Tune it in

Six recent graduates embark upon journeys made possible by Fulbright and NSF grants.

Curbing diabetes, reaching across cultures with a ukulele, and understanding a plant-insect arms race—six recent graduates embark on research and teaching fellowships through the Fulbright program and the National Science Foundation. Photos by Charles Barry

Julianne Parayo ’12

A Fulbright fellowship teaching English at Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland

Shortly after graduating from SCU with a double major in English and music, Bay Area native Julianne Parayo began work at Peninsula Volunteers’ Rosener House in Menlo Park as an activity coordinator for individuals with varying stages of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or cognitive impairments. As part of participants’ recreation, she often sang and played instruments. The ukulele, with its bright and cheery tones, was her favorite, since it allowed her to be physically close to people while playing. (She has a lovely voice, by the way.) But it was during a drumming circle that she had her eyes and ears opened in a new way: by a Chinese woman in her mid-80s who only spoke in syllabic sounds. Communicating through rhythm rather than words, the woman and Parayo developed a rapport. “How can I use music to transcend language barriers?” Parayo wondered.

Teaching in Poland will offer some answers. Parayo will introduce her classes to different genres of American music and have them write memoirs, interview relatives, and collect folk songs. Music is part of what brought her back to Poland, which she first visited on a religious pilgrimage with her parents to see the world-famous painting The Black Madonna of Częstochowa. People of all ages were gathered around, singing—a cross-generational communal experience. While in Bydgoszcz, she hopes to work with a local choir and organize concerts including American and Polish folk music.

Claire Kunkle ’14

A National Science Foundation fellowship for a doctorate in energy systems at University of California, Berkeley

One surefire way to encourage girls to pursue STEM-related education and careers is by showing them successful women in the field. “If you can see it, you can be it,” Claire Kunkle told an NBC Bay Area reporter last spring. The occasion: a weekend program with Santa Clara high school girls building prosthetic hands for amputees. Kunkle, who hails from Olympia, Washington, recently graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. As an undergrad, she partnered with Assistant Professor Hohyun Lee to research combined solar power and heat generation; they’re co-listed on a patent application for a solar thermoelectric device that produces electricity from concentrated solar power and excess heat. (In the photo, that’s the big silver box behind her left shoulder.) Kunkle’s doctoral studies at Cal focus on energy systems to benefit developing nations. She also sees work in teaching engineering as essential—particularly since women still represent only 13 percent of the engineering field.

Daniel Peng ’12

A Fulbright fellowship to research diabetes and health education in Hangzhou, China

“You have to think small before you can think large,” Daniel Peng says. “It’s small habits every day that change your overall health and wellness.” The sensibility translates from Peng’s studies in philosophy to his major in biology—and now, to his research in health education in a city of 6 million people on China’s southeast coast. He’s working on culturally appropriate health education at a diabetes clinic at the Second Affiliated Hospital of the Zhejiang University School of Medicine, focusing on Type 2 diabetes.

Born in Manhattan to Chinese immigrants, Peng grew up in Seattle. Rice was a big part of his diet growing up—as it is in much Chinese cuisine. But rice is high in sugar content and consequently raises blood sugar. Traditional Chinese cuisine also uses a lot of pork-based oil, which is high in fat. Both factors, in high enough concentrations, contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Changing that through an effective health education model means leveraging motivation and belief. “You can’t just import a health model. You have to tune it in to the Chinese culture,” he says.

Peng spent five years volunteering at San Jose’s Pacific Free Clinic, where he encountered patients with Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. He began in his undergrad years as a health educator and a translator for Mandarin, eventually becoming the head of the health education department. And last year he wrapped up a stint with a San Francisco–based startup working on electronic medical records.

Saayeli Mukherji ’13

A Fulbright fellowship to study business, ethics, and law at Duisenberg School of Finance in the Netherlands

Wim Duisenberg, the first president of the European Central Bank and the man who introduced the euro, inspired the educational mission at the Dutch university named after him: cultivate leaders of the industry who, with integrity and awareness of social impact, will shape a sustainable future for finance and banking. That was what drew finance major Saayeli Mukherji to Amsterdam, where she hopes to develop a medium for international conversation about ethical issues in the business world. What works in one country may not work in another—but ongoing dialogue might provide people with the answers they need.

A Hackworth Business Ethics Fellowship during her senior year had Mukherji writing case studies for the ethics blogs at SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Each case outlined a situation, posed the ethical dilemma, and asked readers how the people in the case should respond. She covered issues ranging from gender discrimination to bank fraud to the Bangladesh factory fire of 2013, which took the lives of 112 people.

Julie Herman ’14

A National Science Foundation fellowship to study the interaction between insects and plants while earning a doctorate at University of California, Santa Cruz

We see a butterfly perched on petals and marvel at how elegantly it feeds off flowers’ pollen. Julie Herman sees an age-old arms race between hungry insect and defensive plant. A biology major from Livermore, she worked closely with Associate Professor Justen Whittall ’96 at SCU. And she’s quick to point out that understanding the relationship between plants and insects will affect how we address agricultural processes and any impending food crises. Plants have natural defenses that trigger the release of compounds that repel any insects attacking them; Herman wants to know if the insects’ evolution is responding to these compounds and whether that knowledge can be harnessed to improve agricultural practices. She will be specifically studying pierid butterflies, such as the cabbage white butterflies common to the area, and mustard plants, which include broccoli, kale, and cress—a yellow flowered plant with long, thin seed pods. The technology at U.C. Santa Cruz will allow Herman to look back at what a plant’s gene structure was thousands of years ago so she can examine how the insect-plant interaction has evolved.

Natalie Lays ’14

A Fulbright fellowship to teach English at Universidade Federal do Ceará in Brazil

In summer 2013, a Global Social Benefit Fellowship from SCU took Natalie Lays to São Paulo for six weeks to work with a social enterprise that makes affordable hearing aids for low-income Brazilians. The Denver native is a veteran traveler—work, family, and interest in global culture and medicine have taken her to more than 20 countries. But it’s Brazil that’s drawn her back to teach English at Universidade Federal do Ceará and explore opportunities to engage in community health initiatives. At Santa Clara she studied psychology with an emphasis in psychobiology; practicing medicine globally is what’s called her since childhood. That’s been reinforced over the years—including by a trip to Guatemala just after she graduated from high school. She and two friends accompanied the father of their host family to a rural mining village to bring medicine to a young girl suffering from polio—a disease Lays thought was all but eradicated. “People getting sick just because of lack of access and knowledge gets me riled up,” she says.

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