Fifteen Smith Students Awarded Fullbright Fellowship

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Michelle S. Lee '16 Associate Editor | Managing Editor 

Fifteen students at Smith College received Fulbright Fellowships for the school year, four students were selected as alternates and two pending results. At the time of writing, Fulbright winners included Noreen Ahsan ’14, Laura Gomez ’14, Caitleen Desetti ’14, Zoe Gioja ’13, Kiara Gomez ’14, Noa Gutterman ’14, Genesis Luviano ’14, Nora Nadire ’14, Pepper Neff ’14, Deborah Ok ’14, Leonora Pepper ’09, Maya Potter ’14, Lisa Saladin ’13, Margot Veranes ’03, and alternates Meg Richardson ’14, Sacha Russell-Oliver ’14, and Jennifer Yoo ’14.

U.S. Senator William J. Fulbright founded the Fulbright Fellowship Program in 1946, a program that aimed toward providing scholarly individuals with opportunities for international study, work and research. A highly acclaimed program overseen by the Department of State, the Fulbright Program accepts roughly 1,900 students annually to spend a year in one of the program’s 140 partnered host countries.

Smith boasts the highest Fulbright acceptance rate in the country, outranking those of other top-tier and Ivy League universities. Whereas the national average sits at a 17% admittance rate, Smith has continually admitted roughly half of its applicants, standing at 55% as of last year.

Donald Andrew, fellowship advisor at Smith, attributed the high success rate to the “seriousness, sincerity and understanding [a Smith student has] that a Fulbright will put them in good stead for the rest of their lives and help them in their careers,” He said, “A Smith woman understands the importance of global engagement and how important the Fulbright is in helping to improve the world.”

Projects varied from English teaching assistantships, available in 70 countries, to independent research project proposals. Fellows were generally granted roughly $25,000, varying on the host country’s cost of living, to cover living expenses as they undertake their project proposals.

For students such as Kiara Gomez ’14, this grant will cover her intended research studying the diversity of marine life in the meadows of Posidonia Oceanica, key ecosystems that prevent coastal erosion.  “[When she accepted] I couldn’t believe it. I was in awe because I was officially the first person in my family who has even applied for a Fulbright. It was a moment of joy that I will never forget,” Gomez reflected.

For others such as Noa Gutterman  ’14, Fulbright sponsors her proposal in Ethiopia to research methods of increasing participation in local ensete production amongst Sidama women.

Students are encouraged to contact advisors long before the application process, some as early as their first year at Smith. U.S. citizens with a 3.4 GPA or higher interested in applying submit a registration form around spring break of their junior year, from which the application process truly begins. Students are assigned a compatible mentoring faculty member with whom they work closely with, drafting and reviewing proposal content over the summer.

“It starts off with a process of self-examination and then you start analyzing what it is you’re really interested in. You get clarity about yourself and your goals,” said Andrew.

By the end of September, applicants finalize their application and submit it to the Fulbright Commission. Interviews take place in early October, and the Commission releases its list of Finalists in early January, and sends out its full offer around late April or early May.

Students noted challenges they faced during the application process.  Gomez said, “In all honesty, it was intensive and frustrating to get back the first couple of drafts from faculty advisers because sometimes it was completely filled with comments about how to improve my project proposal. However, writing a good proposal needs that.”

Though the application itself is an exhaustive year-long process for many rising seniors, those at Smith express their support for the close mentorship between advisors and applicants.

There is no way to apply for a Fulbright on your own, and the Smith faculty and fellowship advisors go above and beyond their responsibilities and work as hard as possible to ensure the success of each project,” said Gutterman. “It was an incredibly intensive process, but I am confident that my Fulbright proposal would not have been accepted, had it not been for all this work.”

Many Fulbright Fellows hope to apply their research in their respective career field. For Gutterman, that career path is in examining the relationship between female empowerment and food security in non-profit human rights work. For Gomez, research surrounding marine sciences and geosciences was a logical stepping stone toward her ambitions to become an oceanographer.

Both Gutterman and Gomez recommended students to apply to the program, regardless of experience. “You learn how to write a proposal and how to be concise, skills that are very valuable in everyday life. You learn what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you learn how to appreciate them,” Gomez commented. “If you get it, great. If you don’t, you have learned what you have done wrong for the next round.”