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Prestigious Scholarships

Go Forth to Serve: BYU’s 2023 Fulbright Scholarship Recipients

The chance to travel to a foreign country can be life-changing. This year, two recent Brigham Young University graduates were selected for such an opportunity by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Each embarked on a 10-month international excursion to expand their academic horizons and strengthen ties between the U.S. and other nations. Ben Stone, a bioinformatics graduate, is the recipient of a Fulbright Study/Research Award and is living in Estonia. John McHenry, who graduated in Middle East studies/Arabic, was chosen for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and is living in Tajikistan.

Ben Stone in Estonia and John McHenry in Tajikistan.

Ben Stone — Fulbright Study/Research Award

In September, Ben Stone began conducting research in Estonia. He is working at the Estonian Biobank located in Tartu. The biobank has collected an extensive set of genetic data, making the location uniquely suited for significant genetic research.

A computer science camp Stone attended in his youth sparked his interest in computers and technology. Knowing he wanted to one day attend medical school and become a physician, Stone chose to major in bioinformatics, a discipline that combines the studies of biology and technology. Stone’s research experience in this field paved the way for his Fulbright studies and his future career. He worked in labs at BYU, UCLA, and Harvard, learning about comparative genomics of disease, population genetics, and cardiology, as well as the risk factors for atrial fibrillation. He is especially interested in how new technologies could advance medical care.

“There are a lot of technological advancements, especially coming to the health care field, and I would love to be a part of that,” Stone said. “Especially with AI and precision medicine, which is where you optimize the treatment of a patient based on their genetics.”

The volunteer work Stone participated in at BYU has had a wide-reaching positive impact. For the last several years, he worked with Cougs vs. Cancer, helping to coordinate its annual 5k run. With over 1,000 participants in 2023’s race, the funds raised by these events allow BYU students to conduct critical cancer research. He also worked with the educational non-profit ALPHA, first teaching ACT prep courses to local high school students, and then becoming a mentor supporting first-generation college students in the Bronx and Queens in New York City. Through this program, Stone participated in a fundraiser that raised over $20,000 for five of these first-generation students to attend BYU.

This past summer, Stone traveled to American Samoa with BYU’s Rheumatic Relief Program, where he and other students and faculty conducted research, worked to raise awareness, and helped screen children for rheumatic heart disease.

Stone’s Fulbright experience in Estonia isn’t his first time living in the country. He spent a short time there during his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Baltics, which was largely spent in Latvia and Lithuania. Prior to leaving, he was looking forward to speaking Russian again and reuniting with friends in Estonia.

“Ben will be a wonderful ambassador for the U.S. during his Fulbright experience in Estonia,” said Amy McLaughlin, BYU office of National Scholarships and Prestigious Fellowships advisor, who guided Stone through the process of applying to the Fulbright Scholarship.

“Not only is he a capable and creative researcher, but he is deeply committed to doing good through both his research and his extensive work in the community. He is dedicated and driven to make a positive impact in his field and in the world around him and has an ability to create meaningful connections with others. He’s such a positive and hard-working person, and I know he will represent BYU and its mission well during his time in Estonia.”

While working at the Estonian biobank, Stone aims to develop a tool that can predict whether or not a person with a cardiovascular disease is likely to develop a mental health condition, and at what age they may begin to experience symptoms if this occurs.

“I hope to make discoveries in relation to mental health and cardiovascular disease that could help improve future healthcare,” Stone said prior to leaving. He believes the Estonian Biobank is an ideal place to make these scientific discoveries. “The reason the Estonian Biobank is so cool is it has 20 percent of the genetic data for the adult population of Estonia, which is a lot, relative to other countries. We have some big databases here but not nearly 20 percent of the country.”

Stone hopes to eventually apply his findings in Estonia to genetic databases in the U.S., as well as work to grow genetic databases in the U.S. He also hopes to get his research in Estonia to the point of being ready for publication.

Stone advises students considering the Fulbright Scholarship to “find something you’re passionate about, that you want to research, be creative and come up with a good research idea . . . it’s a unique experience and it can really fit any career.”

John McHenry — Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

John McHenry, another recent BYU graduate chosen for the Fulbright award, is teaching English in Tajikistan, a country located in Central Asia. While serving a mission in Ukraine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, McHenry met people of the Muslim faith and wanted to know more about them. When he began his studies at BYU, he took an Arabic class and chose Middle East studies/Arabic as his major.

