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April 2020

Collage of Fulbright Goldwater winners 2020

Collage of Fulbright Goldwater winners 2020

Broncos Win Fulbrights and Goldwater Scholarship Awards

Five Santa Clara University students or alumni have won prestigious scholarships for research to benefit humanity.

SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 21, 2020— Santa Clara University is proud to announce that five Santa Clara University students or alumni have won prestigious Fulbright and Goldwater awards, enabling them to pursue research in fields such as urban environmental mitigation, disability rights, agricultural innovation, or neuroscience.

“We are very proud of our students who have worked so hard inside and outside of class to earn these very competitive fellowships. We also commend their professors and mentors who encouraged them throughout the process,” said University President Kevin O’Brien, S.J. “The University is honored to count these young scholars as Santa Clara students and alumni, particularly as they put their Jesuit education into practice for service of others.”

Recent alumna Erin Ronald ’19 and seniors Griffin Garner ’20, Mariana Perera ’20, and Bridget Woody ’20 each won Fulbright Scholarships, to study in Sweden, Uganda, Brazil, and Jamaica, respectively, while junior Max Bjorni ’21 won the Goldwater Scholarship for outstanding science, engineering or math students. Two other SCU seniors, Ali Deambrosio ’20 and Graeme Hugo ’20 are Fulbright alternates, and will study in Uruguay and Chile, respectively, if other awardees are unable to participate.

Erin Ronald ’19

headshot of Erin Ronald Fulbright 2020

Erin Ronald, a 2019 sociology and environmental studies major, explains her life’s goal to help cities deal with climate change through the metaphor of a car: A mitigation plan is how cities plan to “pump the brakes” on the way they impact  the environment, while adaptation plans are like airbags, or how cities will protect themselves from the coming consequences of climate change.

“I’m really interested in how cities can reduce carbon emissions, especially how to do that in an equitable, community-driven way,” said the SCU alumna.  Now, with her Fulbright award to study urban climate mitigation policy in several cities in Sweden, Ronald is well on her way to becoming a climate-justice master mechanic.

Working through the European version of the World Wildlife Fund, she will be learning from a country that is among the most successful and ambitious in this arena. Her goal is to bring best practices back to the U.S. to help cities set workable climate action policy.  “If people in your city aren’t invested,” she said, “nothing is going to happen.”

Ronald will land in Sweden with a toolbox filled with sustainability experiences.

Since graduating last year, she has been working as one of 90 Civic Spark fellows across the U.S. Stationed in Truckee, near South Lake Tahoe where she spent her summers as a child, Ronald is helping that city develop its own climate action and adaptation plans.

At SCU, she won the Witold Krassowski Sociology Award for exemplary research into environmental behavioral factors among San Jose residents.  As a transportation intern at SCU’s Center for Sustainability, she worked on the University’s own ambitious Climate Action Plan.

“The Center is the driver behind SCU's leadership in sustainability, and everyone who works there is absolutely incredible,” said the young alumna.

Ronald also studied sustainable development in Northern Europe during her study abroad program in Copenhagen. A class in urban livability helped clinch her passion for helping cities achieve climate goals in conjunction with civic stakeholders.

Ronald served as a Global Social Benefit Fellow in Ghana through the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship; helped run SCU’s OxFam club; was on the Food Recovery Network leadership team, and participated in the Sustainable Living Undergraduate Research Project (SLURP)  working on the University’s eco-tray program. She was on the rowing team her first year, and worked in the Forge Garden through the Santa Clara Community Action Program’s Best Buddies program. Ronald also was part of a group that won a $4,000 grant to work on Extra Eats, an app to tackle food waste at SCU. 

Ronald developed some of her passion for climate justice from her grandmother, Trish Ronald, who is an avid conservationist and for years served as board president of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. Her activism influenced the Ronald family, including Erin’s mom Jane Miller, a urologist at the University of Washington, and dad Peter Ronald, a commercial real estate banker.

“We can all be proud of Erin’s accomplishments,” said Ronald’s sociology professor Marilyn Fernandez, who calls her a rigorous and exacting researcher. “She will continue to make SCU proud.”

