St. Olaf College | News

Three Oles win Fulbright fellowships

Three St. Olaf College seniors and recent graduates have been awarded Fulbright fellowships for 2021-22.

Among those who received the prestigious award were two recent St. Olaf graduates who applied through the College — Kelsey Halverson ’20 and Neetij Krishnan ’20 —  and one member of the most recent graduating class — Lucia Wagner ’21.

Krishnan and Wagner received the grants to conduct research in Spain and Norway, respectively, while Halverson’s grant is for an English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the Department of State and awards more than 1,500 grants to U.S. students every year. The program operates in more than 140 countries, seeking to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries” and “contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.” Program participants are chosen based on many factors, including leadership potential and academic merit.

In addition to the three finalists, five other Oles — Frank Delaney ’19, Ben Jorgenson ’21, Vanessa Miller ’20, Anna Raphael ’21, and Julianne Stewart ’20 — were selected as alternates, meaning they could receive a Fulbright if a spot becomes available due to the changing plans of this year’s recipients.

For the second year in a row the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the traditional timeline for Fulbright projects. While programs normally have a fall start date, fellowships that were awarded for the 2020-21 year began in January of 2021 at the earliest, and many were postponed altogether. As a result, there were fewer Fulbright grantees from new applicants this year. Travel restrictions across the world also make start dates for programs this fall subject to change.

The St. Olaf Fulbright recipients and their projects:

Portrait of Kelsey Halverson ’20
Kelsey Halverson ’20

Kelsey Halverson ’20 was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship position in the Czech Republic. Halverson majored in English education at St. Olaf. She’ll be teaching the English language and American culture to high schoolers in the town of Volyně during her time in the Czech Republic. Halverson cites her time working at the Writing Center at St. Olaf as integral in preparing her for her time instructing abroad. In Volyně, she plans to form an outdoors and environmental club to engage with the community, as well as hosting a conversation club for students to practice their English outside of the classroom. Overall, she hopes to create a safe and welcoming classroom community, allowing space for students to take risks in their learning and ultimately grow as both learners and people. Upon returning to the United States, Halverson plans to teach middle or high school English, most likely in Minnesota.

Portrait of Neetij Krishnan ’20
Neetij Krishnan ’20

Neetij Krishnan ’20  received a Fulbright to conduct research in Madrid, Spain at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO). Krishnan majored in biology and concentrated in  biomolecular science during his time at St. Olaf. As a Fulbright fellow, he’ll be conducting research in the field of telomere biology — telomeres are sequences at the ends of chromosomes that are used in the replication and division of cells, and are highly connected to the aging process. Krishnan originally applied to work on a project focused on telomeric RNA, which was discovered by Dr. María Blasco, the researcher he’ll be working with for the project. His plans for research have shifted to also include studying how the presence or absence of telomerase affects susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infections. Looking forward, Krishnan is currently applying to Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP) to begin after his Fulbright research concludes.

Portrait of Lucia Wagner '21
Lucia Wagner ’21

Lucia Wagner ’21 was awarded a Fulbright research grant to the Global ECT-MRI Research Collaboration (GEMRIC) at the University of Bergen in Norway. On the Hill, she majored in chemistry and mathematics. In Norway, she’ll be studying the effects of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on neuroanatomy, with a specific focus on major depression as a common comorbidity of neurodegenerative disease. The intersection of depression and neurodegenerative disease is of importance as ECT is used to treat major depression and a common side effect of neurodegenerative disease is motor dysfunction. The effects of ECT on motor control are unknown — Wagner will be working to better understand those effects, the merit of ECT as a treatment for depression, as well as looking into the genetics of what makes an individual the most responsive to ECT. After completing her Fulbright, Wagner plans on enrolling in an MSTP program to ultimately practice medicine as a neurologist and psychiatrist.