Fulbright Fellows tackle international concerns

Fulbright Fellows from FIU ready to tackle global challenges.

Jennifer Gil-Acevedo and Hector Peguero are both from Puerto Rico. They both decided to pursue degrees at FIU. And they are both among the latest crop of Fulbright U.S. Student Fellows.

Gil-Acevedo is headed to Panama where she will study the impacts of sunscreen on microalgae. Peguero is bound for India where he will research health stigmas of Hijras — people who adopt a gender role that is neither male nor female, most identify as transgender women.

Gil-Acevedo works on microalgae samples in the lab under the guidance of earth and environment researchers Krishnaswamy (Jay) Jayachandran and Kateel G. Shetty.

An agroecology student, Gil-Acevedo hopes to create an immersive exhibit that invites visitors to explore the world of microalgae using their five senses. She’s quick to point out that microalgae, which live in most bodies of water, produce 50 percent of the world’s oxygen.

“Microalgae may hold solutions to some of the world’s major environmental problems,” Gil-Acevedo said. “We need to understand how we impact them and how we can create environmentally safe products.”

Her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship is made possible through a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and the National Geographic Society. She will conduct her work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. Her stories will be published on the Fulbright-National Geographic Stories blog.

For Peguero, he self-funded a study abroad trip in Mysore, India, last year where he first worked with Hijra communities. Considered a third sex in India, Hijras often are ridiculed and become victims of violence. They are excluded from social activities and often resort to begging or prostitution to make a living.

During his study abroad trip in 2017, Peguero assisted with triage and with cervical cancer screenings for women without access to transportation or health care in Mysore, India under the guidance of Dr. Purima Madhivanan and psychology professor Dionne Stephens.

“Although there has been an emergence of more understanding and acceptance of people’s differences as well as tolerance of diverse views and behaviors, there are still obstacles to overcome in many societies around the world,” Peguero said. “The study abroad program was a way of finding new ideas to help those that are rejected and who still have not found their own path.”

Peguero was accepted as a General U.S. Fulbright Fellow to return to the Public Health Research Institute of India, which was established by FIU professor Dr. Purnima Madhivanan to create safe spaces for minority populations. He hopes his research will lead to an alternative labor program for the Hijra communities.

Peguero will return to India in August. Gil-Acevedo will leave for Panama in October.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s competitive flagship international educational exchange program. Administered through the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, it awards grants to U.S. students, faculty and administrators to conduct research, teach or study foreign educational systems overseas.