3 Duke Graduate Students Won Boren Fellowship and Will Travel Abroad

April 28, 2022

by Gianluca Corinaldesi

2022 Boren Fellowship recipients at Duke University
Left to Right: Francesca Chiappetta, Jacob Yongsu Ahn, Perla Medrano. Graphic: Gianluca Corinaldesi

Three out of three Duke students who applied this year for the Boren Fellowship won the 2022 awards.

Master’s students of Global Health Perla Medrano and Jacob Yongsu Ahn, and Master's student in Environmental Economics and Policy, Francesca Chiappetta, have all received the 2022 David L. Boren Fellowship and will travel abroad to complete their studies.

Funded by the National Security Education Program, the Boren Fellowships support graduate students pursuing the study of languages, cultures and world regions that are critical to U.S. interests. Boren Fellowships are intended to provide or add to the international component of U.S. graduate students' education.

“I am at a loss for words,” Perla Medrano wrote in a social post. “All I have ever wanted is to set up my future to support my family, to repay my parents for every sacrifice and ounce of love and support they have given me. Being a first-generation, low-income, Mexican American student means I have to work extra hard, but I am overjoyed to see it is finally paying off.”

Medrano had applied to travel to Sri Lanka and study Sinhala. Unfortunately, due to the U.S Department of State travel advisory and safety and security concerns, she will have to choose a different country, but she will still be able to study the Sinhalese language while conducting her thesis study on antimicrobial resistance. 

“One day in the future, I hope to go to Sri Lanka to serve the nation as a better prepared global health worker,” she wrote.

Jacob Yongsu Ahn will be studying in South Korea for the fall term of 2022. As an immigrant, he didn’t learn Korean beyond elementary school. In South Korea, he plans to take classes linked to his global health and humanitarian diplomacy interests.  “This gift confirmed my vision of sharing my love of intercultural engagement and respect for diversity as a representative of America,” he wrote. “I hope to give life to this vision with the Boren Fellowship, as the experience gained through it will help me attain the skills needed to become an effective public servant advocating for the U.S. on a global stage.”

Francesca Chiappetta, a Master of Environmental Management student at the Nicholas School of the Environment, received a double gift this year, as she also received—for the second year in a row—the 2022-2023 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Brazilian Portuguese language studies.

Her plan with the Boren Fellowship is to continue her research on natural resource insecurity and climate change in Brazil with the Climate Policy Initiative out of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. “While I have yet to decide to embark on this adventure or continue studying Portuguese as a 2022-2023 FLAS Fellow at Duke for next year, I am confident that the Boren Fellowship will allow me to contribute to building strong partnerships between the U.S. and Brazil researchers and work toward a more sustainable future,” she wrote.

The Duke Center for International & Global Studies (DUCIGS) has been assisting Duke grads' Boren applications for a while now. But such a full sweep surprised Amanda Frederick, DUCIGS Assistant Director, in charge of the Boren Fellowships.

“Having three Duke graduate students awarded in a single competition has not happened for more than 20 years” she said. “I think hosting a virtual information session in fall 2021 contributed to this year’s success as it expanded our outreach and funneled students to me to advise them on this fellowship opportunity.” 

Last September, DUCIGS invited Kyle Cox, a Boren Awards Outreach & Recruitment Analyst, to lead a virtual session on the Boren Awards and how to make a competitive application. The event gathered around 30 Duke students and among them Perla Medrano and Francesca Chiappetta.

Jacob Yongsu Ahn couldn’t make it to the session, but inquired later with Amanda Frederick who eventually assisted him all through his application.

“This was an extensive process for both of us and I’m grateful that (Ms. Frederick was) willing to pioneer the process with me in learning more about the Boren,” he said.