Ellie Patronas headshot.
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Student Named Fulbright Semifinalist

University of St. Thomas senior Ellie Patronas is a semifinalist for the 2024 Fulbright U.S. Student Program. She hopes to use the Fulbright opportunity to fulfill her dream of studying urban art in Greece.

Fulbright is an international, cultural, and educational exchange program that gives students the opportunity to achieve academic goals, while also allowing them to learn more about other cultures by its work to increase mutual understanding between the people of U.S. and people of other countries.

Patronas, a business law and compliance major with minors in American culture & difference and art history, gained a fascination for cultural and political street art after joining Urban Art Mapping during her sophomore year. The St. Thomas research project seeks to document, archive and map graffiti on a global scale, specifically street art that explores political and social justice issues. Through her involvement in Urban Art Mapping, Patronas has learned valuable skills for research, such as ethnography, interviewing and scholarly writing, in addition to attaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for research and the study of street art.

“Ellie is brimming with curiosity about the world, and this does much to strengthen our work together as a research team,” Dr. Heather Shirey, one of the faculty leaders of Urban Art Mapping, stated. “She has a unique ability to bring people together and create trust and openness with the artists and community members who collaborate with us. Ellie is the perfect candidate for a Fulbright research project.”

Patronas’ experience in studying global street art in Urban Art Mapping, along with her independent research to analyze social justice street art across the U.S., were motivators in her decision to apply for the Fulbright grant.

Ellen Patronas '24 (Brandon Woller '17/University of St. Thomas)

“Inspired by the resiliency and cultural impact of Greek refugees, I want to understand the role that urban artwork plays in helping refugees and immigrants foster a sense of belonging and cultural identity in a foreign land,” Patronas explained. “My proposed project, ‘Transcultural Expressions: Exploring Migration Through Urban Art,’ seeks to explore possibilities for making urban landscapes more inclusive to refugee and immigrant populations through visual arts by analyzing street art, graffiti, and murals in the streets of Athens, Greece.”

If selected, Patronas will conduct her research in Athens by examining the socio-political landscape of refugeeism, learning about the history of graffiti culture, collaborating with various art and volunteer initiatives, documenting street art and murals related to refugees, and creating a final research paper to present her findings.

Patronas believes the results of her research can be beneficial in its use to inform urban planners, government officials, and citizens about how street art can bring a sense of inclusion and community. She would work with the initiative Refugee Week Greece, scholars from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in the Department of Global Health and Disaster Medicine to learn from a diverse group of perspectives, while immersing herself in the community of Athens.

“In my time in Greece, I aim to acclimate myself to the deepest roots of my identity as a Greek American while using my extensive academic training and never-dwindling curiosity to explore street art as a method of displaying refugee stories on the walls of Athens, Greece. Becoming a Fulbright Scholar is imperative as it will broaden my academic worldview, work with a community I would not have the chance to otherwise, and help to further establish myself as a scholar in the field.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the U.S. government and takes place outside the U.S. after graduation for students with a bachelor’s degree or during graduate degree enrollment. Since Fulbright’s founding in 1946, St. Thomas has had 22 students selected for the program. The University of St. Thomas encourages students and alumni interested in applying for Fulbright to learn more about the scholarship by visiting OneStThomas.