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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Karina Arzuyan visited Lake Sevan, Armenia, in summer 2019. Karina Arzuyan visited Lake Sevan, Armenia, in summer 2019.

‘Incredibly Competitive’ Fulbright Grants Awarded to Six Students

A graduate student will study algal blooms in the biggest lake in Armenia; others will teach English in Spain and South Korea.
By Jeff Ristine

(Updated May 20, 2022)

From English classrooms in South Korea to a high-altitude lake in eastern Armenia choked by algal blooms, six San Diego State University students will be making their mark in the world as newly selected participants in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Additional students headed to Spain and Canada for their projects make a total of an even 100 SDSU students awarded student Fulbright grants since 2005-06. This year’s group comprises students from 2022 and 2023 graduating classes.

Karina Arzuyan, who is completing work on a master’s degree in ecology, will head to the south Caucasus region in September for nine months of research on toxic algal blooms in Lake Sevan, located more than 6,200 feet above sea level. The green-to-turquoise blooms threaten vital fishing and recreational uses of the bulbous-shaped lake east of Armenia’s capital.

Arzuyan is of Armenian ancestry and feels strong cultural ties. She visited the region for the first time three summers ago after earning her bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Already interested in marine algae, she drew on an aunt’s governmental connections to attend a conference of experts on what were then relatively new signs of bacteria at the freshwater lake.

The scientists stunned Arzuyan by asking if she’d like to help study the problem.

“I went and visited the lake myself and over the next few years during my master’s degree I would just check in every now and then via satellite imagery and see how the lake is doing,” Arzuyan said. “This lake is massive, it’s nearly 600 square miles … and it supports very important fisheries. And I noticed that the blooms were occurring, they were getting worse and worse.”

But no one seemed to be looking into the biological aspects of the issue, Arzuyan said. When an undergraduate professor told her about the Fulbright program, she recognized it as an opportunity to jump in, “and lo and behold it all worked out.”

Working with the Institute of Hydroecology and Ichthyology and at Yerevan State University, she expects to conduct tests on water quality from both shoreline and deepwater samples in hope of identifying the specific algal species, which has not previously been done at Lake Sevan. Arzuyan also wants to explore the nature of potentially carcinogenic microcystins produced by bacteria.

“Ultimately I want to help support the local economy and the local sources of recreation over there,” said Arzuyan, pointing to the long-term goal of restoring a more balanced, healthy ecosystem in the lake.

She has already been accepted to a doctoral program at the University of Southern California and hopes someday to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific and regulatory agency, to help shape national policy on marine issues.

Operated by the U.S. Department of State to promote cultural exchange, the Fulbright program provides grants for international study/research projects and for work as English teaching assistants abroad. Some participants also join community-involvement projects.

For 2022-23, three of SDSU’s Fulbright recipients are going to South Korea as English assistants, one in an elementary school and two in secondary schools.

Nancy Marlin, SDSU provost emerita and Fulbright advisor, said students awarded Fulbright grants survive an “incredibly competitive,” three-tier screening process, beginning on campus with faculty members who have knowledge of the candidate’s subject matter and proposed destination. They’re then reviewed by a national committee of scholars, and officials in the host nation.

“South Korea offers a lot of awards, so that attracts students,” Marlin noted. But it was still highly competitive, she added, requiring months of research and preparation.

Here are this year’s other Fulbright students, which include four recipients of English student teaching awards:

  • Anh-Thu Nguyen (B.A. in speech, language and hearing sciences, May 2022), an elementary school in South Korea.
  • Elise Ramirez (B.A. in speech, language and hearing sciences and Spanish, May 2022), Spain. In her application, Ramirez said she also wants to “volunteer at programs and organizations that support and empower girls and women educationally, professionally, and in other aspects of life.”
  • Kenia Rodriguez (B.S., child and family development, August 2022), a secondary school in South Korea.
  • Perla Echeverria (B.A. social work and international security and conflict resolution December 2022), a secondary school in South Korea. “Outside the classroom, I plan to find a church I can become involved in as well as learn to cook traditional Korean dishes and share my own Mexican dishes,” Echeverria said in her application
An additional student received an award for a study/research project in Canada and the U.S.
(This article was updated May 20, 2022, to remove identification of one grant recipient at the recipient's request and to correct the number of students receiving English student teaching awards.)