Thursday, April 11, 2024
student smiling

Tabitha Peter, a PhD candidate in biostatistics from the University of Iowa, is the winner of a Fulbright Study/Research Grant to Colombia for 2024-25. 

Hometown: Hendersonville, Tennessee 

Degree: PhD candidate in biostatistics 

Could you give us a brief synopsis of what you'll be doing with your Fulbright? 
The goal of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is “to create connections in a complex and changing world.” My Fulbright award will accomplish this by providing me with the opportunity to humanize the quantitative work in which I am engaged for my dissertation, connecting data analysis with family-centered healthcare. My plan for the Fulbright Grant is to integrate a community engagement element to my dissertation work that allows for the centering of the human story. As a PhD candidate in biostatistics, I am applying statistical methods to study patterns in small sections of DNA called genetic markers. Additionally, I am applying these methods to an exciting data set from a study of cleft lip/palate in which the University of Iowa College of Dentistry was a partner site. Importantly, this study includes genetic data from participants across 14 global sites, representing over 2,000 Colombian participants recruited from the Noel Clinic -- a non-profit pediatric clinic in Medellín. My work with the incredible faculty and mentors in the University of Iowa Colleges of Public Health and Dentistry has provided me with a lens for quantitative research that is patient-centered, sparking my interest in contextualizing my dissertation through community engagement. I’ve come to see that the knowledge gained from my quantitative work needs to connect back to the participants represented in the data, which is where the opportunity provided through a Fulbright comes in – through Fulbright, I have an amazing opportunity to spend a year in Medellín conducting qualitative research at the Noel Clinic. My work will include holding semi-structured interviews with cleft patients and their families through the clinic’s family-centered care program. With this qualitative element, my dissertation will become a mixed methods work that both analyzes the genetic markers associated with clefts and humanizes these findings by studying the perspectives of families impacted by this congenital disorder (birth defect). Having a mixed methods approach is important for ensuring that the computational work is integrated with a patient-centered application. 

How do you envision this will influence your life/future career? 
The Fulbright will be the start of engaging with the community represented in the data I’ve been privileged to access for my dissertation. This opportunity establishes my future goal of centering community engagement as an integral part of my work as a biostatistician. As a UI-trained biostatistician and researcher, I am committed to thinking about the implications of the work I do in my office for the participants and families whom the data represent, valuing their experiences and learning from their perspectives.  

What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright? 
My advice would be to find the intersection of the opportunities you’ve been given, the skills you have, and the world’s great need – that’s your purpose. Then contact Karen Wachsmuth and the Fulbright team in University of Iowa International Programs – this team has supported and encouraged me throughout the long application and selection process. Mentoring is key to success in a Fulbright application, and International Programs has established partnerships with faculty mentors from across campus to ensure that applicants receive ample constructive feedback on their writing. My Fulbright mentor was Dr. Kathleen Newman from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese – her coaching helped me to clarify my research goals and substantially improved my writing. I am so grateful for her support and the support of the team at University of Iowa International Programs!   

Were there experiences at Iowa that inspired you to pursue a Fulbright? 
Yes! Three things: 

  1. As part of my RA work at the UI College of Dentistry, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a research grant in which I observed how the leading UI investigators engaged with the local patient community. The physician-scientists on our team invited patient advocates to come to our grant planning meetings, which brought a transformative perspective to our conversations. Watching these interactions showed me the power of community engagement in health science research. 
  2. One of my good friends, Laura McDowell, was awarded a Fulbright to teach English in Türkiye during the 2023-2024 academic year. Her willingness to share details of her journey to Fulbright inspired my own. 
  3. During my five years living in Iowa City, I have been so blessed by friendships with international students from all over the world. There’s a map in my apartment with pins marking the hometowns of all the friends who’ve come over – the colored pins now cover the map, from Colombia to Iran to Vietnam. My friends’ radical hospitality towards me has given me a desire to continue building relationships with people from other parts of the world. 

Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process? 
Absolutely – I have received so much support in my Fulbright application. There are several people I’d like to thank, including:  

  • Drs. Claudia Restrepo, Martha Jaramillo, Consuelo Valencia, and Camila Osorio, all from the research team at the Noel Clinic.  
  • My dissertation advisor, Dr. Patrick Breheny, and my dissertation committee members. 
  • Those who wrote letters of recommendation for my application, including Drs. Gideon Zamba and Miyuraj H. H. Withanage. 
  • My RA supervisor, Dr. X. Jin Xie. 
  • The clinician-scientists who have mentored me in my research with cleft lip and palate, including Drs. Lina Moreno, Azeez Butali, and Brian Howe. Special thanks to Dr. Moreno for connecting me with the Noel Clinic.  
  • Dr. Abimbola Oladayo (from Dr. Butali’s lab), whose community engagement research inspired my Fulbright proposal. 
  • Drs. Karen Wachsmuth, Kathleen Newman, and Christopher Squier, along with all the mentors/support staff at in International Programs. 




International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement.  IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.