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2022 PICS Summer Fellows

Veronica Bargnesi
BA International Studies; minor, Spanish Language, Literature, Culture; minor, Applied Statistics ‘24
Internship with
The Quito Project

“I am very interested in contemporary refugee and migration crises and exploring ways to combat these as a potential career path. This does not seem like it could be related to a project involving a children’s summer camp, but when I paired it with what I have learned thus far in my international studies classes at Michigan, I found that the two are very much interconnected. I have conducted multiple research projects involving refugee and migration crises with my international studies peers, and in my most recent one, I learned that much of the world’s forced migration stems from systemic poverty or issues within the countries themselves. This can also be traced back to education systems, since stronger education systems demonstrate to children that they truly can make a successful impact on the world and equip them with the skills necessary to do so, thus diminishing the need for many to flee their own countries. That is the precise focus of the Quito Project: investigating Ecuador’s education system and trying to strengthen it to the point of demonstrating this impact, hence the “footprint” name. I can participate in as many research projects as I want, but nothing can truly teach me about education systems in developing countries as well as experiencing one firsthand. Working directly in the field I hope to work in one day solidified my passion for this area and allowed me to become close with the people whose lives are affected by it.

As I mentioned, we (tutors from Michigan) were guided by local college students in Ecuador, but we also had the company of each other: students with similar interests and values. I think a study or internship abroad experience is important for connections not only for the time spent abroad but also for future endeavors. For example, back home in Ann Arbor, I am now a part of a small community of similarly-interested people whom I could always contact for support. In any international area of study, I believe it is also undoubtedly important to have connections in different countries, which I think my peers and I started building this summer. We met professors from both UofM and USFQ in Quito, along with the aforementioned college-aged tutors with whom we became friends. I believe these connections are what give more value to the experiences and information absorbed abroad.

Overall, PICS funding allowed me to truly experience what international studies can be. It not only solidified my passion for this area of study, but it also opened doors to new connections and showed me unique ways to link my interests to each other. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to take a big step in my international studies path, and I will definitely take what I learned with me during the rest of my time at Michigan and beyond.”

Tamara Bingham
BA International Studies; BA History ‘22
Research project on Ilocano communities and culture in the Philippines

“Special thanks to PICS for funding this experience, I can say it has shaped my path in learning Ilokano as another language; this experience has also impacted my educational goals and my next steps in life, as I plan to pursue community-based immigration work. My next steps for me are not linear, but as a global citizen gaining another experience, I view the world in a unique manner to understand complex layers. My first research experience allowed me to use my skills of learning to have an open mind to changing research and travel plans. Sometimes research plans get interrupted, and that means adapting to something local or more suitable to your region, interest and even safety. Lastly, the importance of personally knowing “Filipino-ness” on an academic level but also a personal level was an impactful part of this experience. I understand that there are connections for me to bridge together as a Filipina-American. One of my goals of being an international student is to always expand my horizons and never stop learning - to be my authentic self is the domino effect of being inspired to make an impact on the world. As a Filipina-American finding my roots abroad, I was able to inspire my family and their community members to dream big and follow their passions. As a result, I also expanded the limited knowledge of myself in which I’m not only Filipina-American but a proud Ilokana with dreams and aspirations to achieve on an international level through community and education engagement. This opportunity was more than just a humbling experience but also an empowering way to close my final chapter as Michigan Wolverine. Thank you again to the PICS Grant committee. FOREVER GO BLUE!”

Michael Deeter
BA Public Policy; minor, International Studies ‘23
Research on the effect of carbon financing on livelihoods of sustainable charcoal producers in East Africa

Overall, my research and internship experience has greatly benefitted my professional and academic career. Having the privilege to experience a culture so different from the one that surrounds me in the United States has made evident the issues facing the subjects of my research in a way that would have otherwise been entirely impossible without being physically in the countries. Since I met and spoke with the studied producers in-person, I was able to understand their process and struggles in a way that I would have never been able to experience without the funding I received from PICS. Furthermore, being able to visit Kenya and Uganda has only strengthened my desire to serve in the Peace Corps within Eastern Africa post-graduation. Undergraduate research serves as the backbone for the entire University, and I, personally, never thought that I would be able to have the opportunity to complete a self-determined and executed project before graduation. My trip and my research has taught me so much about both myself and the world, and I am incredibly grateful to PICS for allowing me to have this rare opportunity.”

Alexandra Dunie
BA International Studies; BA History ‘24
WHS Volunteer Student Internship Program – Department of Defense, Office of the General Counsel

“Throughout my summer internship through Washington Headquarters Services in the Office of the General Counsel in the Department of Defense, I had the opportunity to learn and experience things that I could not have in any other internship. Working in the Pentagon every single day was a unique hands-on experience, where I was exposed to numerous defense-related topics every day, as the work there changes every day based on the status of the country's affairs. Specifically working in the Office of the General Counsel, I was working alongside attorneys who each had military experience, whether it was as a lawyer in the Army, or a pilot in the Air Force. They each had unique experiences and understandings of the world around us and offered me so much insight and knowledge into their industries as well as what goes into being a lawyer. Thus, I not only furthered my education in regard to International Studies and global affairs but had the ability to learn more about being a lawyer and attending law school, which is hopefully in my near future.”

