Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship


The Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship was launched in 2013 as a new component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. It sends U.S. citizens abroad to engage in an academic year of digital storytelling projects in up to three countries on globally significant themes. This Fellowship is made possible through a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and the National Geographic Society.

The wide variety of new digital media tools and platforms has created an unprecedented opportunity for people from all disciplines and backgrounds to share observations and personal narratives with global audiences online. These storytelling tools are powerful resources as we seek to expand our knowledge of pressing issues and build lasting connections between Americans and citizens of other countries.

The Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship accepts proposals to undertake an in-depth examination of a globally relevant issue or issues in one country, or in multiple countries, by comparing and contrasting how that issue is experienced from one country to another. Utilizing a variety of digital storytelling tools, including text, photography, video, audio, graphic illustrations, and/or social media, Fellows will tell their stories, or the stories of those they meet, and publish their work on National Geographic online platforms. Stories deemed by National Geographic to be of interest or merit may be considered for publication on other National Geographic outlets.

In addition to receiving Fulbright benefits (for travel, stipend, health, etc.), Fellows will receive instruction in storytelling techniques applicable to Fellows’ projects, including effective blog writing, video production, photography, public speaking, and other relevant training from National Geographic staff prior to their departure. Fellows will be paired with one or more National Geographic editors for continued editorial direction and mentoring throughout their Fulbright award period. Fellows will provide material for National Geographic on a regular basis, and will have the opportunity to develop additional content for use by National Geographic and the U.S. Department of State.

Visit the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website for complete application, eligibility and program details.

Fulbright-National Geographic Fellows

2019-2020 Fellows

Melanie Kirby: Spain
’Til Queendom Come: How the Bees as Seeds experience unfurls perfumed stories from the beehive mind to collective human consciousness

Melanie Kirby is a queen honey bee breeder studying bee mating behavior utilizing RFID (radio frequency identification). As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow she will travel across Spain to survey bee mating behavior from coastal to alpine topographies. Melanie will also follow the intersection of clay and apiculture, from cave paintings to honey pots and seed saving. She will be chronicling her interactions through writing, photos, videos, and bilingual podcasts to share the stories of beekeepers’ adaptations to shifting climate. Her quest to help build the bridge between the field and academia strives to amplify beekeepers' and farmers' voices. Her study will culminate in a sensory exhibit. Melanie is pursuing an MSc. in Entomology in the Sheppard Apis Molecular Lab at Washington State University.

Emily Koch: Vietnam
With No Other Fish to Fry: Declining Fish Stocks and the Impacts for Fish-Dependent Communities in Vietnam

Emi Koch is a former professional surfer and founder of Beyond the Surface, a nonprofit working in partnership with fishing villages to build social-ecological resilience. In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and along the South Central Coast, Emi will facilitate participatory photography workshops for fish-dependent communities to share how fishery scarcity, in concert with environmental stresses such as growing populations, pollution, extreme weather events, and coastal development, critically undermine social-ecological well-being. Emi will create an interactive map featuring both stakeholders’ multimedia stories and her own, and will analyze qualitative data on human insecurity in fisheries. Emi studied Psychology with concentrations in Anthropology and Justice and Peace Studies at Georgetown University and recently earned a Masters in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Alyea Pierce: Trinidad and Tobago
The Revitalization of Oral Storytelling & Folktales

Alyea Pierce, Ed.M, is a West Indian-American writer, poet, and educator. As a child of immigrants, Alyea greatly values the sound, power, and rhythm of language. For her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling project, she will examine the revitalization of oral storytelling and folktale traditions in Trinidad and Tobago through present-day spoken word and rhythm poetry. While studying contemporary Afro-Trinidadian literature, Alyea will document the memory, history, and experiences of people. She will explore the intricacies of oral storytelling and folktale traditions in Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, which is greatly influenced by its legacy of slavery and colonialism. Alyea will use performance and digital media, specifically photography and videography, to capture the sights and sounds of Trinidad and Tobago to create a manuscript of poetry and fictional short stories that will be performed on the island. Alyea holds a B.A. and M.Ed. from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Madison Wrobley: Nepal
Working for Water: Stories of Scarcity in Kathmandu

Madison Wrobley is an anthropologist and writer studying the social effects of unequal and unstable water access in Kathmandu, Nepal. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow she will learn about the lived realities of water scarcity and create mapped narratives to show how a lack of available water shapes ideas of belonging in the city, use patterns, and coping strategies. Water scarcity is quickly becoming a problem every nation must address and, although Nepal is one of the most water-rich countries in the world, people across the capital city have limited access to potable water in their homes. Madison’s stories will be available through the Fulbright-National Geographic blog and other media outlets. Madison studied Anthropology and Art History at Washington University in St. Louis.


