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Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Michigan Grad Receives Fulbright to Research Electronic Waste in West Africa

Students from the University of Michigan have received 28 Fulbright grants — more than any other public university in the nation during the 2014-15 academic year, the U.S. State Department announced Thursday.

Ms. Emily Yu
[Photo: Ms. Emily Yu]

The grants — one of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards — fund the students’ research or teaching overseas for six to 12 months. Their interests range from creative writing in Kazakhstan and anthropology in Cambodia to teaching English in Malaysia and researching public health in Ghana.

“U-M is thrilled that our young scholars are once again so well-represented in the Fulbright program,” said Dr. Mark Schlissel, the university’s president. “These 28 students are a testament to our strong academic programs and commitment to global engagement that nurtures a passion for creating positive impacts across international borders.”

School of Public Health alumnus Ms. Emily Yu, who earned a master’s degree in industrial hygiene in 2012, is in Ghana’s capital, Accra. She’s researching the largest electronic waste site in West Africa, where workers often use open-air burning to extract gold, silver, and other precious metals from e-waste.

Ms. Yu’s trajectory wasn’t always public health-focused. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Yu’s long-term career plan was to enter the medical profession. But that changed in the summer after her junior year, when Ms. Yu undertook an internship in Bhopal, India — the site of the deadly industrial accident in which a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant leaked massive amounts of toxic gases — working with the Bhopal Medical Appeal at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic. There, Ms. Yu studied the antibiotic resistance of bacteria in the local water sources.

In Bhopal, she learned about the disaster and saw the devastating effects it had on people’s health and on the environment. She recognized that it is a cycle: “I saw the impacts a poor environment could have on the health of people, and how people live in such a way that it hurts the environment.” And she changed her plans. “I decided I didn’t want to do medicine anymore. Medicine is limited because you’re providing care to one specific individual at a time, whereas in public health, we work to improve the health of groups of people.”

That public health focus continues now with the work she intends to pursue through her Fulbright grant. “It is difficult to predict the risks and hazards that affect the workers and the nearby community,” Ms. Yu said. “The Fulbright Fellowship is a springboard for my long-term goals to advocate and promote health and safety on an international scale.”

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