College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Leaping Lizards: Doctoral Biology Student Earns Fulbright Fellowship to South Africa

Stuart Nielsen studies lizard species around the world. Thanks to a recent Fulbright U.S. Student Award, the University of Mississippi doctoral student is going to South Africa to continue his research.

Nielsen, a graduate of Villanova University and Brigham Young University-Idaho, is among some 1,500 students worldwide to receive Fulbrights this year. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the awards offer opportunities for recent graduates, postgraduate candidates, and developing professionals and artists to conduct career-launching study and research abroad.

“Stuart’s project is perfectly Fulbright,” said Debra Brown Young, associate dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College who oversees the Fulbright Scholarship application process at UM. “It enhances and extends his own interests and supports the interests of South Africa, his host country. Plus, Stuart has a wonderful track record of enthusiastic immersion into other cultures, which suits Fulbright’s highly ambassadorial mission.”

The university’s eighth Fulbright scholar since 2000, Nielsen recently conducted research in New Zealand. During the 2011 academic year, he plans to work in the laboratory of Krystal Tolley of the South African National Biodiversity Institute and view specimens in the collections of the National Museum Bloemfontein and the Port Elizabeth Museum-Bayworld.

While teaching local nature reserve wardens some genetic harvesting and analysis techniques, Nielsen will in turn learn about traditional collecting techniques, local natural history and ecology.

“Receiving a Fulbright is cool,” Nielsen said. “It means I’ll probably finish my Ph.D. on time.”

“I was very pleased that Stuart chose to come to Ole Miss, as he has great experience in molecular (DNA) work in the lab,” said Brice Noonan, assistant professor of biology and Nielsen’s dissertation director. “His dedication to fieldwork and determination to find funding for his research were an unexpected bonus.”

Nielsen’s work in South Africa focuses on reptiles, an oft-neglected component of vertebrate diversity, Noonan said. “This is particularly important, as much of this history has been erased by habitat modifications and management practices for the more-recognized, better-studied large mammals of the region,” he added.

Although Nielsen’s main pursuits will be biological in nature, he also plans on expanding his cultural horizons by taking classes in Afrikaans and Zulu, learning to cook traditional African cuisine and attending local sports matches.

Following his expected graduation in 2013, Nielsen said he plans to continue his scholarly pursuits.

Nielsen, 29, is the son of Roger and Carolyn Nielsen of Kansas City, Kan.

The U.S. Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946, immediately after World War II. It has provided more than 275,000 participants, chosen for their leadership potential, with an opportunity to observe each others’ political, economic and cultural institutions, exchange ideas and embark on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world’s inhabitants.

Students interested in applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Award are encouraged to contact Andrus Ashoo, national scholarship advisement specialist in the Office of National Scholarship Advisement, at 662-915-7294 or dru@olemiss.edu.