Graduate Wins Fulbright Scholarship to Research Farming in Brazil

French - Brazil Farmland

Aerial view of farmland in rural Brazil (Getty Images).

Originally published in NYU Abu Dhabi Research & Innovation News, May 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission of NYU Abu Dhabi Office of Public Affairs. 

May 22, 2015
By Sue-Ann Lau, NYUAD Class of 2018

At the age of 22, Matthew French (Sturgis – Class of 2011, NYU Abu Dhabi – Class of 2015) is already developing a seriously impressive CV: NYU Abu Dhabi graduate, future law school student at a US university, and now the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship that will take him to another part of the world to research drought conditions in rural Brazil.

French is one of more than 1,900 US citizens who will travel abroad with the Fulbright exchange program in 2015-2016. From Massachusetts, he graduated NYUAD with a degree in Social Research and Public Policy and has also accepted an offer to study law at the University of Pennsylvania. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential.

How does it feel to be a recipient of such a prestigious scholarship?

It’s very exciting, I didn’t actually expect it. For the Fulbright Research Scholarship, which is the one I applied for, it’s a very involved process and you have to contact institutions in the country you want to do research in. It took a long time and I was just very unsure that I even knew what I was doing from the beginning! But I worked very hard on it and had a lot of support from (NYUAD’s) Doug Cutchins and Carol Brandt, they were both fantastic. I was thrilled when I got the scholarship and decided to build the rest of my future around it, and it’s really happening so that’s very exciting.

How much do you think NYUAD has prepared you for the journey you are about to embark on?

Oh, enormously. Not just NYU Abu Dhabi but NYU as a whole. I studied abroad in New York and learned Portuguese, which is necessary for my application since I was applying to Brazil for Fulbright. You have to be able to speak the language. This year, NYU Abu Dhabi was essential for me being able to prepare for Fulbright. My Capstone is a precursor into what I will be doing in Brazil. I also had the opportunity to go to Brazil in January for Capstone research, where I made contacts with the institutions I would be working with for Fulbright. It really put into perspective what I would be doing.

Quote marks

I was thrilled when I got the scholarship and decided to build the rest of my future around it, and it’s really happening so that’s very exciting.                      — Matthew French, Fulbright Scholarship recipient

French - Senior Portrait

Matthew French, NYUAD Class of 2015 and Fulbright Scholarship recipient.

What are your research plans while in Brazil?

It’s a bit of an extension of my Capstone project, which focuses on Brazilian social policy. For the Fulbright scholarship, I’ll be focusing on drought control in Mina Gerais, which is one of the largest states in Brazil. This will involve work around government policy for drought resistance programs, ethnographic work, and hopefully something more quantitative, and compiling that into a report that I would hope to be able to publish through the University of Mina Gerais. I will also be taking graduate level courses at the university, through the center for regional planning. It’s going to be a lot in 10 months but it’s really exciting.

Your work seems to be very self-driven…

Yeah, definitely. There are other scholarships I had considered but largely because of my experience with NYU Abu Dhabi this one really attracted me. I get to be in a region I really care about and doing hands-on work, which I think is a big part of the curriculum here. We’re not just sitting in classrooms reading books about the world. And I think that’s something you cannot find in any other university in the United States.There’s a lot of interaction with the community in Abu Dhabi and the rest of the world. Getting outside my comfort zone, trying something new, and going to new places is something I’ve always cared about. Fulbright was ideal for that.

What made you choose a year in Brazil over going to grad school?

I’m actually doing both. I received six offers for law school and narrowed it down to Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. I spoke with both schools about career planning and how to build Fulbright into my future. Normally when you accept an offer to enter grad school it’s possible to take a year off and come back. The Fulbright is a bit more complicated because the academic year in the southern hemisphere is February to November, so I’d either have to take two years off or split years. In the end, I got permission to split the years and chose the University of Pennsylvania. I am starting my first semester this fall, going to Brazil for 10 months, then returning for law school in 2017.

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