Griffin Garner ’20

Headshot of Fulbright winner Griffin Garner

During a summer in Uganda as a Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellow,  Griffin Garner ’20 saw firsthand the extreme threat climate change poses to smallholder coffee farmers. Working with NUCAFE, a social enterprise that teams up with smallholder Ugandan coffee farmers, he learned that helping farmers survive and grow requires widespread sharing of best practices such as mulching, shade, or water conservation. That means finding creative ways to provide training, especially for women farmers who represent more than half of the farming labor force there.

“I’m trying to figure the best way to really reach farmers, and get them to incorporate these best practices,” said Garner, who will be pursuing both goals as a Fulbright Scholar. Garner said he first got interested in coffee farming issues as a research assistant studying Nicaraguan coffee farmers, alongside environmental studies and sciences professor Chris Bacon. That work took Garner to Washington, D.C., where he helped present his team’s research to 8,000 attendees at an American Association of Geographers’ conference.

“I’ve always been drawn to international work and development,” said Garner, an environmental sciences major who also has traveled abroad in Bolivia, Panama, and Indonesia through SCU’s Global Fellows and other programs. “I’m the kind of person who really likes to be pushed out of my comfort zone and be in an environment where I’m learning about a culture,” he said.

Garner has pursued that passion through SCU programs, and on his own. In the summer after his first year at SCU, he went to Panama with an organization called Give and Surf, working on educational outreach to indigenous communities. Through SCU’s Global Fellows program, he worked on an organic farm and a food store in Bolivia. After his sophomore year, he took a year off to pursue his passion for marine biology by working at the Bimini Biological Field Station, or “Shark Lab,” in the Bahamas—studying and working with sharks. In Garner’s role as an assistant manager, he had the opportunity to help facilitate research on various shark species around the island. The work also included helping National Geographic and Discovery Channel film several episodes of Shark Week.

“My foremost passions are global sustainable development and ocean conservation,” said Garner, who hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of those two fields after completing his Fulbright program.

Though he loves travel, Garner said some of his most formative experiences happened nearby in San Jose, when he took a Spanish class that was also an experiential learning for social justice (ELSJ) course requiring him to “embed” himself with a San Jose family of undocumented and low-income family members. He loved it so much he took two more ELSJ courses that kept him working with the family. “I’m still in touch with them today, and it was a huge part of my Santa Clara experience,” he said.

Garner is from Greens Farms, Connecticut. His dad Jerrett owns a small custom golf shop and his mom Shelly is a property manager and caregiver to Garner’s grandmother.

"Griffin is an engaged, diplomatic, and collaborative individual with a strong command of relevant social science theories and methods," said his adviser, professor Bacon. "He has both a deep sense of empathy and the solid technical skills needed for success."

Mariana Perera ’20

Headshot of Fulbright winner Mariana Perera

Political science, Spanish, and communication major Mariana Perera ’20, will be using her Fulbright fellowship to study disability rights policy in Brazil, which she says is a good proxy for the strength of a society’s social structure and democracy.

“It’s a very good test for a government to see whether or not they are providing for all of the citizens, whether or not those citizens can advocate for themselves,” she said.

Disability rights policy is an issue she witnessed firsthand after her younger brother Sergio was diagnosed with epilepsy, autism, and developmental delay just before his first birthday. Watching her parents struggle to find social and academic services in Mexico and then California convinced her that disability services are key to a thriving community life. Perera wants to study “how we can help society learn to advocate and learn what they can achieve—on their own, or through organizations, or with politicians—to bring a better society to everyone.”

“Mariana’s proposed project will provide insight into the workings of Brazil’s democracy, and is the perfect marriage of her long-standing interests in political science and her personal investment in intellectual disability rights,” said Naomi Levy, her political science professor and adviser.

In many ways, Brazil made sense because “I’ve always had an interest in Latin American politics,” said Perera, especially after studying abroad as a direct exchange student in Chile and taking an SCU class on Politics of South America.

She also learned a lot from an immersion program offered by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, which took her to the Tenderloin district in San Francisco for seven days, including visits to food banks, wellness centers, and nonprofits. The experience helped her learn how to really listen to a community in order to effectively help its residents.

Perera was a Hackworth Fellow focused on government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, where she studied the ethics of an impeachment trial and ethical dilemmas of pandemics.

