One ‘incredible experience’ in India wasn’t enough for Northeastern graduate and Fulbright Scholar

headshot of Ren Birnholz
Ren Birnholz is heading off to India where they will participate in the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Teaching is the core of Ren Birnholz’s identity. Ren’s father is a rabbi and mother a teacher in the public school system in Florida

“I wanted to be an educator for as long as I can remember,” Birnholz says.

On July 9, they will leave for India where the Northeastern graduate will spend a year teaching English in underserved communities. A Fulbright Scholarship made it all possible.

Birnholz graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and theater with a minor in women’s gender and sexuality studies. After returning from India, Birnholz plans to pursue a doctoral degree in sex education, emphasizing support of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC students. 

At Northeastern, Birinholz completed two co-ops—a teacher at Runkle School in Brookline, Massachusetts, and an equity assistant for the Boston Public Schools. Birnholz also led religious school services for 20 to 60 elementary school students at Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts. 

Last summer, Birnholz had the opportunity to go to a Dialogue of Civilizations in India with professor Liza Weinstein, the director of Northeastern’s Sociology and Anthropology Department. They spent a month at Ashoka University and worked with fellow students to develop a research project on the presentation of self in public space.

“It was an incredible experience, and I think was the pinnacle of experiential learning and cultural immersion,” Birnholz says.

During the trip, Birnholz started to think of ways to teach after graduation. A professor suggested the Fulbright. 

“I started my application while I was still there,” Birnholz says. “I was super excited about it.”

However, the Fulbright process is very thorough, and it wasn’t until last week that Birnholz was accepted into the program and awarded the funding. They will be teaching at Loyola College in Chennai.

Birnholz grew up in Vero Beach, Florida. As a Jewish person in a predominantly Christian town, they developed a keen awareness of cultural differences from a young age. When Birnholz came out as transgender, it made it even more apparent.

The Fulbright will allow further exploration of India’s culture and Birnholz’s understanding of it as an outsider. When Birnholz was last in India, that experience widened.

“It was exciting to navigate it along with my classmates,” Birnholz says. 

It was no surprise to Weinstein when she found out Birnholz received the Fulbright Scholarship. 

“Ren is very special,” says Weinstein, who watched Birnholz immerse in Indian culture and learn more about oneself and develop a deep care for others. 

At Northeastern, Birnholz was president of the Sexual Health, Advocacy, Resources and Education, student program manager of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, a member of the Anthropology Student Association, a director and actor, and a resident assistant in university housing.

Birnholz put together a wellness vending machine with emergency contraceptives on Northeastern’s campus shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned. They also established the Expand STI Testing Campaign through the Planned Parenthood Generation Action network and founded and chaired Northeastern’s 2021 Wellness Week and Sexual Health Pop-Up Coalition. 

Birnholz was also instrumental in transforming Northeastern Share into an activist powerhouse and represented Northeastern at the Reproductive Rights Roundtable with Vice President Kamala Harris. 

“Ren is an authentic and confident leader who goes out of their way to find opportunities to support and contribute to their communities,” says Dani Snyder-Young, assistant professor of theater art. 

Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.