Fulbright Scholar Zolboo Dashmyagmar Makes a Global Impact in Tech and Sustainability

May 16, 2024
Fulbright Winner Zolboo Dashmyagmar posing with 5 other fellows outside the gates of a university. The fellows are dressed in Fall attire with jackets and pants. Trees with changing leaves are in the background around the stone entrance gates. Two fellows are holding a small banner that reads Fulbright.
Zolboo Dashmyagmar standing in front of the Sample Gates on campus with other Fulbright friends from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program, facilitated by the Institute of International Education (IIE), acts as a global bridge for graduate students, young professionals, and artists worldwide. It enables them to pursue studies and research in the United States, operating in over 155 countries with diverse eligibility criteria and selection processes. On the domestic front, the McKinney Climate Fellows (MCF) program, administered by the Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) and IU’s Integrated Program in the Environment, stands as a beacon for those passionate about climate, sustainability, and community resilience. This workforce development initiative facilitates experiential learning and solution-based sustainability expertise by connecting students with diverse Indiana-based organizations. Students become catalysts for impactful change, gaining hands-on experience and contributing to vital climate and resilience projects.

Zolboo Dashmyagmar’s unique journey began with a background in international business management, weaving through experiences in her home country of Mongolia. Fascinated by geography, development, technology, and sustainability, she carved out her international career as a Fulbright Scholar and McKinney Climate Fellow at Indiana University. We were delighted to interview Zolboo and learn about the roots of her interests, her accomplishments, and gain insights into her success with her thoughtful advice.

Can you tell us about your background, including undergraduate and graduate work?

I grew up in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, where I completed my Bachelor’s degree in International Business Management at Mongolia International University (MIU). Additionally, I attended a one-semester exchange program at Chungnam National University in South Korea.

My inclination towards International Business Management is deeply rooted in my upbringing. Growing up watching my mother establish her small community pharmacy inspired and helped me understand how to build a business. Over my middle school weekends, I assisted her in various areas, from purchasing products from wholesalers to serving customers from diverse backgrounds and keeping her shop clean. The motivation for my interest in international cultures was my deep love for languages while learning Japanese and English during my middle and high school years, which opened doors to understanding different cultures and perspectives. Geography was another passion. I remember my Geography teacher gifted me her old giant world map, and I kept it in front of my desk and pondered the world beyond my borders.

The enriching experience of being part of an international community at MIU, where students and faculty were from diverse backgrounds, was instrumental in shaping my perspective. During college, I started to try new things and take on responsibilities, including working at my Student Union, organizing multiple events by coordinating and performing arts on campus, and participating in volunteering classes. These experiences not only honed my interpersonal skills but also introduced me to empowering individuals who continue to be sources of inspiration.

In the pivotal stages of my academic journey, with all my involvement in and outside of my school and my desire to learn and make a difference, I was honored to be selected as a scholar at the Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) for Young Women Leaders sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, during my junior summer. The rigorous selection process, which included a personal statement and a recommendation letter from a professor, followed by an interview at the U.S. Embassy, led me to a transformative experience in the United States. Representing Mongolia, I had the privilege of joining 24 other exceptional young female leaders from 7 different countries. Witnessing their impact, both within their communities and beyond, left a significant mark on me.

I am grateful that I chose the path that shaped my career around international cultures and business management. Over the past seven years, I have built my career in multicultural teams spanning technology, hospitality, and international development.

What made you interested in climate change, sustainability, and technology?

Connecting the intersection of sustainability and technology interests has become much clearer for me in recent years, stemming from a blend of my community service and professional experiences.

In my early college years, my involvement in volunteering and passion for singing led me to collaborate closely with UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) on the Orange Sessions campaign, which aimed to combat violence against women and girls through music and public advocacy. Beginning as an artist with my other friends, I later took on an organizing role. This experience opened the door to joining the United Nations Youth Advisory Panel, where I worked on multiple Sustainable Development Goals alongside diverse entities such as UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies. Through these engagements, I discovered my passion for creating social impact throughout my career.

