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Two Mount Community Members Secure Fulbright Study/Research Awards

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Mount St. Mary’s University senior Veronica Balick and alumnus and adjunct professor John-Paul Heil, C’15, have earned prestigious Fulbright awards to study and conduct research in the United Kingdom and Italy, respectively, in 2020-21.

veronica-balick.jpgThe Fulbright U.S. Student Program is designed to provide research, study and teaching opportunities through grants in over 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students.

Balick, C'20, a biology and biochemistry major with a minor in mathematics, is the first Mount undergraduate student to secure a Research/Study Award, and those from the United Kingdom are particularly competitive and impressive to secure. Her award will fully fund a one-year Msc in cancer immunology and biotechnology at the University of Nottingham.

“Fulbright UK Study Awards are one of the most prestigious and competitive scholarships a student can win. Each UK university offers only one Fulbright scholarship for U.S. citizens,” said Assistant Professor of History Jamie Gianoutsos, Ph.D., who directs the university’s Office of Competitive Fellowships. “For the University of Nottingham Fulbright Award, Veronica competed against student applicants representing all types of U.S. universities and a vast array of disciplines. This honor speaks to her significant achievements as a student and as a representative of Mount St. Mary’s University.”

Balick has earned several competitive awards during her four years at the Mount. She is a 2019-20 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and won competitive summer internships in an immunology lab at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research. She also earned the Mount’s Founder’s Scholarship in 2016 and has worked in the lab of Science Department Chair Christine McCauslin, Ph.D., which focuses in transcriptional regulation of the initiation and progression of neuroinflamation in the brain. Balick recently received the university’s Edward J. Flanagan Memorial Prize, which is awarded to the member of the senior class who, in the opinion of the faculty, best represents the traditions of the university in scholarship, academics, service and mission. 

At the University of Nottingham, Balick will be one of about 15 students studying antibody and vaccine cancer therapies and exploring the immunology of the tumor host interface. The highly selective program, begun in 2005, has received thousands of applicants and graduated more than 150 students, the vast majority of whom have undertaken Ph.D. studies. As part of the program, Balick will conduct a six-month research project in the field of tumor immunology.

“I see cancer research as a way to serve God and others, and I hope to keep this mindset throughout all future endeavors,” said Balick, who currently plans to enter a Ph.D. program for biomedical sciences after her year in the United Kingdom.

“Whether I pursue doctoral research in the United Kingdom or in the United States, continued international collaboration with British cancer research laboratories will be essential. I hope to be a lead scientist in the field of cancer immunology and contribute to the development of safer and more effective cancer treatment,” she explained in her Fulbright application.

Among Balick’s many skills and talents, Professor McCauslin identified her holistic view of the world as the asset that will best serve her as a Fulbright Scholar. “She is sincere in her desire to connect with people around the world to work collaboratively to address issues that deeply impact the lives of every person,” wrote McCauslin in her Fulbright recommendation letter. “As an academic scientist who has mentored many students over the years, I am thrilled to work with a student of Ms. Balick’s caliber and I am confident that she will make a significant and valuable contributions to the scientific community and the world at large over the course of her career.”

Balick is grateful to the Competitive Fellowships Committee, including Director Gianoutsos, Associate Director and Professor Christine Blackshaw, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor Angy Kallarackal, Ph.D.; Associate Professor Thane Naberhaus, Ph.D.; and Assistant Professor Garth Patterson, Ph.D. She also appreciates the letters of recommendation from Professor McCauslin, Dr. Paulina Velasquez from St. Jude Research Hospital, and Andy Stephen, Ph.D., from the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

John-Paul Heil

This is the second time that Heil, C’15, an adjunct professor at the Mount, has received a Fulbright. In his senior year at the Mount, he earned an English Teaching Award to Italy, which he declined to attend the University of Chicago’s Ph.D. history program.

heil-square.jpgHeil is one of 11 students who was awarded the Fulbright Open Study/Research Award to Italy for 2020-21.  This program will fully fund his doctoral research at the Archivio di Stato di Modena, where he will examine how Renaissance Neapolitan princess Eleonora of Aragon applied her humanist education in virtue to her reign as duchess of Ferrara and how this led to an influx of Neapolitan thinkers in the north of Italy. He hopes to present his findings at the Centro Studi ARCE (Archivio Ricerche Carteggi Estensi) in Bologna and Modena. At the invitation of Professor Carmelo Elio Tavilla at the University of Modena, Heil will participate in graduate community events while he conducts research.

"When we think of the Renaissance, especially in Italy in the 15th century, we rarely think of the women of that period as educated agents of change and almost never contextualize strong female leaders like Eleonora within the intellectual, cultural, and especially political worlds which they occupied," Heil explained. "My hope is to show how Eleonora fits in to the moral upheaval that humanists like her teachers from Naples were involved in, an ethical revolution which situated a monarch's legitimacy not in gender or a particular bloodline, but in virtue and classical education."

A triple major in history, philosophy and Italian as an undergraduate, Heil won many academic and leadership awards during his time at the Mount, among them the prestigious Flanagan Prize. Upon his return to the United States, he hopes to complete his dissertation on Quattrocento Neapolitan humanist ideas of virtue and vice, to receive his Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago and to continue to foster his vocation as a teacher of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Heil is appreciative of the Office of Competitive Fellowships’ support of his Fulbright application as well as advice from Gregory Murry, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the History Department, and Stephen McGinley, lecturer in the Philosophy Department. “The submission would not have been a quarter of as good as it ended up being without the help of Christine Blackshaw and Jamie Gianoutsos,” Heil said. “They helped me with my Fulbright ETA back in the day and they helped me with this.”