Meet the 2019-2020 Cohort

Sabrina Verleysen Headshot

Sabrina Verleysen
Rodman Rockefeller Centennial Fellowship
Project Buku Buku in Indonesia
2018-2019 Fulbright ETA to Indonesia


Sabrina Verleysen is a Research Associate at The Cohen Group, based in Washington, D.C. She is the co-founder of Project Buku Buku, a global campaign to tackle literacy in rural regions of Indonesia, which she began during her Fulbright fellowship to Java. She has previously interned at the Obama Foundation and the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome, Italy. Sabrina graduated from Villanova University, where she specialized in Communications and Spanish Language and Literature. Sabrina is 23 years old and from Pennsylvania, USA.

Your project and significance: My project, Project Buku Buku, is a community-based literacy program to enrich the lives of girls in rural Indonesia. It is significant because it has the potential to positively impact the lives of thousands of girls. By equipping them with the both the resources they need through English lending libraries and scholarship opportunties, girls in rural Indonesia are able to accomplish their dreams and pursue opportunities that may traditionally be outside of their sphere. Project Buku Buku represents possibility, opportunity, and girls who are equipped to create better tomorrows.

What you are looking most forward to with the project: I am most looking forward to returning to Indonesia where I will build relationships with language educators, create life changing opportunities for students, and most importantly, empower girls to reach their full potential. I am excited to continue to be an advocate for the Indonesian education system and a cultural ambassador for the United States. I look forward to working with corporate sponsors, universities, and non-profits alike in the United States to establish impactful, effective, and sustainable solutions to increase literacy in rural Indonesia.

Paige Balcom Headshot

Paige Balcom
Rodman Rockefeller Centennial Fellowship
Takataka Plastics in Uganda
2016-2017 Fulbright Student to Uganda

Paige Balcom is a PhD student in mechanical engineering at the University of California Berkeley focusing on heat transfer and development engineering. She has a deep passion for using engineering to improve people’s lives in developing countries. After living for a year in a Ugandan village while on a Fulbright research grant, Paige fell in love with the people and culture of Uganda and now considers Gulu her second home. Her ultimate goals are to teach engineering at Ugandan and U.S. universities, start social ventures to empower Ugandans, and promote international cooperation among students. In college, Paige appeared on Shark Tank and has been awarded graduate fellowships from the National Science Foundation, UC Berkeley, InFEWS, Tau Beta Pi Honor Society, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Your project and significance: Takataka Plastic’s mission is to locally transform plastic waste in Uganda into quality, affordable construction materials. Currently, the waste is burned releasing toxic carcinogens and greenhouse gases, buried in unlined pits and landfills, or littered on streets blocking drains leading to flooding and breeding grounds for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. My project brings the sophistication of modern polymer processing equipment to Uganda by fabricating the machines in-country at far lower costs than importing equipment. Takataka will help eliminate “waste sinks” (areas with no access to recycling), create jobs, improve the environment and public health, and close a loop in the circular economy.

What you are looking most forward to with the project: As an engineer, I am excited to collaborate with Gulu University students and faculty and other engineers to develop our prototypes into full-scale plastic processing equipment. I am also really excited to create job opportunities through my Takataka project for up to 30 Ugandans including kids who live and work on the streets. I am also looking forward to working with my Ugandan partners to change the community’s mindset about plastic waste through education and incentive programs. I look forward to walking along the streets of Gulu free of plastic waste, seeing Ugandans employed, and working with them to transform waste into resources.  

Syed Ishtiaque-Ahmed HeadshotSyed Ishtiaque Ahmed
IIE Centennial Fellowship
Toward Safe & Sustainable Repairing & Recycling for the Electronic Waste Workers in Bangladesh
2011-2014 Fulbright Foreign Student to United States


Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is a Bangladeshi citizen and an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, Canada. He conducts research in the intersection between Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Information and Communication Technology and Development (ICTD). He received his PhD from Cornell University in 2017. He established the first HCI research lab in Bangladesh in 2009. He also launched the first open-source digital map-making initiative in Bangladesh in 2010. He was a Fulbright Foreign Student in 2011 – 2014, an Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing graduate Fellowship in 2015, and a Connaught Early Researcher Award in 2018.

