Record-breaking 11 VCU scholars receive Fulbright awards

fullbright scholars

Left to right are Maya Chesley, Erin Coggins, Ellen Korcovelos, Charlie Perris, Levester Williams, Lynn Secondo, Dylan Halpern and Vanessa Diaz. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

A record 11 Virginia Commonwealth University scholars have received U.S. Fulbright Student Program awards for the 2016-2017 academic year. This represents the largest group of recipients from VCU in a single year accepted to this nationally competitive program.

Four recipients have been awarded English Teaching Assistant grants and seven have been awarded research grants. Three recipients graduated in May, seven are recent alumni and one is a current student.

VCU has the largest number of Fulbright awards for 2016-2017 announced to date by a Virginia college or university.

“We’re proud of this record-setting class of 11 Fulbright scholars,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Arriving from diverse personal backgrounds and with wide-ranging research interests, they truly represent the best VCU has to share with the world.”

Fajir Amin, from Richmond, Virginia, received her Master of Education in elementary education degree from the School of Education in 2012. With the support of her Fulbright award, she will study the effects of looping on the aptitude and attitude of students toward English language acquisition among elementary students in the United Arab Emirates. In the future, Amin plans to continue influencing education around the world on a macro level.

Maya Chesley, from Chesapeake, Virginia, received her Bachelor of Science in biology and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish degrees from the College of Humanities and Sciences in December 2015. During her Fulbright year, Chesley will be teaching English in Panama as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. After her experience with the Fulbright program, Chesley plans to enter a Ph.D. program for teaching English to speakers of others languages and Spanish language and then to become an English as a foreign language professor.

Erin Coggins, from Alexandria, Virginia, received her Bachelor of Science in anthropology degree from the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2014. With the support of her Fulbright grant, Coggins will teach English in Bulgaria as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Beyond her experience with Fulbright, Coggins will pursue a graduate degree in international development.

Vanessa Diaz, from Maywood, New Jersey, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design degree from the School of the Arts in 2015. Diaz will teach English in Jordan as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. After her Fulbright year, Diaz plans to pursue a master’s in an interdisciplinary program for intercultural communication and then work as a graphic designer for a nonprofit in the Middle East.

Dylan Halpern, from Fairfax, Virginia, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design degree from the School of the Arts in 2015. Halpern will study urban planning in São Paulo, Brazil with the support of his Fulbright research grant. After his experience with Fulbright, Halpern plans to pursue further graduate education in the realm of digital or connected urbanism.

Kaelne Koorn, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, received her Bachelor of Arts in art history and Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography degrees from the School of the Arts in 2015. During her Fulbright year, Koorn will study the Asian marketplace in the colonial Plaza Mayor of Mexico City and its contribution to the development of a unique and multicultural Mexican artistic style. After the Fulbright, Koorn plans to join a graduate program in the study of colonial Latin American art, specializing in the theme of the evolution of style and the incorporation of multicultural motifs.

Ellen Korcovelos, from Richmond, Virginia, received her Bachelor of Science in bioinformatics degree from Life Sciences in May. With the support of her Fulbright research grant, Korcovelos will study the linguistic variation between individuals with dementia and those without cognitive decay at the University of Toronto. After her Fulbright year, Korcovelos will return to work at Commonwealth Computer Research Inc., where she currently works as a data scientist. Eventually, she intends to pursue a Ph.D. in computational linguistics.

Shannon Laribo, from Charleston, South Carolina, received her Bachelor of Arts in cinema from the School of the Arts and her Bachelor of Science in sociology degree from the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2014. With the support of her Fulbright grant, Laribo will pursue her master’s degree at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. After she graduates from her master’s program, Laribo plans to work as a researcher for an education nonprofit that focuses on reducing racial prejudices at the elementary school level. Eventually, she hopes to develop anti-racism curriculum for secondary students around the world.

Lynn Secondo, from Maumee, Ohio, is pursuing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering in the School of Engineering. With the support of her Fulbright grant, Secondo will continue her current research on metal oxide fuel additives in diesel exhaust and the nanoparticle effects on the human lungs with the project’s collaborator in Thermi, Greece, at the Chemical Process and Energy Resources Institute. After her Fulbright year, Secondo plans to finish her degree at VCU and pursue a career in academia related to sustainability in chemical engineering.

Charles Perris, from Montclair, New Jersey, received his Bachelor of Arts in history degree from the College of Humanities and Sciences in May. Perris will teach English in Germany as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. After his year teaching in the Fulbright program, Perris hopes to attend graduate school in Germany, studying either 20th-century German history or American studies. He plans to eventually teach at the high school or university level.

Levester Williams, from Lansing, Michigan, received his Master of Fine Arts in sculpture and extended media degree from the School of the Arts in May. With the support of his Fulbright grant, Williams will explore the role of identity, memory and community in the urban landscape through the critical lens of art in Johannesburg, South Africa. Williams has proposed to create artworks that will engage with the politics and poetics of space and place surrounding Johannesburg and its ongoing transformation into a post-apartheid city. After his experience with the Fulbright, Williams will begin his career as a visual artist.

With this latest group of Fulbright Student Scholarship recipients, 44 VCU students and recent alumni have been offered Fulbright awards since the National Scholarship Office was created in 2005.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills. Sponsored by the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Program provides funding for students, scholars and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and teaching in elementary and secondary schools.

Each applicant worked with the National Scholarship Office at VCU to apply for the Fulbright Student Scholarship. The office provides support for VCU alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who wish to compete for prestigious national and international scholarships. Interested students and alumni can contact the office at or 804-828-6868.