Congratulations to the winners of the IIE Impact Story Contest! 

Grand Prize Winner: Aditi Kantipuly, U.S. Student Fulbright Program


"Meet Dhivya, pictured above. Dhivya is three years old and, contrary to belief, this picture is not edited. The story behind her beautiful eyes is that she is diagnosed with Wardenberg Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. She was originally misdiagnosed with childhood, glaucoma, which speaks to the difficulty of identifying correct diagnoses for rare diseases in low resource settings. The World Health Organization (WHO) states the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being, yet for rare disease patients, especially those who live in rural India, the above mentioned right is barely a reality. Dhivya and her family live in a small rural village, about 70 kilometers away from the nearest city. Dhivya’s home is not accessible by car, we had to walk about 10 minutes from the main road to reach her.

As part of my Fulbright scholarship, I am working with the Aravind Eye Care Hospital, the world’s largest eye care provider, to assess the continuum of care for children diagnosed with rare ocular diseases and identifying factors to improve quality of care. After serving and observing countless patients in rural areas, it became painfully clear that there needed to be better, more proactive mechanisms to prevent children from losing a lifetime of sight to a late diagnosis of rare disorders and diseases like Wardenburg syndrome and congenital glaucoma. In response, I am developing the first mobile application to screen for congenital glaucoma, a low-cost digital tool that will be universally accessible to health providers across rural and urban India. Although, the developing the mobile application was not included as part of the original Fulbright proposal, it is my hope that this solution will improve the care and quality of life of for some of the most vulnerable members of our society."

1st Runner Up: Puja Balachander, Boren Scholarship

"My name is Puja Balachander, and when I was a Boren Scholar from 2014-2015 in India. I designed, implemented, and evaluated a curriculum for Youth Empowerment through Service (YES) in a slum in the Mukundnagar area of Pune. I collaborated with Indian NGOs for months to come up with YES - a one year series of discussions, reflection questions, and strategies of action to develop leadership and civic engagement. I planned discussions on issues of conflict resolution, education, health, and the environment based on current events and solutions, while grounding each topic in student experiences.

I then guided the students as they envisioned and implemented a project to clean community toilets. The students interviewed the community about their use of the toilets and found that, since there were no nearby trash collection spots, people were using the toilets as trash cans. They then contacted the municipal authority to fix and clean the toilets, and set up a more accessible trash collection area. They started a community awareness campaign about maintaining the toilets, and depositing trash in the right place. Their project was so successful, we were even featured in the local newspaper! After our service project, I trained my NGO partner and the youth to teach and adapt the curriculum, and YES continues to impact the Mukundnagar youth and community today with an entirely new group of students. But it hadn’t always seemed apparent that YES would be a success.

From the first session, there were logistical issues. My translator never came, so my Hindi improved, and my students had a great time correcting me. We’d often find the venue locked, so we’d meet in a nearby park. The students couldn’t attend regularly, so I followed up with them individually to keep them on track. We overcame all these obstacles to meet for four hours every weekend from November through May. More so than the logistics, however, the most difficult part of implementing YES, was getting my students to participate.

I once told the group to come prepared to discuss a news article. They all came with articles, but all I heard instead of discussion was, “But Miss, what do you think? What’s correct?” I designed YES thinking that these students, like those back home, had experience participating and expressing their opinions, so I hadn’t adjusted my methods to their level. Eventually, after reinventing the curriculum so that our sessions evolved from more traditional teaching to discussion, the students became confident and critical of the topics we studied. This showed me the importance of human centered design (HCD) in development. If I had researched my users by going straight to the youth before designing YES, I wouldn’t have had to backtrack before correcting myself. I should have questioned my assumptions about my students so that I could co-create YES with my users. I now hope to devote my career in international development to using HCD methodologies to work on youth-driven and lead community-based development projects. I want to work on these initiatives directly, and train international organizations that are doing youth-focused community development interventions on incorporating HCD methodologies."

2nd Runner Up


"It’s Christmas, and I am at work! I am at work because I am in Taichung, Taiwan. And I am in here because I serve as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Shang Shih Elementary School. My 4th graders and I are using this new classroom for the first time.

Shang Shih Elementary School is an urban school in Taiwan’s third largest city. They pioneer in introducing new environments for their students to learn. They have a mechanics creativity room, an astronomy ceiling with constellation lights, and now they are proud to say they opened a new classroom, “The Global Village.” It is a fully decorated environment that aims to introduce a global perspective to young learners, and I will be the one to take charge of the learning that happens inside it.

So, it is Christmas and a handful of students and I explore the room for the first time. They admire the new walls, posters, books, and chairs, especially the giant map that stretches across an entire wall. I discover their concept of geography is barely developed. “Where’s India?” They don’t know, but perhaps they don’t understand the question in English. We switch to Chinese. 印度在哪裡?After around eight guesses and several English clues, they finally figure it out.

Because our semester ended as the new classroom opened, I don’t have a full story in the Global Village yet, but I will soon. Next semester, I am opening a program for students where they will use their English through writing postcards. The students will spend the first month focusing on how to write and talk about their home country, Taiwan, in English. We will focus on introducing ourselves because we will be reading and writing self-introductions as we engage in postcard exchanges and because it will be a tool they will use for a long, long time.

In the following months for the rest of the semester, we will use the network, “Postcrossing,” and the students will send and receive postcards all over the world, learning about the different countries as they go. It will be a way they can receive direct contact with the people around the globe, and the students can see how English is an international tool that can allow them to engage with people from countries all over the world. The students know me as Teacher Ida, but I am otherwise known as Ida Sobotik, serving as a Fulbright ETA for the 2015-2016 school year."

Honorable Mentions:

We are also excited to share ten honorable mentions, all from participants and alumni that submitted outstanding work. You can click on each image below to see/watch their work and follow IIE on social media to see their stories shared over the coming weeks. Many thanks to each and every individual who participated in this year's contest!

How the contest worked

Submissions had to be from a current IIE grantee or alumnus of an IIE administered program who completed the program in good standing. Any submission from a person who is not currently participating in an IIE administered program or an alumnae of such a program was disqualified.

This contest is held on an annual basis. If you are interested in participating, check back in December! You can write to for more information.

How did we evaluate work?

  • We confirmed that submissions met basic eligibility and format criteria. 
  • A panel of IIE team members judged how well submissions told the story of IIE and the students/scholars/professionals that participate in our programs. Our goal was to choose submissions that gave the viewer an understanding of the scope of our work and the impact of our programs.

Grand Prize: $500 gift card to Amazon

1st Runner Up: $250 gift card to Amazon

2nd Runner Up: $125 gift card to Amazon

Winning submissions and honorable mentions are featured on IIE's social media channels, with the author of the work highlighted.

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If you have any questions regarding the IIE Impact Story Contest, please e-mail us at