Your project and significance: My project is “Toward Safe and Sustainable Repairing and Recycling for the Electronic Waste Workers of Bangladesh.” With every broken electronic device recycled, we save our planet from a lot of toxic materials. However, this is challenging in low-income countries where there is no adequate infrastructure to process e-waste in a safe manner. Like in Bangladesh, most of e-waste is processed in informal markets by people who have little training on safe handling of e-wastes which is creating a threat to their health and polluting the local water, soil, and air. This project aims to address these problems by designing appropriate technologies.

What you are looking most forward to with the project: I am looking most forward to building technologies to save the environment from the damaging impact of electronic waste. I aim to do this by creating awareness among the e-waste workers and designing technologies with them for their safety and environmental protection. I believe that the innovations that will come out of this project will benefit thousands of e-waste workers in Bangladesh, and later in other countries. More importantly, this will contribute to saving the environment of our planet from toxic chemicals used in electronic devices.

Krizia Lopez Headshot

Krizia Lopez
IIE Centennial Fellowship
Puentes Community Translators in Queens, New York, United States
2013-2014 Fulbright U.S. Student in Nicaragua


Krizia Lopez was a 2013-2014 Fulbright U.S. Student in Nicaragua where she researched how expanding access to sign language is impacting the daily lives and human rights of deaf Nicaraguans. In response to her findings, she founded and ran a chess-based academic enrichment program in Managua to address some of the education gaps. Krizia has worked for Google for the past five years, most recently as Regional Sales Training lead for the Americas and Europe, before helping launch a new school in a low-income neighborhood of Queens, NY as Founding Director of Operations at Valence College Prep. Krizia graduated cum laude with a B.A. from Columbia University and studied abroad in China as a 2010 US Critical Language Scholar. As a student, she worked at Columbia’s Language and Development Lab and also founded the Columbia Foreign Language Initiative student organization. Krizia is originally from Peru and grew up moving around the world before becoming a proud US citizen.

Your project and significance: As international migration increases, so will the need for accessible language translators who understand the experience of linguistically marginalized communities. Puentes Community Translators is a project to build pathways to careers in professional translation for bilingual young adults from immigrant communities. Young adults will build their professional skills and specialized industry knowledge over several months, concluding with professional translation projects with local organizations. Hundreds of millions of economic migrants moved globally between 2017-2019, yet little work is being done to promote long-term socioeconomic integration for immigrants. Language, culture, and knowledge barriers lead to small but significant disadvantages that compound quickly and extend further disadvantages to the next generations. My project's significance lies in its attempt to break this cycle by increasing the supply of community-rooted translators to reduce language barriers while also opening a pathway for these young adults to increase their economic capital utilizing the language skills they already possess (translation pays on average $50,000 per year --- double the pay of minimum wage jobs).

What you are looking most forward to with the project: I am most looking forward to the potential impact of this project and how it can grow from here. Mass global migration and displacement is at the forefront of today’s policy issues, and I believe we must do more to help promote long-term socioeconomic integration of immigrants. As an immigrant to the US myself, I realized early how much language opens doors. In college, as a Fulbright Scholar, and in my professional experiences, I saw directly how valuable language skills and workforce development programs are for people of all walks of life. I see Puentes as the natural sum of all the various life experiences I’ve had: a professional development training organization that helps create a new career path for young adults in marginalized immigrant communities. What better way to lift a community up than by its own linguistic skills and heritage? Societies need to focus on opening new economic development pathways for immigrants that directly integrates their culture and provides economic lift in the host country in order to promote true peace, prosperity, and mutual understanding in today's increasingly globalized world.