Fulbright Stories
Humphrey Fellowship Journey from Bangkok to Boston University during the Covid-19 Pandemic
by Dr. Duanghathai Pentrakoon
Director, Chulalongkorn University of Intellectual Property Institute

Was it the right decision to take up an overseas fellowship during a pandemic?

I was a Hubert H Humphrey Fellow for the 2020-2021program year in Technology Policy and Management field. Informed about the award in May 2020, I was surprised and overwhelmed, and of course also muchexcited.  

At thatjuncture, I held positions as a lecturer at Chulalongkorn’s Department of Materials Science,Faculty of Science as well as itspost-graduate Technopreneurship and Innovation Management (TIP) program.  Additionally,I was a directorat the Chulalongkorn University Intellectual Property Institute (CUIP).  Although I am a scientist at heart, my academic studies, research and work experience were only indirectly related to Technology Policy and Management.  But I saw the Fellowship as anopportunity to both further develop my skills and widen the scope of my competencies.

Big thanks to the team at the Thailand-United States Educational Foundation (TUSEF) for its support and mentorship – they helped me navigate the perfect storm of a newly emerging and rapidly developing pandemic, providing an advice improving the application to US, visa application, compliance with American health control requirements, etc. There were also the local and sometimes complicated issues such as leave of absence to work out with my employer and – more importantly – the difficult questions regarding travel to a foreign land with an ongoing public health crisis.

It was in August 2020 that TUSEF confirmed Boston University (BU), Massachusetts as my host institution and I made it to Boston in mid-December.  It was heartening to find the city very lively, albeit with many safe distancing measures including masking in public.  

The Program start date at BU was delayed to January 2021, the beginning of the spring semester.  However, the orientation period in December was timely and most useful, allowing fellows to be familiar with campus matters, state policies, and useful resources relating to transportation, opening a bank account, BU campus facilities and activities,and opportunities for community services.

The Humphrey Fellowship Components at Boston University included

Individual Program Plan – The individual fellow’s roadmap for the year including fellow’s professional background and the development challenges; the goals to be achieved through the program; strategies on how toachieve these goals, program plan in details, and program plan evaluation.

Humphrey Seminar - Exploring how to be aglobal leader, team management, and many aspects of U.S. culture and society.Typically, each host university would organize the schedule for its own fellows. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that this was a special Humphrey; with most sessions organized online, all host universities were able to make them accessible to the fellows assigned to other universities. These were awesome –not just broad learning opportunities, but also a networking opportunity with fellows and staff from the faculties of other universities.

Academic Status – There was advisory for partial course load and audit courses so fellows would have adequate time for professional development activities.

Community Service – A minimum of 10-15 hours of service was recommended. I volunteered my time at the Cradles to Crayons andthe Allston-Brighton Food Pantry. It was a meaningful opportunity to serve the host community and interact with other volunteers.

Host Families – This was perhaps the most memorable experience! BU coordinators arranged for an American family to be a host family for each fellow. I was blessed to have two host families.  Shout out to Phyllis Doig, and Matt and Gail Kramer who made my stay at Boston so special, exposing me to American culture and various places of interest, organizing festival parties, providing meals,and much more hospitality. All host families at BU work closely together. So, all BU fellows felt like we had one big host Family.

Professional Development Activities – There were opportunities for short-term Professional Development activities off-campus, from making site visits to organizations of professional interest, attending conferences to meeting with US experts and professionals. Owing to the pandemic,the fellows were not allowed to travel out of state. I did not feel disappointed as many well-known institutions and US experts were located in Massachusetts. Dr. Ashley J Stevens, past president of Association of University Technology Manager (AUTM) and a former lecturer in the Strategy and Innovation Department in Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, has been anamazing mentor and supporter during my Humphrey year. He did not just help me with my academic and professional plan, but also connected me with his vast network of contacts. Indeed, I learnt from Dr Stevens that the true value of self-empowerment.

Professional Affiliation Activities –I worked with three organizations:

Boston University Office of TechnologyDevelopment (BU-OTD) - Atechnology transfer office for the Boston University Community.  Michael Pratt, a director of BU-OTD, wasmy supervisor. Two projects were conducted during my time.

CombatingAntibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X) - A globalnon-profit partnership dedicated to accelerating antibacterial research to tackle the global rising threat of drug-resistant bacteria. CARB-X is funded bythe US Department of Health and Human Services Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), partof the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR),the Wellcome Trust, a global charity based in the UK working to improve health globally, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the UK Government’s Global Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Fund (UK GAMRIF), the Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, with in-kindsupport from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US National Institutes of Health(NIH).  Professor Kevin Outterson, an executive director of CARB-X, was my supervisor. The tangible output was a co-authored publication in Les Nouvelles, titled “Key Elements of Successful Medical Funding Applicationfor Development Research Program: The CARB-X Experience”.https://www.lesi.org/publications/les-nouvelles/les-nouvelles-online/december-2021

NirvaMed,Inc (previously Nirva Medical, LLC) - A startup medical device company in Minnesota developing a new treatment for ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) heart attacks.  Dr. Pramote Hochareon, a chief technology officer, was my supervisor.

My journey would not be complete without all my dearest fellows – Rahat Aiylchieva (Kyrgyzstan), Rifki Akbari (Indonesia), Leemoon Mal Chaglani (Pakistan), IlhamKalashov (Azerbaijan), Selenicah Maruza (Zimbabwe), María del Carmen and Pablito Pantoja (Ecuador), Martynas and Aiste Pilkis (Lithuania) and Kerelos Soliman (Egypt).They have been friendsand family, and made this Humphrey year so special, and I hope the sentiment is also mutual.

The Humphrey Fellowship program offered more than opportunities for leadership development and professional engagement with Americans and their counterparts from many nations. It also the conduit for establishing long-lastingfriendship/partnership between fellows and the network of contacts aforementioned.

Finally, the obvious answer tomy initial question - “It was the right decision.”  What an amazing experience!