“Being able to be given opportunities to see other cultures and other ways of life is important to me,” McHenry said.

McHenry has spent years studying the Middle East and Central Asian regions. McHenry said, “I want to be an English Teaching Assistant Fulbright Grantee in Tajikistan because I care about the Tajik culture and people and I want to help give Tajiks linguistic skills that are necessary in a globalized economy.”

McHenry’s studies at BYU and the extracurricular activities he participated in prepared him to represent the U.S. in foreign lands. He served as vice president of Sigma Iota Rho, the international relations club on BYU campus. The relatively new club helps students stay informed about international issues by hearing from speakers, participating in debates, and attending other activities. McHenry was also on the Middle East studies/Arabic Council, helping to organize events for students in the major.

Earlier this year McHenry returned from Morocco, where he lived for 11 months. Through the Arabic Flagship program and with funding from the Boren Scholarship, he was there to increase his Arabic proficiency. All of these experiences have helped prepare McHenry to make a positive impact on an international scale.

McHenry said, “Because of my time at BYU and the programs I have been part of, I have a better understanding of different cultures and different peoples. That has helped me to see different sides of very complex issues. Taking a nuanced approach to emotional issues for different people, while also showing empathy, is a skill that I have developed here at BYU, because of the teachers that I have, and the systematic teaching method that they’ve shown. As a result, I think my role as a potential peacekeeper or conflict mitigator has increased because of my experience at BYU and the teachers I have had.”

Working with the National Scholarships office at BYU was critical for McHenry throughout the application process. McHenry said Advisor Amy McLaughlin helped him to understand the required essays and provided feedback and direction.

“John’s deep respect and appreciation for other cultures and his natural ability to facilitate cross-cultural connections make him an ideal representative of BYU, the Fulbright Program, and the U.S. abroad,” McLaughlin said. “His maturity and ability to communicate well with others will serve him well in his work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Tajikistan. With his strong work ethic, easy-going nature, and desire to serve the local people, I know he will have a positive impact in the lives of his students and others during his time there.”

McHenry was notified a decision had been made about the Fulbright Scholarship during the spring of 2023, while in Morocco with the Arabic Flagship program. He took a 10-minute jog home, opened his computer, and upon realizing he would be a recipient of the award, he was ecstatic. As he prepared for his departure, McHenry looked forward to studying the culture and language of Tajikistan on a deeper level.

Prior to leaving, McHenry discussed Tajikistan’s unique blend of linguistic and cultural influences. The language of Tajikistan, Tajik, is a dialect of Farsi with influence from Russian and Arabic. Because McHenry speaks Russian and Arabic, he believed he would be able to appreciate the various influences on the language and culture. He looked forward to seeing the nature of Tajikistan, experiencing real Tajik life in the cities and rural areas, and learning Tajik folk songs. McHenry hoped his time there would allow him to achieve a level of Tajik and Farsi fluency that would be sufficient in a professional setting.

McHenry’s career plan is to eventually go into law, where he wants to bring cybersecurity and diplomacy together to strengthen nations and international relations.

“I think there is a big disconnect right now between the innovations that are happening on a daily basis, that are leaps and bounds every single time, versus the policy which is trying to catch up, and not as successfully as we would like,” McHenry said. “I think I would be able to be a force for good in that sphere and I think pushing the realm of cybersecurity law or cyber-policy into the international sphere is a necessary step that we need to take as Americans and also as global citizens.”

McHenry advises prospective Fulbright applicants to “be aware of what you want from the Fulbright before you start applying, and when you do, focus a lot on how you can provide value for the people you will be helping.”

Going Forth to Serve

The interest in other cultures and diligent preparation demonstrated by Stone and McHenry led them to being selected for the Fulbright Scholarship. They are currently fulfilling the mission of BYU by going forth to serve across the globe. Stone’s research in Estonia and McHenry’s English teaching in Tajikistan is allowing each of them to gain new experiences and grow in their education while serving others.

Each year, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program funds over 2,200 awards for recent graduates and alumni to pursue graduate study, conduct research, or teach English in one of over 140 countries around the world. It is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the J. William Fulbright Scholarship Board. Those interested in learning more about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program may contact the BYU office of National Scholarships and Prestigious Fellowships at to speak with an advisor.