Recent Fulbright Scholars

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Jess CusterJessica, a Lisle M. Buckingham Scholar and an Honors College student at the University of Akron, graduated Suma cum Laude in December 2009 with Bachelor’s degrees in Accounting, International Business, and Spanish. She greatly values her UA undergraduate experience as an honors student because it gave her access to unlimited opportunities to explore her diverse interests.  Early in her undergraduate career, she became passionate about traveling the world in pursuit of diverse learning experiences and opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration and was able to take advantage of various global work and study opportunities. She spent a summer working on a U.S. military base in Spain, a semester abroad exploring Latin-American culture and perfecting her Spanish skills in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, and another semester in South Korea as a participant in a global village exchange program. In addition to these formal experiences, she was able to spend time traveling and backpacking her way throughout parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America so that by the age of 25, she had already set foot in 22 countries, spanning five continents around the world.

According to Jessica, it was the culmination of these diverse and profound travel experiences that led her to shape her Honors thesis and ultimately her career focus.  During her first trip to the Peruvian Amazon, she was introduced to a community called ‘Floating Belen’, which was nicknamed the Venice of Peru, but was more accurately described as the Horror of Peru. Standing deep in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon gazing out across the river at thousands of floating shacks, she remembers this distinctly as the first time she had witnessed extreme and concentrated poverty.

Originally, she had elected to study abroad in various parts of Latin America to supplement her Spanish degree with immersion in different dialects and to prepare herself for an international business career in this region. However, after visiting this part of Peru, she began to question her pursuit of an education in business. She wished she would have had the foresight to focus her studies on becoming a doctor or an engineer so she could do something about these types of situations. While she could not relate directly with this level of poverty, she did have a unique connection with these people. She had come from a very low-income family and that came along with a very important life lesson—she had to work twice as hard, have triple the ambition, and quadruple the perseverance to succeed. Every day, she is grateful that her efforts were rewarded with a college scholarship that gave her the opportunity to change her own life and invent her own future. When she visited this impoverished community, what she saw were hardworking, capable, and creative people that were held in captivity by their lack of access to the resources and opportunities they needed for development. She looked at these people and saw something of herself—only, they did not have access to a scholarship; they did not have access to much of anything. She wanted to change that, to find a way to use her background in business to help them access what they needed to steer their own development. As she was later backpacking through countries like Nicaragua, Cambodia and Vietnam, she saw, again and again, reflections of the same debilitating poverty she had first witnessed in Peru. She felt that these people deserved more than charity; they deserved a chance to help themselves—just as she had once been given.

Jess Custer 2With these new interests and experiences at hand, she began to study business in a different light— business as a tool for fighting poverty. She became most interested in a new business structure introduced by Muhammad Yunus as ‘social business’ which applies the sustainable business model to modern social, economic, and environmental problems to catalyze sustainable development.  She became passionate about the possibilities of utilizing business strategy to make a difference on a scale that had not been tried before. And suddenly, she realized that she did not need to be a doctor or an engineer; as a business person, she already had valuable skills that could be applied to spur growth in developing communities.

The UA Honors College senior project requirement gave her the opportunity to run with this idea and to further explore her interests in development on an in-depth, collaborative, research style basis. During her senior year, under the advisement of experts from the fields of economics, business, social sciences, and engineering she designed a social business model focused on providing sustainable sanitation waste collection services to the impoverished, flood-zone communities that she had seen in the Peruvian Amazon. Based on her experiences, one of the problems of the developing world that most concerned Jessica was the lack of access to any form of acceptable sanitation, an issue which affects nearly one-third of the world’s population and leads to major health and productivity problems. Effectively, her business model calls for a community-based waste collection system and a recycling system that would utilize anaerobic digestion technology to transform the waste into energy and organic fertilizer; the sale of these by-product resources would sustain the cost of the sanitation waste collection services.