2018-2019 Fellows

Jennifer Gil Acevedo: Panama
The invisible world of Microalgae

Jennifer Gil is an environmental scientist working with the microalgae of South Florida at Florida International University. She has interned at the Smithsonian twice. She was also an AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellow 2015 who worked at CNN español. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, she will travel to three Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute facilities in Panama, collecting microalgae samples. She will be documenting it both in Spanish and English through blogging, microscopic pictures and videos. She will display an exhibit where visitors will use their five senses to discover the invisible world of microalgae. Jennifer studied Interdisciplinary Science at the University of Puerto Rico. She recently completed her Master’s in Environmental Science at Florida International University.

Jen Guyton: Mozambique
Rebirth: Photographing Wildlife Oases in an Ecosystem Recovering from Civil War

Jen Guyton is a photographer and ecologist with a passion for communicating conservation. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow she will travel to Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique to create a new way of visualizing ecosystems. Using SLR camera traps set at resource hotspots like watering holes, flowering trees, and carcasses, Jen will document the wildlife that visit a site over one day, one week, or one month. She will then stack individual frames from a site into a single image, creating visually beautiful and ecologically informative composites of the wildlife communities that rely on these hotspots. Jen studied Conservation and Resource Studies at UC Berkeley and will soon complete her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.

Katie Thornton: United Kingdom / Singapore
Death in the Digital Age

Katie Thornton is a Minneapolis-based audio producer and cemetery historian. As a Fulbright National Geographic Storytelling Fellow she will travel to the United Kingdom and Singapore to produce “Death in the Digital Age,” a podcast exploring the relevance of cemeteries in an era when land is strained, communities are physically distant, and digital documentation is pervasive. She will also use writing, visuals and social media to share the stories of those working at the intersection of land use, public memory and technology. Katie holds a B.A. in History from Oberlin College, has supported public programs and history initiatives at multiple cemeteries, and has worked with media outlets including American Public Media and the Association of Minnesota Public and Educational Radio Stations.

Emily Toner: Ireland
Peatland Profiles: Stories from Ireland's carbon-rich bogs

Emily Toner is a geographer and journalist studying soil carbon in Ireland's carbon-rich boglands. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow she will travel around Ireland to understand how climate change-driven policies to preserve peat bogs are impacting people and the soil. Though covering only 3% of the world's landmass, peat soil holds as much carbon as all vegetation combined. Preserving peat bogs and keeping that carbon in place is seen as a low hanging fruit of climate change policy. However, in Ireland, bogs have a rich history of use and are tied to Ireland's energy economy. Emily's stories will be available through the Fulbright-National Geographic blog and other media outlets. Emily earned a geography M.S. and journalism M.A. at University of Wisconsin - Madison.

William Tyner: Romania

William Tyner is an anthropologist and filmmaker studying the role of civic technology in strengthening the relationship between civil society and government and redefining civic engagement. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, he will create a documentary exploring the emerging civic technology movement in Romania, telling its story from multiple perspectives — including Romanian organizers and advocacy groups, residents, policymakers and public officials, technologists, and funders. Tyner has worked as a user experience researcher for organizations including Code for America, Google, Facebook, and the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation. William studied Cultural Anthropology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.


2017-2018 Fellows

Toby Cox
Kyrgyz Republic

Toby Cox is interested in the diversity in Islam and Muslim identity across cultures. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, she will explore the story of Islam in the Kyrgyz Republic by examining the development of its religious identity - its roots in Tengrism, its history with Islam, and its history as a post-Soviet country. Through interviews, she will learn more about how these collective experiences impact the religious identity of individuals and the multidimensional Kyrgyz identity. She will use writing, photos, and maps to offer insight into the religious landscape of the Kyrgyz Republic, simultaneously shedding light onto the diversity of Muslim identity. Ms. Cox studied Foreign Affairs and Middle Eastern Languages at the University of Virginia and is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Jordan and the Kyrgyz Republic.

