Published: May 12, 2020 By

Eight CU Boulder students have been named Fulbright finalists for the 2020–21 academic year by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. 

Fulbright Scholarship information

Each year, more than 1,900 U.S. students, artists and early career professionals are offered Fulbrights to study, teach English and conduct research in more than 140 countries throughout the world. 

CU Boulder had 33 students apply to Fulbright this year, 19 of whom were named semi-finalists, and 11 of those were recognized as finalists or alternates.

CU Boulder students interested in applying for a Fulbright award should contact Deborah Viles at

The finalists and their host countries, where they will study or teach during the coming academic year, are Rayna Benzeev, Brazil; Joseph Hegeman, Azerbaijan; Zena Jahmi, Spain; Aislyn Keyes, Chile; Remington Ruyle, Mexico; Ku Thomas, Fiji; Erica Ursich, Brazil; and Olivia Wittenberg, Argentina. 

“I’m so proud of our students’ accomplishments and I know they will be wonderful cultural ambassadors in their host countries,” said Deborah Viles, director of the Office of Top Scholarships. “I’m also grateful to our faculty and staff who served on interview committees and provided additional feedback to our applicants. Fulbright is truly a community effort.” 

The Fulbright is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and has given more than 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals of all backgrounds and fields the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. 

The program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.

CU Boulder’s finalists are among more than 2,100 U.S. citizens who will study, conduct research, and teach abroad for the 2020–21 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Award recipients are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, and their record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.  

Fulbright study/research finalists

Rayna Benzeev is a PhD candidate in the environmental studies program, researching tropical forests, land use change, and socioenvironmental systems. For her Fulbright project, she will spend nine months studying forest landscape restoration in Brazil's Atlantic forest. As part of her dissertation work, she is developing spatial conservation planning tools that will help decision-makers target reforestation efforts in places where they have the highest probability of success. The Fulbright award will enable Rayna to spend time working directly with researchers, nongovernmental organizations, and government agencies in southern Bahia, Brazil, developing and implementing these decision tools. She will also spend time in Brazilian universities and research institutes, in alignment with Fulbright's aims of cultural and academic exchange. 

Aislyn Keyes is a PhD student in ecology and evolutionary biology (EBIO) who is interested in marine conservation and the interactions between human and natural systems. Her current research focuses on food webs and ecosystem services. Specifically, her project seeks to understand how species loss in coastal food webs indirectly impact ecosystem services in the face of global change. As a Fulbrighter, she will use socioecological networks to study adaptive capacity and environmental outcomes in Chilean fisheries as part of her doctoral dissertation.

Remington Ruyle is a physics and Spanish double major with a concentration in environmental studies and a minor in leadership studies. She’s a member of the Presidents Leadership Class, Phi Beta Kappa, CU club field hockey team, and the CU Environmental Center. In her free time, she enjoys photography and spending time with her dog. She will pursue a master’s degree in sustainability sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City under the Fulbright. 

Erica Ursich will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and studio arts, and a minor in Spanish. She’s passionate about the study of amphibians and reptiles, and currently works at the Center for Snake Conservation in Louisville, Colorado. With her Fulbright, she will explore snake conservation in the endangered Brazilian Atlantic rainforest with a local research organization, The Institute for Ecological Research, to document species prevalence and the impact of habitat fragmentation on endemic snakes.

Ku Thomas is graduating with a degree in chemical engineering. He’s from Hawaii, where before coming to college, he studied medicinal properties of local plants. His interest in his culture led him to give many presentations on Hawaiian tattooing practices and burial rituals, even creating graphic novels as visual aids for school children. He applied to Fulbright in Fiji to learn more about another region of Oceania. Thomas hopes to study the medicinal properties of plants used by traditional healers in Fiji.

Fulbright English-teaching assistantships

Joseph Hegeman is a second-year master’s student in the English literature department. His research examines the impact of race on 18th-century definitions of the human. He has taught Shakespeare and Latin American foreign policy classes at CU Boulder and currently works as a learning technology consultant for CU's Office of Information Technology. As a Fulbright ETA, he hopes to increase cross-cultural exchange with the often overlooked, but important, country of Azerbaijan, and he hopes he'll get a chance to attend a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Euro 2020 game. 

Zena Jahmi is a recent graduate of CU Boulder with a degree in international affairs and minors in Spanish and ethnic studies. She recently worked as a paralegal at an immigration law office and hopes to go into the immigration field. During her time in Spain with Fulbright, she plans to focus on language and culture with students in the classroom. Additionally, she’ll be able to use her Arabic and Spanish language skills to volunteer with North African immigrants outside the classroom.  

Olivia Wittenberg is graduating with honors this May as a double major in international affairs and Spanish language and literature and a minor in philosophy. She has been offered a Fulbright grant to assistant-teach English in universities in Argentina, where she will also conduct research on women’s participation in government and travel extensively. Olivia views Fulbright as a way of fostering mutual cultural understanding to create a more peaceful and connected world. At CU, Olivia has volunteered with Swap, a student-run initiative to provide English classes for CU employees, and served as one of the campus’s 2018-19 student body presidents. 

CU Boulder also has three Fulbright alternates who may be promoted if additional funds become available. They are: Sam Albert, The Netherlands; Christopher Dunn, Iceland; and Xenia Mathys, Uzbekistan.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at CU Boulder through the Office of Top Scholarships. Students interested in applying for the 2021–22 academic year should contact Deborah Viles at for more information.