Two Rensselaer Scholars Receive Fulbright Student Awards
Troy, N.Y. — Two Rensselaer graduate students, Dean Nieusma
and Elizabeth Press, have been awarded prestigious Fulbright
student grants to do research and to study abroad. They are the
first Rensselaer students to receive the awards, which were
recently announced by the U.S. Department of State and the J.
William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
“A Fulbright Scholarship is the pinnacle of achievement for
any student,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “Two of our
students representing Rensselaer as Fulbright Scholars is
outstanding. Dean and Elizabeth embody the excellence and
brilliance of our graduate researchers at Rensselaer. We
congratulate them on this exciting opportunity.”
Nieusma, a resident of Muskegon, Mich., is a doctoral
candidate in Science and Technology Studies in Rensselaer’s
School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Beginning in October,
he will conduct a nine-month ethnographic study of technology
design practices in Sri Lanka.
“I’m particularly interested in design work targeted to the
needs of economically marginalized peoples as an alternative to
consumer-driven design, which is the predominant model in the
U.S.,” says Nieusma.
In Sri Lanka, he explains, technology design projects have a
strong impact on people’s standard of living and quality of
life. For example, an appropriate technology might be the
transformation of on-hand raw materials from a nearby
waterfall, into energy via a water turbine. Electrifying a
village, Nieusma says, may ultimately pave the way for
computing facilities and the Internet.
“Appropriate technology in the Third World is defined as
simple, low-cost, locally made, usually environmentally benign,
and targeted to the needs of the poor,” says Nieusma. “In this
context, people can’t afford for these inventions to fail;
they’re obviously going to be socially invested in them.”
Nieusma’s research is at the intersection of engineering and
social practice. He was a key student leader in developing
Rensselaer’s interdisciplinary dual-degree program, Product
Design and Innovation (PDI), which focuses on creativity and
design at the interface of engineering, architecture, and the
humanities and social sciences.
Nieusma earned his master of science degree from Rensselaer in
2000 and is expected to complete his Ph.D. by 2003. He earned
two bachelor’s degrees in engineering and in social science
from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1991.
Press, a resident of Mahopac, N.Y., is a graduate student in
electronic arts in Rensselaer’s School of Humanities and Social
Sciences. She is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree. She
will spend one year in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic,
working with at-risk students in an after-school project she
devised called “Video Connections.” After a two-week intensive
Spanish program, Press will begin her stay there in
The goal of “Video Connections,” Press says, is to provide
students in Santo Domingo an opportunity to learn basic video
editing skills, and to express themselves in short video
essays. Students in the Dominican Republic will exchange their
videos with those made by students at The Ark, a Troy
community-based technology-training program in the Taylor
Apartment Complex. The two groups will interpret and translate
each other’s videos and use them as inspiration to create video
Many of The Ark’s students hail originally from either Puerto
Rico or the Dominican Republic. Through viewing, critiquing,
and sharing the videos, and by e-mail communication, Press
hopes both sets of students can gain a common
“I believe it is important that cultures and countries cherish
their young people and give them the tools and encouragement to
help them find and communicate their true voices,” says Press.
“Using art, especially video art, as a form of expression gives
children an opportunity to explore and express their feelings
of social conditions. Creating a respectful dialogue between
cultures and countries can create a climate in which peace can
Press, who teaches at The Ark, says this global video exchange
can bring two seemingly disparate teenage worlds together. A
major thrust of her research is how technology influences
children of different cultures. She says getting young people
interested in visual communication and teaching them the
various technical skills necessary to produce video is
essential in sparking their desire to pursue
technology-oriented employment or education.
“It will be interesting to observe how enthusiastically the
students accept the technology and whether the partnerships can
outlast my stay in the country,” says Press.
Press earned her bachelor of science degree from Ithaca
College in 1999. She expects to complete her Master of Fine
Arts degree at Rensselaer when she returns from her year
Nieusma and Press are two of approximately 2,000 U.S. grantees
who will travel abroad for the 2001-2002 academic year through
the Fulbright Program. Established in 1946 under legislation
introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of
Arkansas, the program’s purpose is to build mutual
understanding between the peoples of the United States and the
rest of the world.
The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the Bureau of
Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of
academic or professional achievement and because they have
demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their
fields. For more information on the Fulbright Program go to
Contact: Megan Galbraith
Phone: (518) 276-6531