career had contributed over $3 billion in its first 30 years, benefiting employees and shareholders through several billion dollars in salaries, capital gains, and dividends, as well as more than a billion dollars in state and federal taxes, while also employing 400 people. “That is a huge return on investment for [what] Fulbright spent on me,” she concluded.

 Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg discusses the role of educational exchange in regional advancement at a panel hosted by the U.S. Department of State in 2013. She wears eyeglasses and is mid-sentence, speaking into a mic.
 Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg discusses the role of educational exchange in regional advancement at a panel hosted by the U.S. Department of State in 2013.

Inspired by her Fulbright experience, she advised the Venezuelan Government to create an extensive scholarship program for Venezuelans to study abroad, which became the Fundación Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho in 1974, financing more than 100,000 Venezuelan students abroad.

After returning to Venezuela and giving back to her home country, Ochoa-Brillembourg moved to the United States to work with the World Bank. In 2016, she reflected further on the impact of her Fulbright experience when she took part in the Family of Voices project located at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, featuring contemporary Americans whose global origins and connections influence how they make their life, career, and community in the United States. She says, “It was the most generous, enlightened, miraculous act of generosity a country would have.”

“I am immensely grateful that this country gave me the opportunity to become a successful entrepreneur. As a businesswoman, I am both American and Venezuelan. I have Venezuelan human values of openness and inclusiveness, Venezuelan hopes, and a Venezuelan sense of possibility. But, I’m very American in my sense of ethical values, the power of education, meritocracy, my sense of responsibility, and self-reliance.”

Furthering the return on Fulbright’s investment, Ochoa-Brillembourg gave back to the Program as the director of the Fulbright Association from 2007 to 2011 and has also shared her talents as a director of many arts organizations and corporations. She was founding chair of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas and chair of the Executive Committee of the Washington Opera. She has also served on the boards of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, the McGraw Hill Companies, General Mills, Inc., the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Credit Union, the Harvard Management Company, US Air, Cementos Pacasmayo, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute, and the World Bank/International Finance Corporation Asset Management Company.

“The United States to me has always been an extraordinary place.” Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg says she is “deeply invested in this miraculous place where everything is possible, where there is a meritocracy, where there is every opportunity for a woman or a man of any extraction to make a difference.” 

Innovating Through Inclusion: Building Technological Solutions for a Global World

Sophie V. Vandebroek, PhD
Technology Executive and Electrical Engineer
1986 Fulbright Foreign Student from Belgium

Sophie Vandebroek speaking on a panel with a headset mic. Another woman sits in front of her, to the side, blurred since the focus is on Sophie.

Sophie V. Vandebroek (left center), as the first visiting scholar for the MIT School of Engineering, focused on engaging engineering students and peers in the school’s outreach and diversity activities.

Dr. Sophie V. Vandebroek has driven innovation and growth at some of the world’s most important technology companies. As a Fulbright Foreign Student from Belgium, she received her PhD in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1990. In the years since, Vandebroek has worked in leadership roles at multinational companies including IBM, Xerox, and IDEXX Laboratories, and holds 14 United States patents. Throughout her impressive career, she has always emphasized the benefits of working with diverse and entrepreneurial colleagues from around the world.

Vandebroek’s international experience, especially her Fulbright, has been pivotal to her success. She served as Chief Operating Officer at IBM from 2017 to 2019, where she led strategy and operations across IBM’s 13 global laboratories. These laboratories employed 3,000 researchers working to create technology to transform society, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and quantum computing. 

Before her leadership role at IBM, Vandebroek had an extensive career at Xerox serving as Chief Engineer, Chief Technology Officer, and Corporate Vice President for more than 25 years. At Xerox, she worked with centers in Canada, Europe, India, and the United States—always remembering the value of cross-cultural collaboration to advance research in AI and automation in transportation, healthcare, customer care, education, and other industries.

A large gathering of people holding drinks and smiling at the camera, with Sophie Vandebroek in the center raising a glass of champagne.
Sophie V. Vandebroek (center) celebrates the research and talents of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab with her colleagues.

Vandebroek used her professional experience to drive innovation at a center of American ingenuity: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2017, she helped found the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, dedicated to “pushing the frontiers of artificial intelligence and translating breakthroughs into real-world impact.” The Lab’s research portfolio of more than 80 projects emphasizes data-driven approaches to understanding language and the visual world. She furthered her connection with MIT as the inaugural School of Engineering Visiting Scholar in 2019, where she mentored entrepreneurs and encouraged diversity and inclusion—no doubt influenced by her time as a Fulbrighter at Cornell.

