Thursday, June 05, 2014

[616] MTSU Fulbright recipients to perform research in Brazil in 2015

MURFREESBORO — 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 already jointly funded ecological program between the U.S. and Brazil on the “Assembly and Evolution of the Amazonian Biota and Its Environment.” An anthropologist and archaeologist, McDaniel, who already has visited Brazil twice and is about to make a third trip in July, will continue his work mapping prehistoric sites in Brazil.

A native of Chula Vista, California, in metropolitan San Diego, Benetti-Longhini is a graduate of both the Colleges of Basic and Applied Sciences and Liberal Arts, earning undergraduate degrees in biology and Spanish in 2013, and currently is working on her master’s degree in biology. She will be assisting in a multidisciplinary international project. Most of her work and study will be conducted under 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.”

Biology professor Andrew Brower, who also conducts butterfly research, serves as her mentor.

One of Benetti-Longhini’s hobbies is playing the bagpipes. She performs at 9/11 and other memorial funerals for local military heroes and police and firefighters. She and her husband, Leo, own a business, Jonker Sailplanes Inc. in Tullahoma.

McDaniel, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, earned his liberal arts undergraduate degree in anthropology, with minors in Portuguese and archaeology. He said he pursued the Fulbright opportunity 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,” he 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 Foreign Languages and Literatures for associate professor Soraya Nogueira and in spring 2012 to conduct an archaeological survey with MTSU mentor and cultural anthropology professor Richard Pace (to read the story, visit Sociology and anthropology associate professor Tanya Peres, also an archaeology expert, serves as his other mentor. She advised him to pursue the Fulbright.

McDaniel’s research is conducted mainly through studies of soils that indicate the presence of civilizations and by examination of ceramics and other artifacts. With his Fulbright, he 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, McDaniel enjoys cooking for friends, martial arts and reading anything informational, biographical or archaeological-, anthropological- or Brazil-related. He has served as a sous-chef in his career.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs funds the Fulbright fellowship, one of the world’s most prestigious educational exchange programs. Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic or professional achievement and demonstrated leadership potential.

These latest awards give MTSU 12 Fulbright recipients in the past seven years and 13 altogether. To view a list of past and present Fulbright recipients, visit

Honors College Dean John Vile credits Undergraduate Fellowships Coordinator Laura Clippard for her role in MTSU students obtaining Fulbright, Goldwater and numerous other awards and fellowships in recent years.

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