After her family moved to California from Mexico to better help her younger brother when she was nine, Perera grew up in San Diego, Pleasanton, and Fair Oaks. The San Diego Epilepsy Foundation aided her with an expressive arts therapy program to help her cope with her brother’s situation and find her own role in the family dynamic, including empowering her to build a fundraising team on her brother’s behalf.

“That’s really where I learned about advocacy,” she said. “Very often siblings get left behind in the story of disability. They play such a crucial role, and it is important they know they matter just as much.”

Her mom Cecilia works in a facility for adults with disabilities, and is an advocate for disability rights including helping Spanish-speaking families navigate the educational and social services system in California. Her dad Sergio oversees a number of stores in three states for the financial services firm DolEx.

Perera doesn’t know precisely what she wants to do after graduation, but says it will be in an advocacy capacity of some sort. “I want to be sure our democracy is functioning for everyone, especially those who don’t have a voice,” she said.

Bridget Woody ’20

Headshot of Fulbright winner Bridget Woody

Bioengineering senior Bridget Woody ’20 considers engineering a series of puzzles to solve—especially how innovation helps or harms marginalized communities. Her winning Fulbright project proposed traveling to Kingston, Jamaica, to conduct research into how past technological innovations historically affected the colonized slave populations there, as a way to inform modern-day, ethical engineering innovation. 

“The importance of historical context is critical to human-centric engineering,” Woody wrote to the Fulbright committee. 

Last summer, Woody travelend to  Rwanda with SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship, studying that region’s history of genocide and agricultural impacts. She studied abroad in New Zealand, taking a challenging course on bioinstrumentation and design, which required her to conduct a study of real-time water clarity for New Zealand’s waterways. She cites among her key academic  influences her bioengineering curriculum and history courses, especially a course on the Haitian Revolution with Professor Naomi Andrews. She added that outside of the classroom, the Society for Women Engineers has been critical for developing meaningful relationships with her peers and making industry connections.

Originally from Mequon, Wisconsin, Woody’s father Jay is an engineer, and mom Betsey works for the Lupus Foundation of America.

“Bridget is a gifted, inquisitive student who is also an intrepid and creative researcher and thinker,” said Andrews, who is also her research adviser. “She makes Santa Clara proud.”

Max Bjorni ’21, Barry Goldwater Scholarship

Headshot of Goldwater winner Max Bjorni

Santa Clara University junior Max Bjorni ’21, a double major in neuroscience and biology, is one of this year’s 396 Goldwater Scholars, and will receive a $7,500 scholarship to help fund his undergraduate education.

Established by Congress in 1986, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation recognizes the nation’s top college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

“I am truly honored to receive a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, and am eager to demonstrate my potential as a scientist,” Bjorni says. “It feels great to know that others view my research experiences at Santa Clara University as promising indicators of the future impact I can have.”

Bjorni credits much of his development in research to his work with Lindsay Halladay, assistant professor of psychology. Since his first quarter at Santa Clara, he says the Halladay lab has provided experiences that are essential to his future career, including learning advanced lab techniques, troubleshooting experiments, and presenting at professional research conferences. Working alongside Halladay as a Gerald and Sally DeNardo Research Scholar, Bjorni has realized his love of research and his desire to pursue it as a profession.

Bjorni also attributes much of his academic success to Santa Clara University’s smaller class sizes, which allow students more interaction with professors.

“I've been able to develop more meaningful relationships with my professors than I otherwise would have if I was sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students,” says Bjorni. “So many of the professors I've had truly care about the intellectual and professional development of their students. They are phenomenal teachers.”

After graduation next year, Bjorni intends to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience, to research the biological mechanisms that underlie neurological disorders such as chronic neuropathic pain. He also hopes to teach a range of introductory and advanced neuroscience and biology courses at the university level.

About Santa Clara University
Founded in 1851, Santa Clara University sits in the heart of Silicon Valley—the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial region. The University’s stunningly landscaped 106-acre campus is home to the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Ranked among the top 15 percent of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, SCU has among the best four-year graduation rates in the nation and is rated by PayScale in the top 1 percent of universities with the highest-paid graduates. SCU has produced elite levels of Fulbright Scholars as well as four Rhodes Scholars. With undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, and graduate programs in six disciplines, the curriculum blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in the tradition of Jesuit, Catholic education.  For more information see

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