Wednesday, May 29, 2019

For the fourth consecutive year the University of Iowa is a top producer of Fulbright U.S. students. During that run, two of these elite students have been College of Pharmacy students.

Two years ago, Jasmine Mangrum was a UI Fulbrighter; this year it will be Michael Parisi Mercado. Each recipient has used or will use their Fulbright to complete nine months of public health research in Romania. Between the two of them, by summer of 2020 they will have traveled to the Eastern European country five or six times for two and a half or more years.

Mangrum graduated earlier this month with Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) and Master of Public Health degrees; the same ones Parisi Mercado is slated to earn in spring of 2021.

“We’re both interested in international health, and Jasmine gave me advice and inspired me,” said Parisi Mercado.

Each initially chose Romania from a short list of options when applying for a specific summer research internship through the UI College of Public Health—backed by National Institutes of Health funding—and then decided to build on their knowledge of that country.

Additionally, Mangrum completed an international rotation to Romania in 2017 through the College of Pharmacy and stayed to complete her College of Public Health-required practicum.

The two overlapped in 2017 for a while. They were living in the same dorm in Cluj-Napoca, but their days were spent in different communities.

Cluj-Napoca is where Parisi Mercado will again be based for his upcoming Fulbright. “It’s like Iowa City. It’s a young, college town, but bigger,” said Mangrum.

Parisi Mercado will be conducting series and interviews of Romanian healthcare providers about their views and treatment of patients with HIV and/or AIDS. Treatment is a challenge in both Romania and the United States for both different and shared reasons. Parisi Mercado plans to create educational toolkits that healthcare students can use in both countries.

“As the future leaders of the pharmacy profession, student pharmacists are in a unique position to shape the future of health care in Romania alongside other healthcare professionals,” Parisi Mercado said.

Parisi Mercado is a first-generation college student who was raised by a single mother in two small Puerto Rican towns. He is bilingual in English and Spanish—which he will teach during his Fulbright—and on his way to also learning Romanian.

He originally planned to continue working as a pharmacy technician indefinitely in Puerto Rico, thinking only of providing for his mother and sister. “A pharmacy academic advisor inspired me to consider pursuing work for personal fulfillment as well,” Parisi Mercado said, in a statement for his application.

Parisi Mercado is excited to get back to Romania this fall. And after he's there again, Mangrum plans to visit him and other friends there.

UI-Romania Connection

Initial contact between the University of Iowa and Romania was through the UI College of Public Health: Specifically, through the National Institutes of Health-funded Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) program. In the summer of 2015, Richard Barajas was a staff member at the UI College of Pharmacy and working toward his Master of Public Health degree; he completed his public health practicum in Romania and graduated that fall.

When Barajas returned from Romania, he approached College of Pharmacy faculty member Jeanine Abrons, a faculty member in the College of Pharmacy and the Director of International Student Pharmacists Activities. The two worked together with collaborators in Romania to design and create the college’s annual international Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) to Romania for fourth-year PharmD students. In 2017, Jasmine Mangrum—interviewed for the related, main, story—and Claire Weidman, ’18 PharmD, ’18 MPH, were the first participants in the annual experience.
“I am excited by the continued evolution of this experience for our pharmacy students,” Abrons said. “For example, there is a new educational component this year in pharmacognosy and traditional healing.”

Secrets of Winning a Fulbright

Parisi Mercado is among a record 17 University of Iowa students that have been awarded Fulbright Program grants for the upcoming academic term. Why such impressive statistics?

Karen Wachsmuth
UI Fulbright Program Advisor

We have a very hands-on process mentoring students, supported by excellent and dedicated faculty with international and regional expertise. We encourage students to begin their application a minimum of six months in advance; we meet with them and monitor their progress regularly. We encourage them to work together in groups on their essays. Last, we have a ‘Fulbright Family’ of dedicated faculty, and program alumni—former and current UI Fulbright grantees who guide students through the entire process based on their experiences. It’s a fabulous network!