Two members of CWRU’s Class of 2024 win Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants

For the members of Case Western Reserve University’s Class of 2024, commencement marked many things: chapters ending, new beginnings, and, for many, their first formal commencement ceremony after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted graduations in 2020.

For Soorya Janakiraman and Douglas Gurdak, it also marked a step closer to new pursuits abroad. Each received a grant from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program that pairs scholars with opportunities to research, teach and study in about 140 countries. 

With their degrees now under their belts, they’ll be headed to Europe and South America, respectively, each poised to make their marks in research. Learn more about Janakiraman and Gurdak as they prepare to represent the university abroad. 

Soorya Janakiraman

Photo of Soorya Janakiraman

As a high school student in Ann Arbor, Soorya Janakiraman had already discovered a passion for research. She knew interdisciplinary opportunities and small classroom settings would be essential to her college experience—and Case Western Reserve University was the ideal place to find them.

Here, she dove into hands-on opportunities, spending three years researching theoretical ecology alongside Robin Snyder in the Department of Biology. And now, as the recipient of a Fulbright Open Research Award, Janakiraman is headed to Germany, where she will spend 10 months researching systems biology in Olaf Wolkenhauer’s lab at the University of Rostock. 

Her project, “Analyzing Multi-Source Signal Propagation in Molecular Interaction Networks,” will build on the lab’s ongoing work “understanding disease through disease mapping, which integrates molecular interactions, disease-related processes, and disease phenotypes into a single interactive computer platform,” she explained. 

When it came to applying for the Fulbright grant, Janakiraman turned to a familiar resource: her supportive network. Such communities have been essential to her CWRU experience, from her time serving as an orientation leader, to her various roles in the competitive Indian classical dance team CWRU Nritya, to her time studying abroad in Vienna, Austria—an experience she credits for teaching her “the profound value of cultural immersion in becoming empathetic and engaged citizens of the world.” 

With her Fulbright award, she looks forward to experiencing Germany’s world-renowned research institutions, cutting-edge technologies and interdisciplinary research environment, but is perhaps most excited, again, for the connections she’ll build.

“My time in Germany will enable me to connect with a network of international collaborators, whose unique perspectives and research methodologies I hope to integrate into my own research practice,” she said. “I look forward to maintaining my relationships in Germany after my Fulbright tenure is complete in hopes of pursuing future research collaborations to address global healthcare challenges.”

Following her Fulbright experience, Janakiraman will pursue graduate studies in math modeling, ultimately aiming to develop strategies for tailoring medical treatments to individual patients. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science from Case Western Reserve, earning dual majors in systems biology and art history. 

Douglas Gurdak

Photo of Douglas Gurdak

When Douglas Gurdak was considering what college to attend, he listed several “must-haves”: robust research opportunities in the biomedical sciences, established programs in the humanities and social sciences, and a metropolitan campus with a smaller student body. 

Case Western Reserve University checked all of his boxes.  

Coming to campus from the small town of Cortland, Ohio, Gurdak thrived in a setting that allowed for in-depth, personal relationships with classmates and faculty. He served as an undergraduate researcher with both the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, not to mention being a teaching assistant for the Department of Biology. 

His research interests are now taking him abroad for what will be his first time leaving his home country. Gurdak is the recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Bolivia Multi-Country Open Study/Research Award, a unique opportunity through which he will split his time between Sucre, Bolivia and Lima, Peru. In both locations, he will conduct public health research in the breast cancer care model.

“I wanted to gain international experience and solidify my Spanish language skills while expanding my research repertoire,” Gurdak said of his decision to apply for the program. “I’m beyond thrilled to represent CWRU as a Fulbrighter!”

At CWRU, Gurdak enjoyed a similarly well-rounded experience; he served as an orientation leader, was an emergency medical technician with CWRU Emergency Medical Service, and, most impactfully in his view, was involved with the university’s branch of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (oSTEM), a national organization dedicated to the empowerment of LGBTQIA+ individuals in STEM fields.

Gurdak credits his work with oSTEM@CWRU—including as a mentorship coordinator and most recently as the group’s president— for his fondest memories, whether they involved organizing professional panels, attending national conferences or putting on the group’s flagship drag shows.

“I made invaluable connections that really helped me embrace the LGBTQIA+ community on campus and build lifelong friendships with people who share strong passions for science but also a nuanced understanding of the queer experience,” he said.

Gurdak—who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and minors in Spanish, women’s and gender studies, and chemistry—encourages any future students interested in the Fulbright program to lean on their communities in similar ways.

“Reach out to faculty Fulbrighters, current and past Fulbrighters! Reach out to me!” he said. “The application process can be overwhelming, so never hesitate to turn to the CWRU community.” 

Learn more about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and discover how CWRU can prepare you to apply for the program.