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ASU Provost's Office helps potential Fulbright scholars navigate tricky process.
March 17, 2017

Only four schools in the nation boast Rhodes, Marshall and Churchill scholars

Fulbright Day on Tuesday allows Arizona State University to bolster the reputation it’s earned as a top producer of such scholars, but it’s not the only award that puts the school in elite company. ASU, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago are the only institutions with Rhodes, Marshall and Churchill scholarship winners. 

“It’s a really potent and clear statement about our breadth and the excellence of our programs that students with such different backgrounds and goals can demonstrate not just at a national but at a global level their competence and vision,” said Kyle Mox, director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU and associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College.

ASU has maintained its position as a top producer of faculty and student Fulbright scholars, with six faculty members and 15 students currently in the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. ASU ties for No. 6 in faculty awards with Cornell, Georgia, Texas, Washington and Western Michigan. ASU ranks No. 11 for student awards, aligning with Boston College, Cornell, Northwestern, Louisville and Maryland. 

The overall elite company is "really exciting because ASU is also the most innovative school, and it goes to show that the potential here is unlimited and there’s a lot happening behind the scenes,” said Ngoni Mugwisi, an ASU student and 2017 Rhodes Scholar, referencing the U.S. News & World Report distinction that ASU has garnered two years running, ahead of Stanford and MIT. “We three are fortunate to be taking center stage at this point, but this is just the beginning.”

All three of the elite scholarship winners are in Barrett, The Honors College, and will graduate in May. They are:

• Erin Schulte, a global studies major, the 18th ASU student to win the Marshall ScholarshipThe Marshall Scholarship, which selects up to 40 winners every year, was created to express the gratitude of the British people to America after World War II. The most recent ASU winners were in 2014 and 2012. since it was established in 1953. Schulte will attend King’s College in London and pursue two degrees, in conflict security and development and in big data in culture and society. She hopes to work in international security and development. At ASU, she was co-founder of the All Walks Project, a student-led non-profit that educates people about human trafficking.

• Ngoni Mugwisi, an electrical engineering major, ASU’s first Rhodes ScholarThe Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest and perhaps most prestigious international graduate scholarship program in the world, established in 1903 by empire builder John Cecil Rhodes. ASU has had a total of five Rhodes Scholars, and the most recent, Philip Mann in 2001, is currently the conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. since 2001. A native of Zimbabwe, he is a MasterCard Foundation Scholar and will pursue a PhD in engineering science at the University of Oxford. At ASU, he started Solar Water Solutions, a hybrid non-profit and business venture to retrofit water wells in Zimbabwe with solar-powered pumps.

• Christopher Balzer, a chemical engineering major, ASU’s first Churchill ScholarThe scholarships, the brainchild of Winston Churchill, were first awarded in 1963 and select 14 people annually for a year of graduate study in science, mathematics or engineering.. Balzer will study advanced chemical engineering at the University of Cambridge. At ASU, he participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative and won a Goldwater Scholarship, which recognizes excellence in science, math and engineering.

ASU's top international scholarship winners are (from left) Erin Schulte, a Marshall Scholar; Ngoni Mugwisi, a Rhodes Scholar; and Christopher Balzer, a Churchill Scholar. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

This convergence of top-level winners could not have happened until recently, as ASU students have only been eligible to apply for the Churchill Scholarships since 2013.

In all three of the international scholarships, only about 25 percent of the American winners are from public institutions such as ASU.

All three students credit the national scholarship advisement office with preparing them for the grueling application process. Schulte said she sat for 12 nomination, practice and finalist interviews.

“They helped me think through my story and think critically about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it,” Mugwisi said.

Mox, the next president of the National Association of Fellowship Advisers, said that ASU has one of the oldest and best fellowship advising offices in the country.

“One thing we do is find the students. It’s a large school, and we have to get the right information to the right students at the right time,” he said. The staff also works with students during the spring and summer before the fall Fulbright application deadline, rewriting essays, refining goals and coming up with project ideas.

ASU’s Provost’s Office works with faculty members who are seeking Fulbright Scholar positions, including offering a mentor application review, where Fulbright alums review faculty applications, according to Karen Engler-Weber, program director in the Office of the University Provost.

She said it’s no surprise that ASU is a top producer of faculty Fulbrights, because the program’s goals align closely with ASU’s charter and mission.

“Fulbright is looking for three critical things when they review Fulbright Scholar applications: impact, inclusion and innovation. These are things our faculty are already doing in their work,” Engler-Weber said.

While some faculty may hesitate to seek out an opportunity that would take them out of the country, Engler-Weber said there are new types of awards that allow the time abroad to be broken up into multiple shorter stays, and some packages include financial support and benefits to support bringing a family.

Mox said he would like more ASU students to apply for Fulbright positions.

“They don’t see it as something achievable, and we’re here to tell you it is.”