Hannah Feng
BA International Studies; BA Psychology; minor, Business Administration ‘24
Therapy Assistant Intern at Advanced Therapeutic Solutions

“On the educational side of public health, I learned about how to raise awareness for selective mutism and its treatment. I observed the clinic owner, Dr. Lynas, present to the Department of Health and Human Services at Hoffman Estates about how to treat selective mutism patients. While it may seem intuitive to provide accommodations to children with selective mutism, this actually enables and reinforces their inability to speak in those situations. It also sends disempowering subliminal messages about the child’s ability to speak in public. To combat this, Dr. Lynas runs through a basic overview of therapeutic skills to use for selective mutism. She provides such training to school psychologists, social workers, and community health workers to increase affordable access to care for lower-income families. This model of mass education for mental healthcare workers is also urgently needed in other countries, as selective mutism is a rare and thus difficult to treat disorder.

Finally, this internship allowed me to enhance my cross-cultural competence by serving as a therapy assistant to children of all backgrounds. Selective mutism has a higher prevalence among bilingual children, so we had many bilingual campers. To celebrate this cultural diversity, we created language posters for each language represented at the camp. Counselors used the posters to promote speech in all of the child’s spoken languages. During parent interactions, I tried to take both a cultural and therapeutic perspective when recounting the camper’s progress, recognizing that cultural expectations for children’s behavior varies widely.

By helping me cover the costs of this invaluable unpaid internship, the PICS Summer Internship Grant helped me learn more about public health, public education, and cross-cultural competency and sensitivity in the real world.”

Akshitha Ginuga
BBA Business Administration ‘25
Internship with
The Quito Project

“Prior to this experience, I was not sure what professional path I wanted to pursue after graduation. I know that I will definitely pursue a path that prioritizes international development. I also learned about the importance of hands-on learning. I am extremely privileged to have participated in this program and am excited to continue working with The Quito Project from an administrative perspective while in Ann Arbor. I know that this experience will influence me in my future career as I know of the importance of hands-on work. Oftentimes, it is easy to forget about the human perspective of initiatives especially in a corporate setting. As I pursue my career in international development, I will be sure to seek out organizations that align with my values and emphasize community involvement.”

Madeline Grobelny
BA International Studies; BA Political Science; BA Spanish ‘24
Internship with
The Quito Project

“I am beyond grateful that PICS granted me funding to participate in The Quito Project, as it has further advanced my interests in international studies and a career in foreign relations. My favorite part of the Quito Project was the intensive Spanish that went into every aspect of this initiative. I am pursuing a triple major in International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish, with the hopes of integrating a continued Spanish education into a career in foreign policy. My speaking skills have maintained consistent throughout my time in college, however, I have always wanted to travel to a Spanish speaking country to be fully immersed in the language. The Quito Project provided the perfect opportunity for this, as it gave me the ongoing challenge to speak only Spanish for three weeks. Upon my return from Ecuador, I can confidently say that my speaking skills have improved tremendously, and would now consider myself fully proficient in the language. I will continue my Spanish education at University of Michigan and also hope to study abroad to further my Spanish abilities, but I am more than happy that the Quito Project gave me the chance to build an advanced Spanish skill set that I can take with me throughout my international studies journey.”

Ryann Halland
BA International Studies; BA Spanish ‘24
Internship with
The Quito Project

“I would like to thank the Program in International and Comparative Studies for allowing me to experience a different culture outside of my own and others within the United States. My first time out of the country was one to remember. I was very captivated by all of the different daily social practices that I noticed and got to participate in. I think it is very important for everyone to be able to ponder how different life is in different parts of the world. There are issues that are very apparent in some parts of the world that are never really thought of in certain parts of the United States. It is imperative to acknowledge and respect many cultural differences. The Quito Project allowed me to learn about another culture while sharing my own when asked. Thank you, PICS, for allowing me to further my academic goals in International Studies through partaking in daily interactions in Ecuador to recognize and begin to solve many common disparities throughout families in Quito. I can now apply what I have learned through this experience to my studies in Spanish and Latin American culture, allowing me to further understand international economical differences.”

Roni Kane
BA International Studies; BA Film, Television, and Media; minor, Spanish Language, Literature, and Culture; minor, Business Administration ‘23
Internship with
The Quito Project

“Thanks to the fellowship gifted to me by the Program in International and Comparative Studies, I have now crossed the equator. I have spoken Spanish outside of a classroom for the first time since kindergarten. I have climbed nearly 16,000 feet to the top of a volcano and danced inside of a cloud. I could not be more grateful for the experiences I had this past summer, including my internship with The Quito Project in Ecuador. I have often heard from others who have studied or worked abroad that their command of a second language improved incredibly quickly, but I was surprised in just two weeks how much better my Spanish was by the end. From my first conversation with my cab driver on the way from the airport to the hostel, to my final goodbyes to my students in the classroom, I felt substantially more confident in my communication skills after being immersed in the Spanish language. That is a gift I am forever thankful for receiving.”

