By Kate Irwin
Caleigh Ryan, Mollie Jo Blahunka, Kieran Connolly, Stella Gatzke, Ian Stout, Sophie Wright and Samantha Fitzsimmons Schoenberger (all ’17) have been awarded Fulbright Scholarships, highly prestigious awards sponsored by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. According to the Bureau’s website, the scholarship increases “mutual understanding and [supports] friendly and peaceful relations between the people of the United States and other countries.”
Fulbright Scholars go abroad for less than a year either to work as English teaching assistants in schools or to collaborate with residents of the country that they are traveling to for research. Scholarship recipients are expected to represent the United States as cultural ambassadors and represent former Senator James Fulbright.
“We’re on a mission of goodwill from the U.S. government, which is probably necessary more than ever,” Ryan said.
The Fulbright Scholars will be teaching all over the world. Blahunka will be in Argentina, Ryan and Schoenberger Fitzsimmons in Malaysia, Connolly and Gatzke in Russia, Stout in Germany and Wright in Taiwan. Each of the seven are excited to travel abroad and teach English.
The students who received the scholarship worked closely with Dr. Steven Gump, former assistant dean and director of global fellowships and awards in the CLS. Gump helped connect these students to the Fulbright Scholarship through their passions for education and experiences of being abroad.
“My education group had a meeting about different opportunities to teach after graduation and the Fulbright was one of the opportunities,” Blahunka said.
The College has done a lot to make seniors aware of the scholarship. Ryan and Connolly credit the outreach done by Gump as the reason they were aware of the program.
“I got an email from Steve Gump about [the Fulbright Scholarship]. And I was like ‘huh this seems like a cool idea and I probably won’t get it, but I’ll apply anyway’ … I want to travel, I want to go abroad … and it worked out,” Ryan said.
“[Gump] was very helpful in the whole process,” Connolly said. “He looked over our applications and suggested edits to make … It seems that at Grinnell, anyone who wants to apply [to the Fulbright can].
Applicants must submit multiple essays, including statements of the grant purpose and personal statements, letters of recommendations, including one demonstrating that they have the foreign language skills necessary, and transcripts.
“It was a lot of editing and then waiting,” Blahunka said.
The Fulbright Scholarship opens the door to a wide range of opportunities after each scholar’s time abroad. Blahunka plans to teach English as a second language after she receives her license.
“It’s a really great opportunity to work with different students and just learn about schooling, and education, and culture in Argentina. I’m looking forward to expanding my worldview, and I think that [the Fulbright Scholarship] will make me a better educator,” Blahunka said.
“I’ll probably develop a new perspective [while in Malaysia] of the world that should be useful,” Ryan said. “The Fulbright is pretty prestigious, so that should look good on my résumé. I hope I learn some new things and develop some new priorities, rethink what I want to be doing with my life and come out on the other side knowing more about the world than if I had stayed here in America,” Ryan said.
“It’s a chance to get more exposure to Russian culture and learn the language more, as well as imparting my culture to other people,” said Gatzke. Gatzke would like to have a future career involving translating in Russian.
On the other hand, Connolly is interested in the country itself.
“I would definitely be interested in working with the country of Russia for a career … I’ve considered academia and government service … but maybe something in the private sector. I’m not really sure,” he said.
Regardless of what these Fulbright Scholars choose to do with their careers, the Fulbright Scholarship creates wonderful opportunities that most students do not have access to. Doubtless, these Grinnellians will go on to do great things that reflect the tenants of the program.