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UW Master’s Degree Student Receives Fulbright Award to Conduct Research in Indonesia

April 13, 2017
female college student standing next to a fish mascot
During her graduate studies in Indonesia, UW student Thao Nguyen posed with a fish mascot from the organization Rare, which works with local communities around the world to develop environmental stewardship practices. (Thao Nguyen Photo)

A University of Wyoming student is the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program Award to conduct research in Indonesia for the 2017-18 academic year.

When she graduates from UW this spring semester -- with a double master’s degree in political science, and environment and natural resources -- Thao Nguyen, originally from New Orleans, La., will spend 10 months based at the Universitas Diponegoro in Semarang, Indonesia, starting in September.

She will collaborate with Professor Hartuti Purnaweni to expand on ongoing research comparing environmental management in two marine protected areas: Wakatobi and Karimunjawa national parks. This will build off the work she began during her thesis research to assess changing management practices in the national parks.

The Fulbright award will cover her international travel, living expenses and research expenses.

“I am interested in narrating the stories of the community members,” Nguyen says. “My research is qualitative, and I will focus on the narratives that can sometimes be left out of more quantitative studies.”

Unlike U.S. national parks, in Indonesia, people live within the borders of nationally protected areas where they consume resources like fish and other seafood for subsistence. Nguyen will interview park managers, conservation organization representatives and, importantly, local fishermen to gather information about the ways that management does and does not sustain protected area biodiversity while permitting resource consumption.

Her work comes at a critical time as Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo, is promoting mass tourism in Wakatobi National Park, one of the two national parks in Nguyen’s comparative study.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program immerses students and recent graduates in host countries through direct community engagement in an atmosphere of academic integrity and intellectual freedom.

Nguyen also has applied for a Critical Language Enhancement Award, which would provide her with three months of intensive language training before starting her research. She will learn later this spring whether she also earns the award.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

More than 360,000 Fulbright recipients from the U.S. and other countries have participated in the program since its inception in 1946. The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

The UW International Programs Office coordinates and advises students interested in pursuing Fulbright program options. Mary Katherine Scott, acting director of the International Programs Office (IPO), and Shawn Bunning, IPO’s project coordinator, are official Fulbright advisers.

“Participating in a Fulbright program is a prestigious opportunity for UW students, allowing them to serve as cultural ambassadors for our institution, our state and our nation while they are overseas,” Scott says. “Thao is an ideal representative of this award, and her project will certainly help promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.”

For more information, call Emilene Ostlind, UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources communications coordinator, at (307) 766-2604 or email For more information or to set up a Fulbright advising appointment, call the UW International Programs Office at (307) 766-3677.

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