New College of Florida Student Rosemary Mejia Earns Fulbright Award to Study Epidemiology in Peru

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- by Abby Weingarten

Now one step closer to pursuing her ambitions, the thesis student at New College of Florida has earned a Fulbright award to study epidemiology in Peru. Mejia will conduct research at the Sede Cusco Tropical Medicine Institute at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia for one year, beginning in mid-August. Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia is one of the top medical schools in Peru, and one of the major producers and publishers of scientific research in the country.

“A Fulbright year in Peru will enable me to continue studying neglected tropical diseases directly under the guidance of experts in the field,” said Mejia, who is studying international and area studies (with a focus on global health) and will graduate on May 20. “While expanding my professional experiences, I will further develop my Spanish-language skills, engage with community members, and learn more about Andean Peruvian culture.”

The Sede Cusco program focuses on epidemiological, clinical and translational research of neglected tropical diseases, specifically Fasciola hepatica (a parasitic infection that affects the liver). While researching this disease in Cusco’s rural communities, Mejia will use existing databases to perform a geographic information system (GIS) analysis of the spatial distribution of fascioliasis.

“I am convinced that Rosemary’s proposal to integrate GIS and epidemiology in Cusco, and involvement in our clinical trial study, will significantly impact her career and boost her interest in global health and equity,” said Miguel M. Cabada, M.D., the director of the Sede Cusco program, who will be advising Mejia. “I look forward to having Rosemary join our program as a Fulbright scholar. I am sure her stay will be productive and successful.”

The community at New College could not be prouder of Mejia’s accomplishment. Duane Smith, Ph.D., the assistant director of prestigious fellowships for the Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO), was instrumental in helping Mejia apply for the Fulbright award. So were the student writing assistants at the Writing Resource Center.

“Not only has Rosemary proposed a project that seeks to support an important public health initiative in Peru,” Smith said, “but it will also—without a doubt—make a valuable contribution to her future aspirations to play a significant role in addressing global health issues.”

Suzanne Sherman, Ph.D.— the provost and vice president for academic affairs, and an associate professor of chemistry at New College—has been inspired by Mejia ever since she read her admissions entrance essay.

“I recall her essay as an extraordinarily-written narrative by a high school student who clearly loved to learn and was not afraid to take on difficult subjects [like genetics],” said Sherman, who advised Mejia for four years. “At New College, Rosemary developed her scientific skills, and then began applying those skills to her interests in international studies and global health. Rosemary is so-well prepared for this Fulbright scholarship, and I know that she will build on the opportunity to make important future contributions in the global arena.”

Mariam Manzur Leiva—a Spanish instructor, TA program supervisor, interim instructional designer, and quality matters liaison at New College—has worked directly with Mejia to develop her Spanish-language skills.

“As a Fulbrighter myself, I normally try to share with students my own experience and provide them with perspectives in regards to the role they are expected to have in the host community as scholars and cultural ambassadors,” Leiva said. “In this role, proficiency in the target language goes hand-in-hand with cultural awareness. Both elements become essential to function effectively in the target culture.”

Leiva particularly admired Mejia’s passion for helping others—especially children—and how she was able to communicate that passion in both English and Spanish.

“Rosemary not only showed her knowledge and experience in the field of epidemiology, but she was also able to share her passion to effectively address health disparities,” Leiva said. “I am certain that this Fulbright program will be a life-changing opportunity for her and for the Peruvian community she will be part of.”

Sponsored by the United States Department of State, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program inspires scholars to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program awards about 2,000 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries. Approximately $25,000 in support is offered per award, which covers travel, health insurance and a stipend (based on the cost of living in the host country).

Since 1968, a total of 87 New College students have received Fulbright awards. The top years for Fulbright recipients at New College were 2009 (with eight students), 2010 (with seven) and 2011 (with eight).

“This Fulbright is a life-changing opportunity to work with Dr. Cabada and it fits perfectly with my future intentions. It will be a major stepping stone in my development of becoming a more empathetic, engaged global citizen,” Mejia said. “Upon completing my time in Peru, I will apply my experiences and skills learned in Cusco to a global health graduate program, and continue working towards supporting marginalized communities’ access to equitable medical care.”

For now, Mejia is finishing her senior thesis, How Universal is Universal? A Comparative Study of Refugee Access to Health Care in France and Germany, which is sponsored by Professor of Political Science Barbara Hicks, Ph.D. Mejia is comparing the universal healthcare systems of France and Germany, and how asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants access medical care.

During her time at New College, Mejia has embarked on numerous research projects. She was a systematic review research assistant—collecting, consolidating and analyzing nearly 5,000 academic journal abstracts under the guidance of New College Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Kristopher Fennie, Ph.D.

Mejia was a research intern for Stocking Savvy Environmental Consulting—where she introduced threatened and endangered native plants into Florida’s environment (from seed germination to habitat restoration).

She has also worked as a genetic research intern for the University of Iowa Institute of Human Genetics—assisting with data collection and academic research on glaucoma and Bardet-Biedl Syndrome. During her first Independent Student Project (ISP), she also conducted research under the guidance of Professor of Biology Tiffany Doan, Ph.D.—identifying and recording the historical prevalence of malaria parasites in Florida anoles.

Originally from Crystal Lake, Illinois, Mejia is a graduate of Crystal Lake Central High School. She is a Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Illinois State Scholar as well as a New College of Florida Presidential Scholar.

Mejia chose to attend New College during her undergraduate years because of its small size, personalized education, faculty-student collaboration, and focus on narrative evaluations rather than traditional grades.

“Ever since my first visit to New College as a prospective student, I have enjoyed how students are truly invested in the courses they are taking and the respectful curiosity we have as a community to gain an understanding of one another,” Mejia said. “What really enamored me with New College is that students are not in competition with each other or solely focused on their GPA, but they are dedicated to learning the material and are constantly encouraged to focus on personal growth and development.”

Mejia has also been impressed by the number of Fulbright scholars New College has produced.

“Knowing New College has a wonderful track record of preparing students for their future is one thing, but consistently witnessing my friends and peers achieve these life-changing opportunities (like Fulbright, Princeton in Asia, and attending exceptional graduate programs) makes the reality of our futures truly tangible,” Mejia said. “During my first year, I distinctly remember when Miles Iton was selected as a Fulbright research finalist for Taiwan in 2018. Seeing a fellow student of color, who I still greatly admire, be awarded one of the most internationally-recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world was extremely impactful for me. Representation matters. I am extremely humbled to be a Fulbright finalist and continue our legacy at New College. I hope I too inspire my peers to pursue their aspirations.”

The foundation Mejia has built at New College has enabled her to pursue her upcoming research opportunity in Peru. Mejia is pleased that the Fulbright year will help her connect to the indigenous Peruvian peoples’ culture and expand her Spanish-speaking skills. Overall, Mejia knows the experience will help her help others, which is ultimately her true purpose and passion.

“Your health, my health and our neighbor’s health means everything. We are all vulnerable. We are all at risk. Some of us suffer disproportionately more than others. No one is safe in this world unless we all are safe, as we have so clearly seen with the coronavirus pandemic,” Mejia said. “Health equity is critically important. It is not justifiable, nor right, to overlook health disparities when we—as a global community—have the means to address systemic inequalities that can save people’s lives. Everyone, no matter their background, is equally worthy and equally deserving of their right to health. This experience in Peru will further facilitate and promote my growth into a more compassionate listener and allow me to support others where help is needed.”

For more information on the Fulbright program, visit

To learn more about scholarship guidance from Smith at the CEO, visit

To make an appointment with the Writing Resource Center, visit

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.