SPHHS alumnae Kolla MS’18 and Mulrooney ’17 selected as Fulbright awardees

Durga Kolla (left) and Niamh Mulrooney

June 8, 2018

Recent Environmental Health Sciences graduate Durga Kolla MS ’18 and Public Health Sciences alumna Niamh Mulrooney '17 have received Fulbright awards from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. They are among the over 1,900 U.S. citizens, including fourteen University of Massachusetts Amherst students and alumni awarded Fulbright grants for 2018-19, who will conduct research, teach English, and provide expertise abroad for the coming academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Kolla will study the effects of phthalates on male reproductive health at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark beginning in August 2018. Twenty percent of young Danish men are sub-fertile, she notes. Environmental health researchers speculate that this may be due to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates. “Worldwide, male reproductive health is declining,” she says. “My collaboration with highly distinguished scientists in Denmark will hopefully allow me to make a direct impact on a major public health problem.”

Mulrooney, who currently works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Fellowship, will travel to Swaziland in March 2019. “I will conduct public health research with the non-profit organization mothers2mothers to evaluate the role of women as peer mentors and supporters in reducing perinatal -- or mother-to-child -- transmission of HIV during the critical periods of pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding,” she says. “Swaziland is critically affected by a burden of preventable infectious diseases. It has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, and the highest HIV-infection rates per person of any country. I will utilize the statistical and data analysis skills I have developed while in my data science fellowship at NIH.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 380,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, professionals, and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 59 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 82 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.

“I was speechless when I learned that I had received the Fulbright,” says Kolla. “And then I burst into tears of joy. This is such an incredible opportunity, not only to conduct research with some of the leaders in my field, but also to experience a new culture and grow as a scientist and individual.”

Mulrooney had a similar reaction when she learned of her award. “I was in a coffeeshop in my Washington, D.C. neighborhood, studying for the MCAT, and I literally fell out of my seat and spilled my latte when I read that I had won the Fulbright. I had no idea I would get it. Ever since I studied abroad in South Africa, and had a chance to visit Swaziland for a few days, I've been trying to find every possible way to return, experience and live there. This really is a dream come true.”

The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

For further information about the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State, please visit http://eca.state.gov/fulbright or contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Press Office at ECA-Press@state.gov.