R. Isaí Madriz

R. Isaí Madriz is an entomologist and zoologist studying aquatic insects of freshwater rivers and streams. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, he will tell the story of deglaciation of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field in Chile, focusing on its vanishing aquatic insect diversity through images and stories of exploration, science and human connections. He will combine hiking, bikepacking, and packrafting to transect unexplored areas and secluded fjords in search of some of the rarest insects on the planet. This low carbon approach will utilize renewable energy sources to capture never before seen footage of remote glacial outlets and hidden valleys of wild Patagonia. Mr. Madriz will document the largely unknown endemic aquatic insect fauna of this vital region before Aysén’s biodiversity is transformed forever.

Abby McBride
New Zealand

Sketch biologist Abby McBride once harbored aspirations of becoming a Victorian-era naturalist explorer. Adapting her career goals to the 21st century, she now travels globally to sketch wildlife and write multimedia stories about science and conservation. In New Zealand, home to the most diverse and endangered seabirds in the world, as a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, Ms. McBride will report on extraordinary efforts to reverse centuries of human-caused harm to penguins, prions, storm-petrels, shearwaters, shags, gulls, gannets, mollymawks, and more. Through art and digital media she aims to convey a visceral sense of the beauty, fascination, and importance of seabirds, which are quickly disappearing from seas and shores worldwide. Ms. McBride is based on the Maine coast and has degrees in biology and science writing from Williams College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lillygol “Lilly” Sedghat

Lilly Sedaghat is a multimedia storyteller and artist studying waste management in Taiwan. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, she will travel the island to discover how the Taiwanese interact with their waste management system and document innovations in plastics and electronics recycling. Using blog posts, photo galleries and the Instagram campaign #MyWasteMyWay, Ms. Sedghat seeks to inspire people to think more about how their consumer choices affect the environment and spark a global discussion to reevaluate the way we perceive and dispose of waste. Ms. Sedghat received her B.A. in Political Economy at University of California, Berkeley and is an avid Taiwanese milk tea drinker and “b-girl” (breakdancer).

Destry Maria Sibley

Destry Maria Sibley is a freelance multimedia producer and educator based in New York City. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, Ms. Sibley will document the oral histories of Los Niños de Morelia, a group of child refugees, including her grandmother, who fled the Spanish Civil War and settled in Mexico. As she interviews this now-elderly population and their descendants, Ms. Sibley will develop a podcast series and website dedicated to their stories. Her hope is that by discovering their pasts, we might have something to learn about the futures of the millions of children who have been rendered refugees in our own time. Ms. Sibley studied at Amherst College and the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, most recently completing a Master’s in Data Visualization and Narrative Non-Fiction.


2016-2017 Fellows

Christina Botic 
Serbia and Croatia 
Shifting Cultural Landscapes of Former Yugoslavia: Charting the Impact of Mass Migration 
Christiana Botic is a Serbian-American documentary photographer and filmmaker who, while traveling to Serbia to document her own family history, learned that, like many families in the former Yugoslavia, it was influenced by migration and impacted by the creation of borders. She will travel to Serbia and Croatia to document the impact of mass migration of Syrians and other refugees/migrants on the cultural landscape of these two countries, divided by the EU border. Christiana plans to travel the Balkan Route and create an interactive map featuring stories of those who are moving through or residing along this path. Currently based in New Orleans, she received her BA in Screen Arts and Cultures from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Lauren Ladov 
Seed Stories 
Lauren Ladov is a local food systems advocate and educator based in Atlanta, who received her BA from Emory University with a dual focus on Film and Media Studies and Philosophy. Through partnerships with local farms and nonprofits, Lauren facilitates food education programming, manages community gardens, and develops training and multimedia resources for educators. In working with youth in urban gardens, she witnessed how growing food has the power to heal communities, both physically and spiritually. For her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling project, she will share stories of the seeds sown in India by connecting with those striving to create sustainable, community-centered food systems. This project will produce educational media materials and platforms to engage and empower youth as advocates for future generations of seeds, farmers, and diverse ecosystems. 

