James Deng (SB '17) and Jiwon Park (SB '17) Awarded Fulbright Grants

Danielle Randall
August 9, 2017

Photo: Justin Knight

This news was also featured on the MIT News Page.

When Jiwon Park was an elementary school student in Fort Wayne, Indiana, she spent nearly every weekend at the Science Museum of Minnesota, touring exhibits, watching science documentaries in IMAX, and conducting rock trades at the Collector’s Corners. Meanwhile, in Hamden, Connecticut, James Deng found himself fascinated by the thriving life beneath his feet – insects going about their business, plants cycling through their lives. As a middle school student, James recalls being challenged by a teacher – Ms. Long – to conduct a Sludge Test. Grouped into pairs, the students had to separate, purify, and identify components of a ~6 part mixture. These childhood memories, seemingly inconsequential, would prove to be far more impactful on the lives of James and Jiwon, whose interests in science were piqued by these moments, and who today are not only graduates of MIT’s Undergraduate Chemistry Program, but are also the winners of Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards, which will be used to conduct independent research projects.

Jiwon spent her high school years traveling across Indiana to tutor Burmese refugees in math and science. The stories she gleaned from them, harrowing tales of fleeing the jungle in Burma for refugee camps in Thailand, inspired her to pool her interests in both science and humanitarianism. “I was drawn to MIT because of the opportunities to not only learn from amazing faculty not only in the classroom and labs, but also engage in science and socially-oriented projects in international contexts,” Jiwon says. “Originally, I was interested in majoring in biology or bioengineering, but after first being introduced to organic chemistry in the fall of my sophomore year, I realized how fascinating the field of organic chemistry is, and decided to study Chemistry at MIT.”

When it came time for James to choose an undergraduate university, he discovered MIT and Chemistry simultaneously when he attended a chemistry-themed camp the summer before his senior year of high school. “The people I met there were the first high school students I'd gotten to know who were as interested in science as I was,” he explains. “Our peer mentor and previous campmates had ended up going to MIT, and it seemed almost a natural progression for me and my campmates to migrate there as well. I could see myself in the shoes of Chemistry majors at MIT, and Campus Preview Weekend was also an awesome experience.”

In the next year, thanks to their Fulbright Grants, James, who credits his mother and sister as his greatest influencers –  will be going to Germany to conduct epigenetics research. “I look forward most to building longer-term relationships, exploring, and traveling while in Germany,” James says. As for the future, James currently has a wide breadth of interests. “I feel that I am constantly learning of new fields that I would be interested in doing research in,” he explains. “I hope to do work that is impactful and directly improves the lives of those around me.”

Meanwhile, Jiwon heads to Poland to study the controlled oxygenation of main group metal alkyl complexes and formation of ZnO nanoparticles at Warsaw University of Technology.  “I am most looking forward to exploring the culture of Poland not only through the lens of science but also from the point of music and art,” Jiwon says. “On the side, I am hoping to take piano lessons at the Chopin Institute in Warsaw and look for opportunities to perform at piano festivals across Europe. It will be interesting to see how Polish people approach chemistry research and music during my time in Poland!”

Like their fellow Fulbright Grant recipients, James and Jiwon made the absolute most of their years at MIT, through their experiences both in and outside of the classroom. When asked to choose a favorite memory from his undergraduate experience, James found it difficult to choose only one. “There are so many good memories… the best parts of MIT for me weren't single experiences.” Ultimately, James holds the camaraderie he had with those closest to him in high regard. “Cooking and having dinner every day with friends over the summer of 2016 definitely ranks up there,” he says. Jiwon’s most memorable experience occurred the summer after her freshman year, when she spent ten weeks traveling throughout the Middle East and Asia, working with locals in five different countries to assist in improving various aspects of their daily life – from visiting rural eye clinics, to helping to develop health and emergency services technology, to assisting in the creation of a business platform for village women to sell handmade wicker products to a larger market. “I was on a total of 15 flights in the span of 10 weeks,” Jiwon says.

Fulbright recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, in addition to demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. James and Jiwon’s accomplishments have launched them toward bright futures. Jiwon intends to continue to fulfill her interest in using science to solve world issues. “I hope that I continue to be involved in interesting research with clinical applications as an MD or MD/PhD candidate, advocating healthcare policies for the WHO or U.S. government, and helping patients from low-income communities,” she says.  James plans to spend the next decade and beyond honing in on one of his long list of research interests while continuing to grow as a scientist and researcher.  “I hope to find myself having completed some form of graduate training and on my way to becoming an independent researcher,” he says.  “I hope that I'll find the work fulfilling, and that it allows me to keep learning all the time.”