In 2018, I joined the global tech company “what3words,” inspired by their mission of providing a simple global standard in how people communicate exact locations. My responsibilities focused on building partnerships and spearheading projects in Mongolia and the Asia-Pacific region. I enjoyed my work at what3words, which allowed me to contribute by addressing solutions to various sectors and organizations, from logistics and emergency services to tourism boards and local businesses across multiple countries. When used effectively and ethically, I realized that technology can significantly address and expedite solutions to global challenges. In the case of what3words, technology was instrumental in saving lives.

Fulbright Winner Zolboo Dashmyagmar posing with multiple other Fulbrighters all smiling at the camera. Two students hold up a small banner that reads Fulbright.
Zolboo Dashmyagmar with other Fulbrighters from the SILC program and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR.

Can you share details about the Fulbright application process?

The Fulbright application process, spanning over 1.5 years from submission to the start of the master’s program, consists of equally important stages. As I had always aspired to pursue a degree abroad, my preparation extended to nearly five years. Among the critical steps, I dedicated significant time to crafting my Personal Statement and Study Objective essays during the application stage, which required deep career reflection and academic curriculum research. Upon receiving an acceptance letter, the following stage involved an interview with multiple panels comprising Fulbright alumni, local U.S. Embassy staff, and representatives from the Ministry of Education. I thoroughly prepared for this phase, where self-awareness and reflection on academic, career, and community service experiences were critical. Also, working through anticipated questions and engaging in mock interviews with people who went through similar processes was truly helpful.

Following a successful nomination, the journey continued with standardized test preparation, including IBT TOEFL and GRE/GMAT, depending on your degree. For me, this stage proved to be a test of effective time management as I balanced multiple priorities, including a full-time job, community service, and attending to my family’s needs. Upon receiving the test results, the last step was the university choices, degree program application, and decision-making.

As a Fulbrighter, how was your time at the host institution?

I am truly grateful for being awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue my graduate education journey in the U.S. This journey was inspired by my aspiration to make a career pivot and create a meaningful impact in Mongolia and beyond.

Upon receiving the award, my educational journey started with pre-academic training at the Spring International Language Center (SILC) at the University of Arkansas. This program, designed to facilitate a smoother cultural transition and enhance writing and communication skills in English, brought together 25 individuals from diverse cultures. Exploring the Ozark region alongside fellow Fulbrighters was a beautiful experience, enriched by a well-established training program led by the SILC team.

Transitioning to my master’s degree in a new country’s education system at Indiana University (IU) marked an exciting and overwhelming moment, given the gap since my last educational experience. I am grateful for the friendships and relationships formed during this journey, as they have made the process of personal and professional growth lighter and more joyful. The interdisciplinary program of the MPA offered the flexibility to specialize in Sustainability and Sustainable Development, exposing me to deep insights from leading professors in their fields of study. The opportunity to learn from other departments proved influential, and I am completing a Social Entrepreneurship Certificate from the esteemed Kelley Business School. IU is very resourceful, surrounded by diverse student organizations, leading regional environmental institutes, labs, and language learning, which complemented my educational experience. As a Mongolian, IU has one of the few Mongolian language teaching faculty in the U.S., which was a highlight to interact with many who study our culture and learn the language. Also, Bloomington City is unique in being home to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and the Mongolia Society, an organization promoting the study of Mongolia, its history, language, and culture.

Embarking on my graduate journey at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, pursuing a nationally recognized number one Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree specializing in sustainability, I am exploring deeper into understanding the profound impact of global climate action. As I learned more about the causes, effects, consequences, and projections, I came to the conclusion that my background and passion could contribute meaningfully to fighting the climate crisis that impacts the social issues and people I deeply care about. Although learning more about the impacts often triggers eco-anxiety, what I know for sure is that continuous learning and meaningful contributions to social and environmental issues spark joy and push me forward.

