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Saturday, December 2, 2023

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Nandi Maunder (middle), a 2023 Fulbright scholar, posed for a graduation photo with her parents, Brandy and Charles Mitchell. Nandi Maunder (middle), a 2023 Fulbright scholar, posed for a graduation photo with her parents, Brandy and Charles Mitchell.

SDSU's Fulbright Winners Plan To Explore South Africa and Colombia

The two recent graduates will embark on research and creative endeavors around the world.
By Jeff Ristine

Nandi Maunder’s upcoming trip to a remote town in South Africa as a Fulbright Scholar begins with her first name. 


Maunder, a May graduate of San Diego State University, is putting her bachelor’s degree in English lit to immediate use in a nine-month project in Thohoyandou, a rural region in the republic’s northeast tip. One of two Fulbright grant winners from SDSU this year, she plans to use graphic novels about the Black experience in the U.S. to help young people learn about visual storytelling.


South Africa is a popular destination for the Fulbright program, to the point where applicants sometimes are discouraged from pursuing projects in Johannesburg or Cape Town, its two most populous cities.


But Maunder, who has never been anywhere in Africa, didn’t mind skipping the metropolitan regions. Her mother, an English teacher, named her after Nandi KaBhebhe, the mother of Shaka kaSenzangakhona (more popularly known as Shaka Zulu), who founded the Zulu nation in 1816 and reigned until his assassination in 1828.


“My mom made me learn a lot of South African history,” Maunder said. “She was like, ‘I gave you this name, you need to know what it means. You need to know the context. You need to be able to explain.’ So I just learned a lot about South African history because of that.”


Maunder will be working in a region where four languages are spoken: English, Venda, Swahili and Shona (an official language of neighboring Zimbabwe). That makes visual storytelling all the more useful, and the project incorporating graphic novels is part of the community-involvement half of Maunder’s Fulbright grant, not her research.


Based at the University of Venda, Maunder plans to work primarily in the 9- to 13-year-old age group. She expects a curriculum based partly on Black graphic novels, including Black Panther superhero works written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, used as examples for the young people to make panels “dealing with their own stories,” she said.


It could be something as simple as entering and leaving a room, “just the idea that you understand visual storytelling and how to make it go in sequence” and to understand that there are many options in doing so.


The idea is to teach “an adaptable skill in visual storytelling that they can keep for themselves. … Just giving them some kind of way of communicating their experience visually so that they can see it for themselves.” The scholarship begins in mid-September.


Maunder learned a lot about the subject from her mother, Brandy Mitchell, who uses graphic novels for some of her work as an English teacher in Oakland. 


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.


In the research half of her grant, Maunder will write short stories based on the experiences of children in Thohoyandou. Each chapter will begin with a different child’s perspective of life after apartheid, an institutionalized segregation imposed by the white minority that remained in force until 1991 despite overwhelming international condemnation. 


“Though as children they were born after apartheid’s end, the systemic barriers of those policies are still directly impacting their experience of childhood,” Maunder said. “My goal is to complete ten chapters within the middle grade to young adult age range.”


When she returns to the U.S. in June 2024, she will begin a master’s program in fiction writing at Columbia University.


Also receiving a Student Fulbright grant at SDSU is Margot Watson, a master's student in geography and watershed sciences, whose research award centers on analysis of eutrophication in the coastal zone of Magdalena, Colombia. 


“My fascination with this complex interface between the natural world and the human experience led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology,” Watson wrote. “However, as much as I enjoyed the world of microscopes and spectrometers, I knew that I wasn’t destined for only the laboratory and wanted to find a way to further explore the interconnection between humans and the environment.”


Watson will work with INVEMAR, a marine institute in Colombia that not only conducts research but also implements community-based restoration projects.


“I am extremely proud of our students in this highly competitive national competition,” said Nancy Marlin, SDSU provost emerita and Fulbright advisor. 


“The university's plan is to transcend borders and transform lives, which is precisely what Fulbright does.”


Since 2005-06, 102 SDSU students have been awarded Fulbright grants.


Maria Keckler, Director of International Affairs Strategy & Communications, contributed to this report.