Northwestern University: Fulbright students rise to meet a changing world

Signs of climate change are all around us, but the issue can feel overwhelming: What do individual people’s experiences with climate change look like, and how can one person make a difference?

Northwestern alum Keerti Gopal, ’21, is finding out. Since last fall, she has been in Taiwan on a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, a rare opportunity that goes only to Fulbright recipients with a proven track record of using new media to tell compelling stories.

As one of Northwestern’s 17 Fulbright grantees in 2021–2022, Gopal is collecting and sharing accounts of climate action and resilience for stories in media outlets, including Medium. Her interviewees have included tea farmers forced to adapt by drought and activists advocating for fossil fuel divestment and climate justice education.

Related: Northwestern named top student Fulbright producer, 17 years running

“The best thing about the grant has been the people I’ve gotten to meet,” Gopal said, recalling an experience in Taiwan’s central mountains, which she visited in January with a research team collecting climate data. The mountainous Alishan region is known for its high-quality tea — a crop that thrives in part because of the region’s abundant mist.

But the mist has been less consistent in recent years, posing a challenge for the farmers who depend on tea for their livelihoods. Gopal stayed at a guest house run by three siblings who grew up in the area 50 years ago and still cultivate tea there today. One of the siblings, Lin Fang Mei, described the changes she had witnessed during a sunrise walk with Gopal.

“The Lin sisters could track climate change in the region so vividly through their own memories — of changing seasons, impacts on agriculture and natural disasters that have displaced their friends,” Gopal said. “The climate crisis can sometimes feel big and abstract and overwhelming, but hearing the Lin sisters talk about climate change in the context of their own personal lives was a grounding reminder that fighting this crisis is actually about human beings, in the present.”

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Fulbright winners this year navigate a world transformed by a pandemic and other challenges, and it’s crucial upon us to endow our students with these experiences overseas.”

Annelise Riles
Associate Provost for Global Affairs
Around the world — and at home in the United States through virtual connections with people, institutions and databases — Northwestern’s current class of Fulbright students has been engaging with the international community despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Office of Fellowships continues to do a remarkable job advancing global opportunities for our students,” said Annelise Riles, associate provost for Global Affairs at Northwestern. “Fulbright winners this year navigate a world transformed by a pandemic and other challenges, and it’s crucial upon us to endow our students with these experiences overseas.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of State and funded via an annual Congressional appropriation, Fulbright is the United States’ flagship international academic exchange. For the 17th consecutive year, Northwestern is one of the top producers of Fulbright students among U.S. colleges and universities, earning praise from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Northwestern University’s place among the Fulbright Program’s 2021–2022 Top Producing Institutions clearly demonstrates your dedication to preparing Americans to thrive in the global economy and serve as engaged citizens,” Blinken wrote in a letter to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro on March 30.

Northwestern Now caught up with four of the Fulbrighters — Keerti Gopal, Dominic Balestrieri-Fox, Daniel Rosenzweig-Ziff and Tara Wu — to hear about their experiences teaching and conducting research internationally over the past year.

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