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Two University of Utah Graduate Students Honored with Fulbright Scholarships

Fulbright-Nehru Grant recipient Virginia LeBaron.

August 1, 2011 – Two students from the University of Utah (the U) will travel to India and Bangladesh to begin distinct—but culturally related—projects this fall, funded by awards from the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program.

Virginia LeBaron is a Ph.D. student in the U’s College of Nursing, while Todd McKay is working on a Master’s degree in linguistics. Though the students come from widely different disciplines, their work emanates from a similar premise—finding ways for people to better cope with imperfect circumstances.

LeBaron received a Fulbright-Nehru Grant and will conduct dissertation research in Hyderabad, India. Her project will explore how nurses caring for patients with advanced cancer cope with limited medical resources while trying to ease pain. LeBaron is particularly interested in exploring how “moral distress” may manifest among health care providers in India, an issue defined as knowing what needs to be done to help a patient, but being unable to act because of various obstacles.

LeBaron’s experience as an oncology and palliative care nurse practitioner—and a volunteer with the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research (INCTR)—led to her interest in studying the delivery of palliative care in resource limited settings. LeBaron’s first trip with the INCTR was in 2004 when she traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal and witnessed firsthand the suffering of patients who have advanced cancer and no access to morphine.

“I hope results from my research will help improve support to nurses practicing in low-resource settings,” says LeBaron, “and also to improve pain management for patients with advanced cancer, wherever in the world this situation exists.” She will be in Hyderabad, India at the MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Center from September 2011 through June 2012. Upon completing her degree, she hopes to secure a post-doctoral position to continue her interest in global cancer control health policy.

Todd McKay is finishing a Master’s degree in linguistics at the U and received an English Teaching Assistantship Fulbright Scholarship. He will be working with students learning English at a school in Bangladesh beginning later this fall. His interest comes from having spent time in the country during the 2009 and 2010 Bangla Critical Language Scholarship programs. His focus will be on helping to bridge gaps between those in the English classroom and the rest of the community.

“Building relationships that endure beyond the classroom is vital for helping achieve the educational goals of Bangladesh,” McKay says, “That is complicated by persistent lack of resources, but my aim is to help by creating a set of activities that can accomplish the goal while transcending material limitations.”

Howard Lehman, professor of political science, also serves as advisor for the Fulbright program at the U. He has been a Fulbright Fellow twice and encourages more students to apply. “The experience expands one’s education, skills and world view,” says Lehman. “Students return as stronger scholars and better citizens, something the world can always use more of.”

Fulbright scholarships have been awarded to many U faculty and five students over the past five years. Recent fellows have done research work in Australia with military veterans, taught courses in Costa Rica dealing with attitudes toward the disabled, and conducted research on business communities in conflict zones in Israel.

Fulbright awards provide travel and living expenses for a students’ year abroad. The prestigious Fulbright program is the largest educational scholarship of its kind. It was created by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright and the U.S. Government in 1946 and aims to promote mutual understanding through educational exchange. It operates between the U.S. and 150 other countries.