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Four SPS Alumni and Students Awarded Fulbright Grants

This year, the Fulbright Program awarded four grants to exemplary alumni and students from Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. Representing the graduate programs in Bioethics, Strategic Communication, Sustainability Management, and Nonprofit Management, four extraordinary students will travel the world next year with awards that will send them to Rome, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, and the Arctic Circle.

Three of these scholars’ stories are below; the fourth, from Sustainability Management, will run at a later date.

Roman Baca is a current student in the Nonprofit Management program, slated to graduate in 2018. He is a Marine, a dancer, and a choreographer, and he started a dance company called Exit12 which tells veterans’ stories using both narrative and dance.

Baca’s career as an artist and a veteran has been intertwined in fascinating ways. He started as a professional dancer, and went from there to the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was deployed to Iraq. “When I returned from Iraq, I turned back to art to heal and communicate an experience that wasn’t accurately portrayed in media,” he said at the recent Nonprofit Management Open House, where was a featured student speaker. This experience was the impetus for starting Exit12.

Baca was awarded a 2017 Fulbright Scholarship to the United Kingdom, where he will pursue an M.A./MFA in Choreography at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire and create a military-themed ballet to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. “I will also be studying the efforts that organizations in the U.K. are making to combine the military-experience with the performing arts,” says Baca. As for his future plans, “My goal is to concurrently grow Exit12 Dance Company, sharing veterans’ stores to heal the world, as well as to pursue a career in teaching at a university to inspire the pursuit and sharing of ideas.”

James Ninia is currently pursuing his degree in the Bioethics program, slated to graduate in summer 2017. He double-majored in chemistry and philosophy in his undergraduate studies at Brown, and pursuing a Bioethics degree was “a way to have my cake and eat it too,” he sys. After his Fulbright, he plans to attend medical school.

For his Fulbright Research Grant, Ninia, a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Italy, will be working in a lab in Rome, Italy, where he proposed a project to study “the synergistic effects of two drugs on duchenne muscular dystrophy,” a rapidly progressive form of muscular dystrophy. He is also hoping to work with the ethics committee at the hospital associated with the lab, and to do work with Patent Project ONLUS, the Italian branch of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a patient advocacy organization for young men and families affected by duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Jesse Scinto, who received his master’s degree in Strategic Communication in 2012, has been involved with the program as both a faculty member and in his current position as the Associate Director for Curriculum Development.

For Scinto, his Fulbright U.S. Scholar award is a result of his time in the Strategic Communication program. He credits an instructor, Shawn MacIntosh, for encouraging him to work towards a Fulbright.

As a Fulbright recipient, Scinto will be teaching at the American University in Bulgaria. Starting in January 2018, he will teach courses involving “communication for commerce and the common good,” including Executive Presence, a public speaking course for their executive MBA program. “I’m looking forward to helping Bulgarian students become leaders in communication. Their economy is struggling, and when we were there, we heard young people talking about leaving. If I can do something to help, I’d love to help.”