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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Two Rensselaer Scholars Receive Fulbright Student Awards

August 29, 2001

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.”

Dean Nieusma
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.

Elizabeth Press
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 December.

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 responses.

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 understanding.

“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 grow.”

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 abroad.

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
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