Emily Kopp
BA International Studies; BA History; minor, Islamic Studies ‘23
Internship with the
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

“While I found the projects I engaged with to be incredibly useful in advancing my skills and knowledge, I was particularly inspired by the brown bag lunches I was able to have with junior and senior staff members. Once a week, my co-intern and I had a conversation with a member of the POMED staff during which we were able to ask them about their experiences in the field, career advice, and outlook on the future of diplomatic relations. After learning about the recent history of democracy movements in the Middle East during my International Studies classes, I was fascinated to hear about my colleague’s experiences of working in the field at the time. Speaking with people who worked in Washington throughout the rise and fall of the Arab Spring reminded me that human rights concerns and regional stability are deeply intertwined.

As I begin my final year as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan and look towards career opportunities, my outlook on the future is deeply influenced by my time at POMED. The experiences I had this summer would not have been possible without the funding and support I received from PICS. I am deeply grateful for PICS’s commitment to helping students pursue their interests beyond the classroom.”

Fátima Lagunas
BA International Studies ‘23
Korea-Michigan Human Rights Research Fellow

From learning so much about South Korean cultures and their norms, I was able to take an AI for Social Innovations course where students from institutions from all over the world also came and shared their cultures and norms. I learned so much about discrimination in South Korea and how that compares and contrasts with discrimination in the U.S as well as in countries around the world. After my experience in South Korea, I realized how much I care about the different environments that exist in the world. I was able to appreciate my culture and my city so much more. I loved having the opportunity to travel to South Korea because it has always been a dream of mine. I was able to learn so much about traveling alone and figuring out a post-pandemic way of traveling. I was able to learn about the problems that different countries hope to address in relation to international studies, but more specifically having to do with my areas of study in global environment and health.

Overall, this is an experience that I would not have the luxury of giving myself if it were not for the amazing opportunity that PICS and the Donia Human Rights Center gave me. I learned so much in just one month abroad, and I am grateful and excited for the new person that I have become. As I begin my final year of undergraduate, I am so happy to see the changes that this experience has had on me and the way I will be able to continue to connect everything I learned and experienced with both my final year of studies and my future career endeavors.”

Eli Pollak
BA International Studies ‘25
Internship with The Samburu Project

My internship was with an organization called The Samburu Project. Since 2005, The Samburu Project has built 137 wells around the entire region, working alongside communities to provide clean, safe working water for the people there. What motivated me to want to work with this organization is that once they build a well, the work is not finished. The availability of water is subsequently used to promote health, education, gender equality, and sustainability.

Because of this Fellowship, I am returning to the University of Michigan with more passion for my studies and, I hope, perspectives that can enrich my classroom experiences and discussions. I am going to build upon this internship experience with formal coursework this fall in African politics and development and international economic

Avery Sandstrum
BA International Studies; BA Comparative Literature; minor, Latin American & Caribbean Studies ‘22
Internship with
The Quito Project

“Personally, leading the camp this summer was an exciting challenge that drew on all facets of my recently completed U-M degree programs. My International Studies education in tandem with international internships like TQP has given me the vocabulary to be critical and constructive when engaging in any service work or collaborating across borders. I’m proud of the work that The Quito Project does and am even more excited to see how it builds on its mission in the future as they continue to explore the intersection between education and public health equity. Collaborating in Spanish, leading discussions on cultural sensitivity and the limitations of international service learning, and (most importantly), simply having a blast with the students at camp reminded me constantly of my gratitude to LACS, PICS, and the International Institute for all the support they have provided to make those moments of growth and connection within TQP possible.”

Brian Wiltse
BA International Studies; BA Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies ‘23
Research project on illegal trade to and from Russia

“Luckily being a student at U of M, I am able to have access to one of the largest libraries in the world. Reading through material week by week was eye opening to exactly how much information is lacking in the field of illegal trade. I often found myself researching databases and one database I became the most familiar with is ‘The CNS Global Incidents and Trafficking Database.’ This database contains info regarding any lapse in the shipment or procurement of nuclear material around the world. Shockingly, what I found was the United States had the most incidents reported on the global scale. In fact, the most incidents came from Belgium, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. This forced me to want to understand why. Why not China or Russia, who, for the most part many people would suspect. Does the issue revolve around closed vs open market economies? Or simply are there countries in the world that are underreporting their trafficked or incidental nuclear material? These are just two questions that as I go throughout my career, I would love to learn more about and try to understand the gaps in the cumulative data and research as a whole.”