An assistant professor at IUPUC has been awarded a prestigious scholarship that will allow him to both teach and conduct research in a foreign country.

James Mendez, the university’s chemistry program coordinator and assistant professor of chemistry, received a 2017 Fulbright Scholarship and will be spending the fall semester in Estonia, a small country south of Finland that borders Russia.

The Fulbright Scholarship is sponsored by the State Department and sends U.S. and foreign participants all over the world through various programs. Its goal is to strengthen mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries.

“This program is inclusive in that it is a teaching and research grant, so I will be teaching a graduate class in bio-polymers (essentially polymers/plastics found in nature),” Mendez said.

Gary Felsten, associate dean for academic affairs at IUPUC, said Mendez was well deserving of the award due to his success as a teacher, mentor and researcher.

“(Mendez) has done an admirable job of connecting with students and building an active research program that focuses on the chemical properties of chitin, a polysaccharide found in the shells of shrimp, lobster, crawfish and cicada, and used for purposes ranging from thickening agents to wound dressings,” Felsten said.

Mendez will continue his research with chitin and also will further his work on 3-D printing. He intends to begin a study comparing how effective physics models are for teaching chemistry in classrooms.

“Dr. Mendez’s research on chitin and 3-D printing have created transformative experiences for our students at IUPUC,” said Joan Poulsen, IUPUC Science Division head and associate professor of psychology.

Pre

paring for changeMendez and his family will move at the end of August to Estonia’s capital and largest city, Tallinn, Mendez said, a fast-approaching change that had him nervous at first.

“Essentially this was four months to figure out how to move my family halfway across the world to a country we know very little about,” Mendez said.

Luckily for Mendez, all of the graduate courses will be taught in English, and most residents are familiar with the English language. Mendez does not speak Estonian, the principle language of Estonia, nor does he speak Russian, which is spoken by about a quarter of the country’s population of about 1.3 million residents.

Mendez is trying to remedy this by learning some Estonian prior to the move but says learning resources are difficult to find with such a small language community.

After his initial apprehension, Mendez said he knows the experience will be a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with leading European institution Tallinn University of Technology. And although he will be working hard between teaching and research, the Fulbright Scholarship encourages spending as much time in and learning about the new community as in the lab.

During the stay, the family plans to travel to places such as Finland and Switzerland, which are both only a brief ferry ride away.

Mendez and his wife, Julie, plan to enroll their 2-year-old son in a local preschool. Mendez is most excited about giving his son the chance to experience life in a different country at such a young age.

Meanwhile, Julie, who teaches mechanical engineering at IUPUC, will continue teaching online from Tallinn, Mendez said.

Mendez also applied for and received a grant from Indiana University to go to Krakow, Poland, where he will spend about a month in the spring of 2018, this time on his own.

What: Assistant professor of chemistry at IUPUC, and university’s chemistry program coordinator

Age: 33

Resides: Franklin

Education: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute; doctorate from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hobbies: Playing video games with his wife and son

Family: Wife, Julie Mendez, professor of mechanical engineering at IUPUC; son, Jack, age 2

Author photo
Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.