Fulbright Day will be held Tuesday at the Memorial Union, with workshops and information for faculty from noon to 1:30 p.m., and sessions for students from 3 to 4:30 p.m. A networking reception with current and former Fulbright award-winners will follow at 4:30. Click here for more information.


Top photo courtesy of

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Despite meat-heavy diet, indigenous tribe has world’s healthiest hearts — but why?

ASU prof: Tsimane people have lowest levels of plaque in their hearts ever seen
Study reveals new details about relationship between inflammation, heart disease
March 17, 2017

ASU professor helps lead study that shows low levels of arterial plaque in group with low good cholesterol, high inflammation

Researchers have discovered that despite meat-heavy diets, low levels of good cholesterol and high levels of inflammation, an indigenous South American tribe has the healthiest hearts ever examined — and it might have something to do with parasites in the gut.  

“It’s kind of an exciting paper,” said Ben Trumble, co-director of the study and an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University and affiliated faculty in the Center for Evolution and Medicine, “because for a long time we thought pre-industrial groups had lower levels of heart disease. The Tsimane have the lowest levels of plaque in their coronary arteries that we’ve ever seen.”

An 80-year-old Tsimane has heart arteries equal to a 50-year-old American, scientists discovered.

“One of the key things about this study is we’ve always thought populations living these traditional lifestyles had low risk factors,” Trumble said, “but we were never able to show before that they actually did have these very low levels of atherosclerosis. This is the first time it’s been shown.”

About 90 percent of the Tsimane people’s food comes from hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. Until two years ago, none of their communities had electricity. None have running water. They live in the Bolivian Amazon with relatively low contact with the rest of Bolivia. Most still speak their traditional language. It takes days to get from villages to towns.

They eat about the same amount of meat that Americans do, but it’s much leaner, coming from wild animals. The average hunt for a Tsimane man takes five to six hours and ranges up to 10 miles.

But another potential factor for a healthy heart is perhaps surprising: Tsimane have a high parasite -pathogen load.

More than two thirds of Tsimane adults have intestinal ailments, according to Trumble. About 30 percent also have giardia on top of that.

fish being smoked outside
Smoking fish over a fire. Ninety percent of the Tsimane people’s food comes from hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. Photo by Ben Trumble


“That creates a really big burden because intestinal parasites eat the food we eat before we can absorb it, or they’re tapping into our blood streams, stealing the (fats) from our blood, stealing calories,” he said.

Some combination of diet, physical activity and the immune system are working together to prevent heart disease, but researchers aren’t sure how they connect.

The Tsimane have high rates of inflammation, stemming from high exposure to the pathogens and parasites, but not obesity.

“That’s what makes this population really interesting to study,” Trumble said. “You could say, ‘Oh, they get four to seven hours of activity per day, and they’re not eating cheeseburgers, so of course they’re not going to get heart disease.’ But the thing that makes this population really interesting is that they have such levels of inflammation. We’ve always thought of inflammation as this major cause of heart disease. They’re just getting it from a different source, and it’s not having any effect at all.”

If you’re reading this with a kale smoothie before your morning run and wondering if it all makes a difference, co-author Michael Gurven of the University of California - Santa Barbara Anthropology Department said you’re doing the right thing — but the Tsimane still have medical issues.

“While the active lifestyle, lean diet, minimal obesity and smoking are all consistent with having a healthy heart, (the) Tsimane also experience high levels of inflammation and low levels of 'good cholesterol,’” Gurven said in an email interview. “Given this combination of factors consistent with both low and high risk, it is remarkable that the Tsimane have such low levels of coronary artery disease.”

Gurven said researchers compared the “arterial age” between Tsimane and Americans using coronary artery calcium scores, revealing the gap between Tsimane and American hearts.

“Curiously, prior work measuring biological age based on immune cell parameters showed that Tsimane were biologically "older" than their age — that their immune systems are not up to par,” Gurven said. “This is fascinating because it shows that different biological systems may age at different rates — and indeed, the majority of older adult deaths are due to infectious disease, and rarely (if at all) from coronary artery disease.”

There are 16,000 Tsimane living in 95 communities, with between 30 to 500 in each village. The population is mainly children. Tsimane women average about nine children each.

“One thing I think a lot of people get confused is that there’s this idea that life was nasty, brutish and short, and with life expectancies in the 40s and 50s, people were going to die before they got heart disease anyway,” Trumble said.

There’s a big problem with that, however: the way life expectancies are calculated. Life expectancy at birth in a hunter-gatherer population is in the 30- to 40-year range, because of high infant mortality.

“For the average Tsimane who makes it to age 15, the modal age of death is 70,” Trumble said. “They’re living just as long as we are,” but their rates of heart disease are far, far lower.

The study was published Friday in The Lancet.


Top photo: Tsimane man crossing the Maniqui River. Photo by Ben Trumble.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now