Four Drake University students were among the thousand selected as Fulbright Scholars to represent the United States in 150 countries worldwide.
Eleanor Zeff, the Fulbright Program adviser at Drake, said 11 students applied to the program this year. Eight of those students were recommended to the second stage and four were selected with a fifth still waiting to find out.
“Four of the eight were selected, so that is what is unique, the number,” Zeff said. “We had eight recommended, that is the first time we ever had that many recommended.”
The scholars will live abroad for one year in order to promote “understanding” between the United States and other countries according to the Fulbright Scholar website. The program, sponsored by the U.S. government, selects scholars based on “academic merit and leadership potential.”
The application opens on May 1, of every year and closes at a varying date in mid-October. Once submitted the application goes through two stages of judging. First, it must be approved by Fulbright and then by the individual country. The country then decides where the student will be allowed to stay and how much money the students will receive to live off of.
The role of the students abroad is one reason that process is so strenuous Zeff said.
“These are ambassadors and that is one reason they get so much scrutiny,” Zeff said
There are two types of Fulbright Scholarships Zeff said. Students can either apply to teach English or complete a project while abroad.
Senior Amanda Laurent will follow in the footsteps of five other Drake students when she travels to South Korea to teach English.
International relations and law, politics and society double major Steven Schaaf will be going to Jordan to research if the appointment of female judges helps women use the law.
“It is like saying if we have in the South an all-white jury for a black defendant,” Schaaf said.
Besides a love of court systems, Schaaf said he picked Jordan because he has experience there and speaks the local dialect of Arabic.
“I really like living in Jordan. I think the culture is great,” Schaaf said. “I am really excited to conduct this research.”
Schaaf’s research will consist mostly of looking through court cases and conducting interviews. Having a good data sample is one he said he is nervous about.
“Access, part of it is organization of the material. I do not know if they will have all the material in one place or if I will have to go to a variety of places,” Schaaf said. “That will really affect my data sample.”
Schaaf’s initial reaction to being chosen was to call his mom. Katie Bell, who graduated in December with a degree in law, politics and society, said her reaction was simply joyous.
“I was definitely really excited about it. I was not expecting that news so early,” Bell said. “I was really happy.”
Bell begins orientation on July 21, in Colombia where she will be “facilitating” an English speaking extracurricular activity at a university. She will also work at a non-profit for the internally displaced population in Colombia.
“I am really interested in working in refugee settlement eventually. Colombia is going through a lot of interesting issues right now,” Bell said. “They have internal refuges that they do not know what to do with. It will be helpful in my future career.”
Bell chose to apply to the program and to go to Colombia after studying abroad in Ecuador during her sophomore year.
“What I am really excited about is the opportunity to become completely immersed in a Spanish speaking environment,” Bell said. “This time I feel like I will have a much greater chance to get settled into the community and became of a part of the community.”
Senior international relations and environmental policy double major Amelia Piecuch also discovered her Fulbright country while studying abroad.
“I studied abroad in Chile and I was looking for a reason and a way to go back,” Piecuch said. “I knew they had really interesting environmental needs and issues.”
After she arrives in Chile in January, Piecuch will study the effects of a new fishing law on small scale farmers by conducting interviews and doing environmental research. She said this is a big project.
“I am nervous about making sure I do everything that I said I was going to do,” Piecuch said.
Despite these nerves Piecuch was overjoyed when she found that her project had been selected.
“I screamed and I cried a little bit. I was actually on the plane coming back from spring break with all my sorority sisters,” Piecuch said. “I could not read the entire email. I had to give it to my roommate.”
Piecuch said she hopes doing work in Chile for a year will help her get into graduate school.
“I hope that it will show the grad school that I have marketable skills that both the U.S. and Chilean government were interested in,” Piecuch said.
Being selected this year was also special, Piecuch said, because of the number of Fulbright scholars coming from Drake.
“(I am) really excited that Drake has had four candidates. This is a record breaking year,” Piecuch said. “It was a lot of hard work but it is worth it when you are passionate about something.”
Zeff said Drake has had success in the Fulbright program because of the caliber of its students, but not because of the university itself.
“My belief is that there are a lot of really good students who should be apply but maybe they have not heard about it,” Zeff said. “It is my goal to get more Drake students to apply and hopefully more students will get the opportunity.”