Tim McDonnell 
Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda 
How Climate Change Is Fueling a Food Crisis in Africa 
Tim McDonnell is a digital multimedia journalist based in New York City. He will document how a changing climate is compounding longstanding problems with food insecurity and rural poverty in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. These three countries are all exceptionally vulnerable to climate change, but host unique challenges and opportunities as a result of their distinct political and environmental climates. His reporting will address science, technology, economic development, public health, and other stories at the intersection of climate change and agriculture, using video, blogging, and other digital reporting tools. Tim has a BA in English and Ecology/Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona and is currently Associate Producer for Climate Desk, a collaboration of Mother Jones, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Slate, The Atlantic, Wired, Grist, Newsweek, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which produces multimedia journalism on climate change. 

Kevin McLean 
Malaysia and Ecuador 
Looking Up: An Expedition into the Rainforest Canopy 
Kevin McLean is an ecologist studying wildlife in tropical forest canopies using motion-sensitive cameras (camera traps). As a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow he will travel to Malaysian Borneo and the Ecuadorian Amazon to survey canopy wildlife in two of the most biodiverse areas of the world. As he collects his scientific data, he will use writing, photos, and videos to provide a view of some of the least-known species in the forest. His research and stories will be made available to the public through a museum exhibit which will highlight canopy wildlife and the conservation threats they face. Kevin studied Earth Systems at Stanford University and recently completed his PhD in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Ishan Thakore 
South Africa and Nicaragua 
Taming Rivers 
Ishan Thakore is a multimedia storyteller and global health researcher who uses film and writing to tell powerful stories. His project focuses on the tension between economic development and water resource management, and the trade-offs countries might make for economic growth. He will be documenting stories of people and industries impacted by South Africa’s Orange River Project and proposed canal in Nicaragua, and he'll create a series of short films portraying a nuanced look at the individual benefits and costs of large-scale development. Before his Fulbright, Ishan worked as a researcher/fact checker for the television show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. His research experience also includes work with USAID’s Digital Development Team, the Duke Reporters’ Lab, and Structured Stories NYC. Ishan has a BA in Public Policy from Duke University.


2015-2016 Fellows

Ari M Beser will travel throughout Japan to tell the stories of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the 5th Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. Using photo essays, videos, and articles, his Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship will give voice to the hundreds of thousands of people directly affected by nuclear technology today. These survivors, Hibakusha in Japanese, will be the subject of his blogumentary “Hibakusha: The Nuclear Family.”

Ryan Bell is a writer and photographer who travels the world documenting “cowboy” cultures. He’s ridden with the horsemen of Argentina, Canada, Mongolia, and the American West. For Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship project titled “Comrade Cowboys,” Mr. Bell will explore rural Russia and Kazakhstan where pastoralists are working to rebuild cattle industries decimated by the fall of the Soviet Union.


Janice Cantieri, is a journalist and recent graduate who will be spending her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship traveling for nine months between the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Fiji. She will use written stories and journals, images, and video footage to tell the stories of the Banaban Islanders, who were displaced to Fiji in 1945, and the stories of those currently facing displacement from Tarawa, Kiribati to Fiji as the sea level rise inundates parts of the islands.


Hiba Dlewati is a Syrian American writer who will spend nine months moving throughout Jordan, Turkey and Sweden to document and narrate the stories of the Syrian diaspora using multimedia storytelling. By the end of her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, she hopes to produce a film that expresses the frustrations and triumphs of a people without a place, or perhaps, a people of many places.


Christina Leigh Geros, a Tennessee native, is a designer, researcher, and educator who received the Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship to use videographic, photographic, and written narrative to give voice to the Ciliwung River and communities through an interactive website, cartographically registering each story and exposing the relationships between urbanism, ecology, and politics. 


2014-2015 Fellows

Michael Waldrepis a documentary filmmaker and multimedia artist who traveled to Mexico City to examine its people and neighborhoods.

Anthropologist Erin Moriarty Harrelson tapped into her own experience as a deaf person to explore the emergence of deaf culture in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Filmmaker Daniel Koehler is creating a documentary examining culture change among the San people of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.

Artist and educator Mimi Onuoha traveled to the United Kingdom to explore the chasms and intersections between the real and online lives of a diverse group of Londoners.

Ann Chen, an artist and researcher, mapped the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada using collective storytelling and citizen science.