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Biology and Political Science Double Major Earns Fulbright Fellowship to Study Sustainability

Posted on 9 July 2013 | 1:30 pm

Liza Wood, who graduated in May, continues the recent tradition of College of Charleston undergraduate Fulbright Scholars. Each year for the past three, at least one College of Charleston graduate has earned a Fulbright to pursue graduate studies, and this year, Wood was one of five finalists from the College.

“I have been exploring ideas of sustainability throughout my undergraduate career,” Wood explains, “so I’d like to take that interest to the master’s level. I will get to spend a year with professors who have played a role in shaping policy for sustainable development on all sorts of scales—for the Netherlands, the European Union, and on an international scale. I’ll get to learn from them and work on a thesis throughout the year that will focus on agricultural land and water resource management.”

The Fulbright/Maastricht University Fellowship through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program will fully fund Wood’s Master’s in Sustainability Science and Policy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Wood’s double majors in political science and biology, along with her extensive research experience both at home and in Southeast Asia, have uniquely prepared her for the program. A former Freeman-ASIA research fellow and winner of the Bishop Robert Smith award—the highest honor a student at the College of Charleston can receive—Wood graduated as a member the William Aiken Fellows Society.

This is the second Fulbright recipient in two years from the biology department, a demonstration of the high-caliber students who are increasingly choosing the College of Charleston as a foundation for their academic and professional aspirations. “Like Lauren Fuess, who was awarded a Fulbright last year,” says Phil Dustan, biology professor, “Liza knows what she wants to do and has the confidence in herself to pursue it. I’ve always said that our best students are a match for the best anywhere. I think that back-to-back Fulbright recipients echoes that pretty well.”

The application process for Fulbright awards is extremely challenging, and Woods credits her mentors at the College for their help along the way. Trisha Folds-Bennett, the dean of the Honors College, as well as Claire Curtis (political science) and Allison Welch (biology), were particularly important to Wood’s success. Reflecting on Wood’s growth over her College career, Dr. Folds-Bennett says “in her four years at the College of Charleston, Liza has accrued an impressive range of experiences which have contributed to her intellectual and personal growth. Several research-based study programs in SE Asia that led to professional publications and presentations, double majors in Political Science and Biology, and remarkable engagement as a community member an leader contributed to an academic profile that stood apart in the Fulbright application process.”

Claire Curtis who worked with Wood both in and out of the classroom, notes that “Liza is the student everyone wants to have in class. She is curious, inquisitive, and deeply intelligent. Working with her on her bachelor’s essay included far-reaching discussions, many of them out of my own field of expertise, which allowed me to learn much from her as well. Being awarded a Fulbright is a sign her hard work, passion for research, and an authentic desire to know more about the world can pay off.”

Allison Welch adds that “in addition to her intellectual talent and academic achievements, Liza stands out for her desire to connect a deep understanding of science with a deep understanding of public policy. In biology, Liza conducted in-depth research investigating how tadpoles are affected by agricultural pesticides and habitat salinization, finding that the effects of these two assaults are exacerbated when combined. She’s currently working on a manuscript for publication based on this work.”

The College’s Office of Nationally Competitive Awards works directly with students to identify relevant awards, navigate complex application processes, and revise application materials. Since the inception of the Office, the number of national award recipients has grown rapidly.

“I know we will see continued success for Fulbright and other national awards,” says Anton Vander Zee, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. “Having an office on campus that is dedicated to helping students is absolutely crucial. Combined with a committed network of campus mentors who do so much to facilitate student success, we are in a great position to raise the College’s profile at home and abroad.”

Wood feels extremely honored to have received a Fulbright, and is excited to live and study abroad as she joins a dynamic Fulbright community in the Netherlands. “I’ll get to know the other Fulbright students studying in the area,” she says, “and I’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about their work, which ranges from studying city planning for bicycle transit to Dutch folklore in the middle ages.”

The Fulbright program, sponsored by the State Department, is an international exchange program established by Congress in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. About 1,100 grants are awarded each year, most to graduating college seniors.

For more information about the Fulbright or other national awards, please contact the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards at nationalawards.cofc.edu.

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