Throughout her career, Vandebroek has made the well-being of her professional communities a priority. She has advocated for greater work-life balance in tech, and helped to recruit, mentor, and champion Xerox employees who identify as LGBTQIA+ and people of color. For her efforts, she has been recognized by the Xerox Women’s Alliance, the non-profit organization Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and received the Inaugural Lifetime Diversity Leadership Award from Xerox in 2016.

Vandebroek has also advanced global collaboration through her founding of Strategic Vision Ventures, where she shares her expertise in working with transnational clients. She continues to serve on multiple boards across the world, including in the United States, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

Dr. Sophie V. Vandebroek reflects on her motivation: “I was always striving to be part of a brilliant community of people I could learn from.” Learning and growing through Fulbright, driving innovation, and championing employees, it’s clear she has done just that.

Advancing Justice in the Digital World

Joy Buolamwini
Computer Scientist & Digital Innovator
2012 Fulbright U.S. Student to Zambia

Joy Buolamwini in pink eyeglasses, a tweed blazer, and a a colorful scarf holding a white theater mask and standing in front of a whiteboard covered in phrases related to implicit bias and healthcare

With seemingly inexhaustible energy and a reservoir of brilliant ideas, Joy Buolamwini is a leader and innovator making the world a more equitable place. A graduate researcher at MIT, Buolamwini leads projects that span the globe. She empowers young people to create technologies that serve their communities, encourages women to enter STEM fields, and uncovers inherent biases in the algorithms that shape our lives.

 Joy Buolamwini wearing a red shirt, black blazer, and white wraparound headband giving her TED Talk on algorithmic bias. Photo Credit: TED Talk.
 Joy Buolamwini giving her TED Talk on algorithmic bias. Photo Credit: TED Talk.

After graduating from Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Buolamwini committed herself to addressing the world’s problems through technology. As a college student, she noted, “I had set in my mind that I wanted to make an impact in African nations through mobile technology, but I wasn’t sure how.” The Fulbright Program provided the launching pad, and Buolamwini’s natural leadership abilities turned a dream into a reality. Through her 2012 Fulbright U.S. Student award to Zambia, she launched Zamrize, an initiative providing Zambian youth with the expertise to create technology through lab-based experiences. The African continent was a natural location for Buolamwini’s first foray into technology education: born in Canada to Ghanaian parents, Buolamwini spent her early childhood in Ghana before emigrating to the United States when her father, a scientist, accepted a position at the University of Mississippi. 

Building on the success of Zamrize, in 2014 Buolamwini launched Code4Rights, which promotes women’s rights and learning through technology education. As a Rhodes Scholar, she piloted the very first Rhodes Service Year after completing a master’s of science in education at the University of Oxford. Her year of service allowed her to build her Fulbright project into something with global reach. 

For her leadership as a STEM education advocate, Buolamwini received one of two grand prizes in 2016 in the national “Search for Hidden Figures Contest,” which identified the next generation of women leaders in STEM. On her encouragement of women pursuing STEM fields, Buolamwini says, “I think for anybody to thrive, you need to let people know that their story matters, and that who they are matters, and they have the ability to be what they choose to be. It’s easiest for people to believe that when they have role models.”

Joy Buowamlini sitting on a red chair with a red top and dark gray blazer holding a cardboard shield with the letters "AJL" and a smiley face with closed eyes in one hand and a white theater mask in the other.
 Joy Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League. Photo Credit: Algorithmic Justice League.

As a master’s degree student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that seeks to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology. The organization builds on her 2017 master’s thesis at MIT, which uncovered large racial and gender biases in artificial intelligence (AI) services offered by companies including Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. Buolamwini continues this work as a PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab, where she researches algorithmic bias in computer vision systems.

Buolamwini has also championed algorithmic justice on the international stage at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations General Assembly. She serves on the Global Tech Panel, convened by the Vice President of the European Commission, advising world leaders and technology executives on reducing AI inequity. In partnership with The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, she launched the Safe Face Pledge, a first-of-its-kind agreement prohibiting the misuse of facial analysis and recognition technology by law enforcement and governments. 