Building on my curiosity and providing information and skills on how technology and innovation can efficiently and equitably help us utilize natural and social resources, I founded the Sustainability & Tech Alliance at the IU Center of Excellence for Women and Technology in early 2023. With my team, we are creating a learning space for the community through skill-building workshops and talks from industry experts and fostering a shared-passion community.

McKinney Climate Fellowship Winner Zolboo Dashmyagmar standing outside a large brick building that's labeled "Columbus City Hall." Zolboo ears a white dress jacket with black pants and sunglasses. She smiles at the camera with her arms crossed in front. There is lush bright green grass in front of the City Hall building.
Zolboo Dashmyagmar standing in front of the Columbus City Hall in Columbus, IN.

What do you think made you a successful candidate for Fulbright? What advice would you offer others interested in the same program you applied to?

Based on the Fulbrighters I met, I observed common characteristics of professional excellence in their specific fields: commitment to community service, high sense of emotional intelligence, curiosity, and a genuine eagerness for continuous learning. They challenge the status quo wherever they are and proactively take action to bring the positive change they want to see. Reflecting on the selection process, the Fulbright committee considered the impact I had professionally and personally through community service, the relevance of the subject area I am studying, and my post-graduation aspirations.

Looking at the broader picture, anyone planning their master’s degree should consider when the best time to pursue higher education is. In my experience, I have seen some students going to their master’s too soon. Now, as I navigate my master’s program after seven years of working in the industry, I realize pursuing a degree full-time is a significant investment of time and resources. I believe gaining work experience provides valuable insights into our interest areas of study, allowing us to make informed decisions and explore various fields hands-on. In my case, several years ago, I thought about pursuing my master’s in a totally different area, and I was not accepted to that program. I now appreciate the outcome that it did not work out.

When you know what interests you and identify the gap you aim to address, there is no need to wait until you feel fully prepared. Once you have a satisfactory TOEFL iBT or IELTS, giving yourself enough time to work on your application thoroughly and applying for Fulbright is a valuable step forward. Whether you are accepted or rejected on your first attempt, it will be a great experience because you tried.

What were some key takeaways from your Fulbright experience?

Navigating the Fulbright experience has been a continuous journey of getting out of my comfort zone, learning, reflection, and growth. As I am still in this process, I will share five key takeaways that have profoundly impacted me thus far:

  1. Learning to learn and identifying what sparks joy, and recognizing areas where I have room for growth.
  2. A continuous source of inspiration from a dynamic network of changemakers with diverse backgrounds, each driven by passion and making an impact.
  3. Discovering more about myself, identity, the richness of Mongolian culture, and global cultures’ distinctions and similarities.
  4. Gaining a comprehensive understanding and hands-on experience in my specialization area in sustainability and broadening my perspective on its local and global implications.
  5. Collaboration is the key to growth by enabling us to complement each other’s strengths and encouraging a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.
McKinney Climate Fellowship Winner Zolboo Dashmyagmar stanfing in front of a classroom, giving a talk with mic in had and projector screen to her right. Attendees are sitting in wood colored chairs.
Zolboo Dashmyagmar sharing her remarks at the Climate Risk and Vulnerability Identification Workshop in Columbus, IN.

What led you to apply to the McKinney Climate Fellowship? What made you a stand-out candidate?

I decided to apply for the McKinney Climate Fellowship (MCF) as I am doing a career transition and was looking for a summer internship focused on sustainability and climate change. The opportunity was presented through the IU Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI), which annually announces the MCF. This fellowship aligns fellows with regional businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits offering climate and green job opportunities. Over the summer, I worked at the City of Columbus as part of the MCF’s Resilience Cohort Fellow.

The application process involved three stages: submitting my resume and cover letter and answering specific guiding questions about skills, qualities, motivation, career goals, and views on equity. It further included two rounds of interviews, one with the ERI and another with the direct manager from the City.

I believe what made me stand out as a candidate were the transferable skills gained from my career experience, the knowledge acquired during my studies at O’Neill, and my genuine eagerness to learn on the job. This combination, coupled with a passion for sustainability, positioned me as a suitable candidate for the MCF, allowing me to contribute meaningfully to the City of Columbus’s climate action and resilience initiatives.

