Brazil will serve as the backdrop and host country for Jennifer Elizabeth Benetti-Longhini and Kevin McDaniel, MTSU’s newest Fulbright fellowship award recipients.
The two graduate students, along with the Undergraduate Fellowships Office in the Honors College, learned in April that Brazilian officials selected them for Fulbright U.S. Student Program research.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program sends students, young professionals and artists to teach and/or conduct research for up to a year.
Benetti-Longhini, 28, of Tullahoma, Tennessee, and McDaniel, 30, of Murfreesboro, will perform their work in 2015.
A butterfly researcher, Benetti-Longhini will continue an ecological program already jointly funded between the United States and Brazil on the “Assembly and Evolution of the Amazonian Biota and Its Environment.”
McDaniel, an anthropologist and archaeologist who already has visited Brazil twice and is about to make a third trip in July, will continue his work mapping prehistoric sites in the South American country.
A native of Chula Vista, California, in metropolitan San Diego, Benetti-Longhini is a graduate of both the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts, earning undergraduate degrees in biology and Spanish in 2013. She currently is working on her master’s degree in biology.
Benetti-Longhini will be assisting in a multidisciplinary international project. Most of her work and study will be conducted with professor Andre Freitas at the University of Campinas, or UNICAMP, in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“We’re trying to discover what we can about the natural history of the Amazon region,” she said, adding that her study will focus on two species of butterflies.
Her data will be integrated with the evolutionary and additional findings of collaborators as part of a larger project aiming to model the natural history of the region.
“Brazil is a country that, because of its exuberant biodiversity, offers the unique and exciting opportunity to work with hundreds of students who are interested in natural history, ecology and organismal biology,” Benetti-Longhini wrote in her Fulbright application.
“Working in this environment would be an extraordinary way to launch my career as an ecologist.”
MTSU biology professor Andrew Brower, who also conducts butterfly research, serves as her mentor.
When she isn’t studying butterflies, one of Benetti-Longhini’s hobbies is playing the bagpipes; she performs at 9/11 memorial ceremonies and funerals for local military heroes and police and firefighters. She and her husband, Leo, also own a business, Jonker Sailplanes Inc., in Tullahoma.
McDaniel, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, earned his undergraduate degree in anthropology from MTSU in 2013, minoring in Portuguese and archaeology. He pursued the Fulbright opportunity, he said, to “involve himself in research on a professional level and interact with people because it is an exchange of culture and a matter of broadening your horizons.”
“We’re part of a big global family, and the Fulbright gives you the ability to understand one another,” McDaniel added. “The way to understand people is to talk to them, and it’s a way to break down barriers and stereotypes.”
McDaniel traveled to Brazil in 2011 to complete a minor in Portuguese for associate professor Soraya Nogueira in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures; he returned in spring 2012 to conduct an archaeological survey with one of his mentors, MTSU cultural anthropology professor Richard Pace.
His 2012 trip was the cover story for the fall 2012 edition of MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts magazine, which you can read here via PDF beginning on page 18.
Dr. Tanya Peres, MTSU sociology and anthropology associate professor and an archaeology expert, serves as McDaniel’s other mentor. She advised him to pursue the Fulbright.
McDaniel, who is working toward a master’s degree in geosciences, conducts his research primarily through studying soils that indicate the presence of civilizations and by examining ceramics and other artifacts. With his Fulbright, McDaniel also will be participating in community outreach activities through the Goeldi Museum in Belem, Para, Brazil.
A cook at O’Possum’s Irish Pub in Murfreesboro and a former sous-chef who also relishes cooking for his friends, McDaniel said he enjoys martial arts and reading — particularly anything informational, biographical or related to archaeology, anthropology or Brazil — too.
The Fulbright fellowship, one of the world’s most prestigious educational exchange programs, is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic or professional achievement and demonstrated leadership potential.
Benetti-Longhini’s and McDaniel’s awards bring MTSU’s number of Fulbright recipients to 12 over the last seven years and a total of 16 since 2001. To view a list of past and current Fulbright recipients, visit www.mtsu.edu/honors/FULBRIGHT.php.
Honors College Dean John Vile continues to credit Undergraduate Fellowships Coordinator Laura Clippard for her role in MTSU students receiving Fulbright, Goldwater and numerous other awards and fellowships in recent years.
To learn more about the Undergraduate Fellowships Office and the steps to obtain national scholarships, visit www.mtsu.edu/honors/ufo, call Clippard at 615-898-5464 or email Laura.Clippard@mtsu.edu.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)