New Fulbright Scholars focus on rural development in Nepal, risk communication in Thailand

February 12, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. - February 12, 2009 - Two faculty members from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are currently at work in Asia as Fulbright Senior Scholars. Thomas B. Robertson, assistant professor of history, is exploring the consequences of American rural development in Nepal. Seth P. Tuler, research assistant professor of interdisciplinary and global studies, is looking at the need for improved environmental health communications in Thailand. They are the 12th and 13th members of the current WPI faculty to be awarded Fulbright Scholar grants to conduct research abroad.

The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship program in international educational exchange, is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Each year, the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program sends 800 U.S. faculty members and other professionals abroad to lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.

"These prestigious awards highlight the breadth of our faculty's interests as well as the quality of their scholarship," said John A. Orr, WPI's provost and senior vice president. "The work of both recipients relates directly to WPI's commitment to understanding the impacts of science and technology on humanity."

Thomas Robertson will be in Nepal through June to conduct research on the social, environmental, and political consequences of Cold War-era American rural development programs in that country--particularly efforts beginning in the mid-1950s to eradicate malaria using DDT. Robertson's research interests include U.S. environmental history, U.S. foreign relations, and 20th century U.S. history. "I am especially interested in American relations with the developing world," he says. "Ever since I was a study-abroad student in Nepal, and later a Peace Corps volunteer there, I have had a particular interest in the history of this country and the role of American development projects there. My contact with the more than 10 WPI students who hail from Nepal has deepened that interest."

Robertson, who joined the WPI faculty in 2006, earned a BA at Williams College and MA and PhD degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to his academic and research pursuits, he has advised a number of overseas undergraduate projects through WPI's Global Perspective Program. In 2008, a project team he co-advised (with Richard Vaz, dean of interdisciplinary and global studies, and Chrysanthe Demetry, associate professor of mechanical engineering) won the Forum on Education Abroad's Undergraduate Research Award competition for its study of environmental communication in Mae Moh, Thailand.

Seth Tuler says his experience advising student project teams at WPI's Bangkok Project Center and his previous work in risk communication led to the research project he is conducting in Thailand through the end of April. The work is intended to improve how environmental health risk factors are communicated in that nation. "My objective is to learn more about how local authorities in Thailand can better provide information to residents about toxic exposures from the chemical industry and energy facilities," he says. "It addresses a significant issue in this country, which has seen rapid growth in the chemical and energy sectors during the last few decades."

Tuler received a PhD in environmental science and policy from Clark University in 1996 and a MS from the Technology and Policy Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987. In addition to his appointment at WPI, he is a senior researcher at the Social and Environmental Research Institute in Greenfield, Mass.
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865 in Worcester, Mass., WPI was one of the nation's first engineering and technology universities. WPI's14 academic departments offer more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts, leading to bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees. WPI's world-class faculty work with students in a number of cutting-edge research areas, leading to breakthroughs and innovations in such fields as biotechnology, fuel cells, and information security, materials processing, and nanotechnology. Students also have the opportunity to make a difference to communities and organizations around the world through the university's innovative Global Perspective Program. There are more than 20 WPI project centers throughout North America and Central America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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