Building on Existing Fulbright Connections

Sheryl Ehrman, Fulbright Alumni Ambassador
Keystone Professor and Chair, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of Maryland-College Park
August 2006 - February 2007, Fulbright U.S. Scholar to India

IIT Bombay (L to R) Saptarshi Chattopadhyay, Chandra Venkataraman, Sheryl Ehrman

My Fulbright Scholar story began in October 2001 and continues to this day.  My graduate school officemate, Chandra Venkataraman, now professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, suggested that I spend a sabbatical at her university.  She knew me well enough to know that I am not one to pass up an invitation.

I took my sabbatical during the 2006-2007 academic year.  Chandra and I developed a joint project, a study of the effects of formulation, temperature and shear on surrogates for whole virus-based vaccines that would have impact on the development of delivery routes for vaccines that do not require injections.  About five months prior to my departure for India, I met scientists from another Indian university, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, in Agra, India, and we also initiated a collaboration, facilitated by my being in-country. These projects resulted in 12 peer reviewed journal articles.

My grant greatly impacted my family as well.  My husband runs a small business and so was unable to stay in India, but he visited twice and was able to travel with us when we went on longer excursions outside of the immediate Mumbai area.  My daughter was two and she stayed with me the entire time. She went through my Lonely Planet guidebook and decided that our itinerary needed to include camels, tigers and elephants.  We were able to accomplish this and more. It was truly amazing to see a tiger in the wild, while riding on the back of an elephant, in Bandhavgargh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. I continue to collaborate with Chandra, and our daughters have been fast friends.

Chandra Venkataraman and I during summer 2009 when she visited my lab. Behind us is a Univeristy of Maryland and IIT Bombay/MTech student.

Back home, not wanting to leave India behind, I sought out ways to build on existing connections and form new ties between my home campus and institutions on the Indian subcontinent. I am part of our campus’s international community, serving on our campus’s ad hoc India committee.  In total, I have hosted eight Indian graduate and undergraduates and one post doc in my lab. I have continued to host foreign students, most recently a student from Pakistan, and I support efforts of my own students to study and conduct research abroad, two of whom have gone to India.  I use my materials and broader perspective gained during my stay in India to inform my lecture on globalization and engineering design, which I have given each semester since my return to the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. Every engineering student is required to take the course, which means I have been able to share my story with more than 4,500 students to date.

The most positive outcome of living abroad has been my increased cultural competency.  Living in India put me face to face daily with situations that could be described as both joyous and uncomfortable. I was fortunate to have broken through the surface that only tourists see.  I consider India to be a part of me now.