What do you hope to gain from this experience, and what are your future goals? What was a highlight of the program for you?

I embarked on the McKinney Climate Fellowship to gain in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience working in local government and building resilient communities. Throughout the summer, I focused on assessing climate trends, risks, and vulnerabilities specific to the Columbus community. This involved conducting comprehensive research utilizing multiple data sources and organizing a workshop with local stakeholders.

Collaborating with a diverse group of experts, including leading global businesses such as Cummins, environmental justice coaches, climate scientists, and researchers, has broadened my understanding of the field and provided insights with an equity lens. The fellowship was a crucial period for my professional growth as I transitioned into sustainability.

A notable highlight of the program was the realization that one size does not fit all in climate change planning and is truly complex. Every community and city possesses unique characteristics, infrastructure, nature, economies, histories, funding and organizational structures, and priorities. This understanding emphasized the importance of careful consideration and collaboration with internal and external experts when designing and implementing climate mitigation and adaptation plans. Protecting the community and local distinct features and ensuring economic growth without unintended consequences emerged as key priorities.

Looking ahead, as I will be graduating this May, I am actively exploring opportunities in sustainability strategy and operations, climate tech, clean energy, and transition space. I aim to continue learning and meaningfully contribute to driving positive social and environmental impact.

McKinney Climate Fellowship Winner Zolboo Dashmyagmar posing with other MCF fellows, all dressed in business casual clothing, smiling at the camera.
Zolboo Dashmyagmar with other McKinney Climate Fellows and the program coordinator at the contribution recognition reception after giving her speech in Bloomington, IN.

And finally, what would you say if you could provide any advice to others who want to pursue interests similar to yours?

Giving a try is a principle I have adopted in my life, especially when it comes to exploring diverse interests to understand whether it is a right fit for me to continue. Before taking this path for my master’s degree, I seriously thought of becoming a software engineer, drawn by being in the midst of innovation, joining innovative tech firms, and earning well. Then, I started my trial process; I met professors, spoke with friends in this field, attended coding classes, and explored different schools. Through this journey, I discovered that it was not the right fit for me at that moment. I believe there is significant value in trying. Therefore, I would suggest volunteering, attending conferences, taking short courses such as LinkedIn learning or other free courses, and reading books are excellent ways to experiment with new interests.

Connecting with individuals who have pursued the program, fellowship, or job you aspire to is invaluable. Expand your network by seeking insights from those who were once in your shoes. I have encountered wonderful people on my journey who evolved from strangers to mentors and friends, and I am truly grateful for these connections and their kindness and impact. Therefore, initiating conversations by reaching out through LinkedIn, email, social media platforms, and events is a great way to start building meaningful connections and conversations.

Lastly, it is okay not to be okay. Getting rejections, uncertainties about your degree program, not passing your exam, and difficulties crafting application essays are part of the journey of growth and self-discovery. Every try you make, informational meetings, study abroad events, and taking courses for your exam are all valuable learning experiences. Believe in the process, reflect on your progress, and keep improving. You are doing a great job. I am proud of you! Best of luck!

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Zolboo Dashmyagmar head shot. She is wearing sunglasses, has black hair and is smiling at the camera. She wears a white t-shirt and a powder blue suite jacket on top.Zolboo Dashmyagmar is an aspiring sustainability professional in her second year of the Master of Public Affairs program specializing in sustainability at Indiana University as a Fulbright Scholar from Mongolia. She is creating a learning space to explore how technology and innovation help us efficiently and equitably use natural and social resources at the Sustainability & Tech Alliance at IU Center of Excellence for Women and Technology. Before her studies, Zolboo gained valuable experience working in multicultural teams across technology, international development, and hospitality sectors over seven years. Her most recent role was Partnerships Lead of Asia-Pacific for a global addressing technology, what3words. Her passion lies in sustainability, technology, and women’s empowerment.

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