Fulbright winners will help war refugees, teach English abroad


Ponnu Padiyara, a 2014 Honors College graduate in biological sciences and psychology, will teach English in Turkey. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

A UIC medical student and two recent alumni were awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Awards for teaching and public service.

Aqsa Durrani, a third-year College of Medicine student, will take a one-year leave from her studies, beginning in June, to work with Syrian refugees of civil war now living in Jordan.

Ponnu Padiyara, a 2014 Honors College graduate in biological sciences and psychology, will teach English to engineering students in Turkey for 10 months, beginning in September.

Lea Crowley, a 2014 Honors College graduate in anthropology and history, will spend a year in South Korea teaching English to elementary or secondary students, beginning in July.

Durrani will work with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to improve access to health care among the country’s Syrian refugees.

She will interview displaced Syrians to identify barriers to accessing health care and ways to improve health outcomes. Her work will include interviewing refugees in one of the largest camps, Zaatari, with more than 100,000 residents, established in July 2012.

Durrani became interested in the health of displaced populations in the Middle East as an undergrad at New York University, where she studied Middle Eastern history, politics, culture, language and health.


Aqsa Durrani, a third-year College of Medicine student, will take a one-leave from her studies to work with Syrian refugees of civil war in Jordan.

She has worked with immigrants and refugees in Chicago as a student in the College of Medicine’s Patient-Centered Medicine Scholars program. She plans a career that allows her to combine her medical and public health interests in the U.S. and abroad.

Durrani earned her bachelor’s degree from New York University with a major in Middle Eastern studies and minor in biology and chemistry. She earned a master’s degree in public health with a focus on international health from the University of Pennsylvania. She grew up in Selma, Alabama, and Palos Heights.

In addition to teaching, Padiyara will lead a project to raise awareness about water pollution in Turkey.

At UIC, she explored a mix of interests, from environmental health research in the School of Public Health, to politics as Undergraduate Student Government president in 2012-13 and a student senator in the UIC Senate from 2010 to 2014.

“I have always been interested in how youth are involved in politics,” said Padiyara, a resident of Elmhurst.

“When looking to apply for the teaching assistantship, I saw there was a cultural revolution going on in Turkey where the county was becoming more religious, but the students and youth were fighting to go back to secularism.”

Padiyara, a 2010 graduate of York Community High School, plans to pursue graduate studies in health policy at Yale University after her teaching appointment in Turkey.

Crowley became interested in Korean culture and music as a senior resident assistant for global learning in campus housing, where she was a resource for international students adjusting to living at UIC and in Chicago.

In July, she will travel to Seoul for a six-week orientation on Korean language study, training in ESL techniques and Korean culture and history.

As an aspiring teacher, she looks forward to the opportunities that the Fulbright experience will offer.

“I love the idea of educating young people,” said Crowley. “Not only will I gain experience teaching in front of a classroom, but I will learn to grow and appreciate mindsets and cultural beliefs much different than my own.”

When she returns to the U.S in July 2015, Crowley plans to pursue graduate studies in education before beginning a teaching career.

A resident of Oak Lawn, she is a 2011 graduate of Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School.

— Sharon Parmet contributed to this story.

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