Fulbright awardees pursue groundbreaking global research; U-M tops public universities

February 13, 2024
Fulbright orientation in Rome.
Fulbright orientation in Rome.

Recent University of Michigan graduate Samantha Dell’Imperio is in Pollenzo, Italy, pursuing a one-year master’s in world food studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences.

She is one of 27 U-M students awarded Fulbright grants for the 2023-24 academic year, putting the university among the top-producing institutions in the United States and first among all public universities.

Fulbright student Samantha Dell'Imperio.
Fulbright student Samantha Dell’Imperio.

“After studying Italian for so many years, I wanted to go to Italy,” Dell’Imperio said. “I was also looking to do something I’d never done before, to expand my horizons and to dive deeper into my passions for wellness, nutrition and longevity.”

The grants—one of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards—will fund overseas research of the students plus three faculty scholars from the Ann Arbor campus for six to 12 months.

The fellows are already or will be studying in Turkey, Brazil, South Korea and Romania, among others. Their interests range from understanding the barriers to prenatal care access among refugees in Jordan to the role of genomes in the development of prostate cancer among Indian men and improving the efficiency and sustainability of Spanish Maritime and analyzing how popular participatory theater is used for social change in South Africa.

With a Bachelor of Science in biology, health, and society and a minor in Italian, Dell’Imperio started her program in October 2023. She is taking graduate courses in global food cultures, food systems sustainability and gastrodiplomacy strategies in the food world. The program aims to prepare students to work internationally with cultural mediation and sustainable rural and urban development policies.

Samantha Dell'Imperio visiting a local cheese producer.
Samantha Dell’Imperio visiting a local cheese producer.

“Given my interests in wellness and longevity, I’m thinking of doing my thesis on Blue Zones in Sardinia,” she said. “I’m very interested in finding opportunities to work with my hands, like cooking and agriculture. I’ve realized that having direct contact with crops and the earth can completely transform people’s thoughts about food and food systems.

“In my time as a Fulbright fellow, I plan to not only get my hands dirty as often as I can but also be part of creating these opportunities for other people, which I hope will stick with them for quite some time.”

Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 talented and accomplished students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals of all backgrounds with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research abroad. Fellows exchange ideas, build people-to-people connections and work to address complex global challenges.

U-M has received more than 600 U.S. scholar awards and more than 1,000 U.S. student awards since the Fulbright program’s inception, according to the International Institute Fellowships & Grants Office.

“I’m so honored to join in saluting U-M’s exceptional Fulbright students and faculty scholars,” said U-M President Santa J. Ono. “The Fulbrights are among the most prestigious recognitions made in academia, and through their brilliance, scholarship and leadership, they are deepening understanding, strengthening our university and lifting our society.”

Tackling micromobility challenges, in two parts

Fulbright scholar Gabor Orosz.
Fulbright scholar Gabor Orosz.

When mechanical engineering associate professor Gabor Orosz decided to apply for the Fulbright fellowship, he had no doubt about the importance of continuing building up his research on human and robotic balancing of micromobility vehicles, more specifically on electric scooters and electric unicycles.

Another benefit is being able to conduct his work in Hungary, his native country, and have a partnership with colleagues at the Budapest University of Technology, his alma mater.

Levente Mihalyi, a graduate student at Budapest, during the one of the experiments with a unicycle while dressed with special markers used for motion tracking.
Levente Mihalyi, a graduate student at Budapest, during the one of the experiments with a unicycle while dressed with special markers used for motion tracking.

“Even though I visited Hungary many times in the past 20 years, I have never had the opportunity to live and research there,” Orosz said. “It has been a truly amazing experience. Electric scooters and unicycles have become pervasive in Budapest and Ann Arbor, besides in many cities worldwide.”

Orosz decided to build nonholonomic models for electric scooters and unicycles and study, in theory and practice, how human riders balance while maneuvering around obstacles. He decided to split the research into two parts.

The first one happened last summer. During two months, Orosz collected high-precision motion data. Together with a grad student, he learned to ride a unicycle and was the subject of the research.

“The way it works is that we mark up our body with special markers while driving these small electric vehicles,” he said. “Special cameras were looking at those dots, analyzing our movements. The goal is to understand how people stop with these devices, how they steer and more. This data is extremely precious to help improve safety.”

High precision data extracted from the experiment.
High precision data extracted from the experiment.

This summer, Orosz will be back in Budapest to further test the predictions found last year.

“If we can predict how human motion is going to happen, we might be able to avoid conflicts with other road participants,” he said. “We also plan to design controllers for autonomous unicycles so that they can maintain safety in dynamic environments.

“This Fulbright has allowed me to collaborate with these researchers who understand and care about small electric vehicles to make them safer. It has been not only fascinating intellectually but also, we can see a real application in this project; we might be able to save people’s lives on the road.”