Benjamin Allwein ’18, biochemistry and molecular biology major, recently received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue research on tuberculosis in India.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program explains on their website that awarded grants and scholarships allow new graduates and graduate students to undertake special educational opportunities abroad such as research, teaching, and continued studying. The program spans over 140 countries around the world, and only about 3,600 nominees are recommended to receive grants for their studies. Rebecca Roberts, Ursinus’ Associate Professor of Biology, recommended Allwein for the program.
Roberts was working with Allwein when he discovered his interest in Structural Biology. According to Roberts, “[Allwein] enrolled in my Structural Biology course as a sophomore and was intrigued by the topic. Structural Biology is the study of how the shape of a biological molecule, such as DNA, is the basis of its function.”
Before Allwein’s acceptance into the program, he and Roberts participated in a “boot camp” for a week to learn about “the biochemical, agricultural, and epidemiological precursors to the development of antibiotic resistance,” Allwein said, which builds upon his research from Ursinus.
Roberts gave details of Allwein’s participation at the boot camp. She said, “The boot camp focused on antibiotic resistance with a goal of finding how bacteria are winning the arms race. [Allwein] spent a week with experts, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. [He] took his newly-developed passion on this topic and ran with it to develop his Fulbright Scholarship application.”
Said Roberts of the boot camp, “As part of a grant from the National Science Foundation, I was able to bring some Ursinus students to the Protein Data Bank at Rutgers University. This trip was part of my collaboration with faculty from Rochester Institute of Technology and Cal Poly [California Polytechnic State University] with the aim of improving motivation for discovery and providing a deeper understanding of protein structures.”
Allwein found out about his acceptance on Friday, Mar. 16. Upon reading the news, he said that he “almost lost it. [He] ran into Kelly Sorensen, [his] program advisor, and [Sorensen] gave [him] the biggest high-five of [his] life.”
“Fulbright is super competitive and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be awarded the grant,” said Allwein.
Applying for the grant took a lot of effort on Allwein’s part, but he stated that it “taught [him] a lot.” He continued, “I probably spent two months on the application, clarifying my goals, securing affiliation with some kind of research institution in India, and going back and forth with many faculty mentors with drafts of my grants statements.”
Allwein talked about his research application and said, “A research Fulbright is a special opportunity for your own personal interests to coalesce with the needs of the contemporary world and to bring the skills you’ve developed at Ursinus to bear on a pressing concern or need in another country.”
Allwein mentioned that filling out the application and preparing himself to go abroad has taught him about the value of cultural exchange between countries. According to Allwein, by sending students and teachers abroad and bringing those from outside countries into the United States, the Fulbright gives people the chance to examine the complexities and differences between our country and others.
Allwein’s reason for conducting research in India stemmed from a desire “to dispel the common notion that we should only care about and carry out research that solves a problem that exists within our own borders.”
“I’ll be working at a government research center, the Translational Health Science & Technology Institute, in Delhi, investigating the causes of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis. Tuberculosis, along with many other types of disease-causing bacteria, has evolved to resist the drugs we normally use to treat it. Antibiotic resistance is an emerging public health crisis occurring in real-time all across the world and [is] most heavily concentrated in India,” Allwein said.
Allwein continued, “My research will be conducted to [attempt to] understand what makes those bacteria [of tuberculosis] so virulent – and with that information, perhaps we can guide the development of drugs which will be able to treat these people, at least, for now, or provide recommendations to governing bodies to mitigate the factors which have driven the evolution of these deadly organisms. India is undertaking serious research efforts to understand what has caused its public health crisis and how to solve it, and I’m going there for my Fulbright to contribute to that from an international perspective.”
Allwein is excited to be the recipient of the Fulbright grant and thanks his mentors: Kelly Sorensen, Robert Dawley, Dale Cameron, and Rebecca Roberts. He urges students to consider applying for the program as well, and if anyone has questions regarding the Fulbright, he is happy to explain the process. Students may contact him a firstname.lastname@example.org.