Jess Custer 3Jessica was later awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to spend a year in the Peruvian Amazon doing on-site field research with respect to her social business model.  As a Fulbright Scholar, she was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relocate to the remote Amazonian city of Iquitos, Peru to pursue independent research on the topic of social business. There, she worked to conduct feasibility analyses determining the cultural, economic, and operational viability of her social business model and made exciting progress towards the ultimate goal of making her business model a reality. Now that she has returned to the United States, Jessica hopes to further her work with this social business model while engaging in graduate studies beginning in Fall 2012. She will be pursuing an MBA with a concentration in sustainable enterprise while completing a dual degree either in Sustainable International Development or Public Health. She is passionate about continuing to explore the opportunities that lie in the converging interests of business and development and working to promote the establishment of sustainable socially-minded businesses for the benefit of both grassroots’ communities and the companies or organizations involved.


Matt ZuzicMatt Zuzic majored in economics at the University of Akron and minored in Finance and Math. His aim was to work in banking or economic research. He was fortunate enough to receive a Fulbright Fellowship to Croatia while also previously accepting a position at KeyBanc Capital Markets (KBCM) in Cleveland, Ohio. Through the help of then-Honors College dean Dale Mugler and the flexibility of KBCM, he was able to defer his employment one year to pursue his fellowship.

Matt gives most of the credit to the faculty in the Economics Department. He feels they are truly very intelligent and led him on a course that helped him bring his goals to fruition. He is especially grateful to Dr. Erickson for her immeasurable role in his Fulbright process. She provided him with great feedback and helped him put his best foot forward when writing his grant proposal and personal statement. He does not think he would have received his fellowship without her.

His Fulbright in Croatia was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He researched the effect of currency substitution on the exchange rate and interest rate. Matt worked with the former head of the Research and Statistics Department at the Croatian National Bank. He is currently a professor at the top economic university in Croatia and operates his own consulting practice. He was a great resource for Matt to have, and Matt learned a great deal from him. In the future, he hopes to publish his research and present it where possible.

Matt's personal experience in Croatia was outstanding. He had the opportunity to learn about Croatian culture, economy and politics. Previously having a base in the Croatian language, he was able to become fluent. He was also able to travel throughout the country and to some neighboring regions. Emerging himself in the daily life of a Croatian is an experience that I could not replace. I encourage any person interested in a Fulbright Fellowship to apply. No matter how daunting the task maybe, the reward of receiving the fellowship is well worth it.

Matt also gives great credit to the Honors College. "They truly foster a great learning environment, and without said environment I do not think I would be able to exceed in the goals. I look to show my gratitude in the future through mentoring current students and participating in alumni events," says Matt.

After coming back from Croatia, Matt started working at KBCM, the investment banking arm of KeyCorp. It has been a great experience thus far, and he hopes to provide a network for other UA students interested in banking.


KaralicSejla Karalic graduated from the University of Akron in the spring of 2009, with a double major in Political Science and Economics. That fall, she set off for China on a Fulbright fellowship. She spent her first three months in China studying advanced Mandarin Chinese as part of a Critical Language Enhancement Award, and subsequently began her Fulbright research in December.

Sejla’s Fulbright project involved designing, translating, and administering a survey to assess how tobacco advertising, compared to economic and cultural factors, affects the smoking rates among Chinese undergraduates.  She worked closely with Professor Tingzhong Yang, director of Zhejiang University's Research Center for Tobacco Control, who graciously allowed her to tap into his survey network in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, where her survey was conducted. Sejla hopes to analyze the data she collected for a paper she plans to submit to a peer-reviewed public health or tobacco control journal.  

During her Fulbright term, Sejla had not only completed her own project, but also served as an assistant for Professor Yang’s China Tobacco Control Capacity Building Project (TCCB).  The TCCB aims to develop culturally-appropriate tobacco control curricula for 31 Public Health schools across China.  She also attended public health conferences in Hangzhou and Beijing, translated for visiting foreign scholars, and received many networking opportunities with Chinese and international Tobacco Control professionals.

Karalic 2The Fulbright grant is not only about research, however. More than anything else, it helped her understand and connect with a people and culture she knew very little about outside of a limited tobacco control framework. She made many Chinese friends who she still keeps in touch with and will hopefully see again when she visits China in the future.

Since March 2011, Sejla has worked as a Research Assistant in the Macroeconomic Analysis Section at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C.  Economic data analysis and the ability to conduct independent research tasks is a vital part of her current position, and her Fulbright research experience undoubtedly contributes to her ongoing success.