For her innovative research, Buolamwini has been named to the Bloomberg 50MIT Technology Review “2018 Innovator Under 35,” BBC “100 Women 2018″Forbes “Top 50 Women in Tech,” and Forbes “30 under 30.” Fortune Magazine named her one of the world’s greatest leaders in 2019, describing her as “the conscience of the A.I. revolution.” Her featured TED Talk on algorithmic bias has nearly 1.5 million views, and she is featured in Coded Bias, a documentary now streaming on Netflix. Her spoken word visual audit “AI, Ain’t I A Woman?” powerfully combines art and intellect to demonstrate the failings of AI as it misidentifies the faces of iconic women.  

Working tirelessly for a more equitable world as a Fulbrighter in Zambia and on the international stage, Buolamwini has seized the moment to make a positive impact as a leader and innovator in the technology industry.

International Collaboration and the Intersection of Creativity, Inclusion and Empathy

Albert Manero, PhD
Engineer and Technology Executive
2014 Fulbright U.S. Student to Germany

Albert Manero holding up a prosthetic arm in one hand while he raises his other hand to compare

Albert Manero was a graduate student at the University of Central Florida (UCF) when he heard a radio interview that would change his life. It was a discussion with Ivan Owen, who was talking about his work developing 3D-printed mechanical hands and about the prohibitive cost of prosthetics, especially for children who are still growing. When a prosthetic limb costs upward of $40,000, it’s not feasible for many families to buy them at the rate kids might need new ones. “After hearing that radio interview, it was hard not to be moved,” Manero explained to the Orlando Economic Partnership. “A group of classmates and I quickly got together to brainstorm ways we could support the growing efforts and add our own spin on creating a similar tool of empowerment and, from there, we never really looked back.”

Eight years later, Manero holds a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD from the University of Central Florida College of Engineering and Computer Sciences and completed a Fulbright Student award to Germany in 2014, as well as a graduate fellowship from the National Academy of Engineering in 2017. He is also the President, CEO, and co-founder of Limbitless Solutions, a non-profit organization that creates and donates bionic arms to children with limb differences. Manero’s goal is not just to make prosthetics affordable, although Limbitless does provide the arms at no cost to families, but also to provide kids with a way to express themselves, allowing each recipient to tailor the look of their prosthetic limb through customizable design and color selections. When asked about Manero’s impact on children and bionics, the German-American Fulbright Commission staff expressed that “his visionary work as co-founder and Executive Director of Limbitless Solutions to develop innovative bionic solutions for children in need is a marvellous example of the impact of the Fulbright Program in society.”

Manero’s original goal was to be an aerospace engineer, and, after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at the University of Central Florida, he participated in his first international experience at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Köln as part of a 10-week exchange program. That collaboration produced cutting-edge research for jet engine blade protective coatings. Manero returned to the United States with a newly expanded worldview and pursued his master’s degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. After completing his degree in 2014, Manero was awarded a Fulbright to Germany, returning to the DLR only a few days after he’d produced his first bionic arm as part of a summer project.

Manero’s Fulbright research built on what he had learned through his first exchange experience and is a prime example of the enduring impact of a Fulbright grant. “The experience allowed me to learn new perspectives for globally minded research. The project extended past my time in Germany, with continued collaboration throughout my PhD program,” Manero wrote. “My PhD advisor, Dr. Seetha Raghavan, developed the collaboration and has continued it with research students conducting research in Germany each summer as part of a now NSF [National Science Foundation]- funded program. I’m grateful to see more research students have that transformative experience.”

Manero’s time as a Fulbrighter also provided him incredible opportunities for personal growth and new friendships and perspectives. He notes that the time he spent in Germany “led me to be interested in the role of science policy and engineering education, which encouraged me to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Academy of Engineering. Those experiences have been key points that I have taken into my professional career.”

Manero has remained engaged with the Fulbright program, writing a Fulbright Student Program blog post in 2015, in which he highlighted the essential nature of global collaboration. “In the laboratory, my research has never been more effective, as I embrace the benefits and challenges of global research. Our research team is developing new testing methods and experiments, to be put to use this summer at the synchrotron facility. My German colleagues have shared both their experience and their problem-solving methodology with me, helping me develop in many ways. It has been a privilege to learn their history and culture, and to share in it together. For STEM students considering applying for a Fulbright grant, such an international research experience is essential for the interconnected future.”

This global mindset is evident in the way Manero approaches his work at Limbitless. “When you find that intersection of creativity, inclusion and empathy, it will resonate with others in whatever field you’re in,” Manero advised in an interview with GrowFL, an organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of second-stage companies in Florida: “It’s very fulfilling to work together and to bring diverse perspectives together to make tomorrow brighter.”