In the past month, five UP students have been named recipients for the Fulbright U.S. Student program, where they will spend a year abroad working, researching and immersing themselves in new cultures. Each recipient will have a unique experience teaching English to local students, conducting research on cancer vaccines, taking classes at universities or working with local organizations to contribute to the community.
The following seniors were selected as Fulbright recipients: Lucas Cummings, Christina Francisco, Claire Kearney, Sitara Nath and Ian Saner.
The Fulbright program offers teaching and research grants to recent graduates and graduate students in over 140 countries. According to John Orr — English professor, assistant provost and director of undergraduate scholarly engagement — UP has a long history of students receiving the award, and the university has been a consistent producer of Fulbright scholars for the last 18 years.
For students considering applying for the Fulbright program, Orr said they should start preparing now and visit the office of Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement. He emphasized that the application process helps provide clarity to students considering the program and is a valuable experience in itself. He also said that students who are not fluent in another language should not feel like they are unqualified because Fulbright looks for more than just language skills in applicants.
“The people who really thrive in Fulbright are going to be the people who want to get out, meet people, learn about the culture, and immerse themselves in the culture,” Orr said.
Many of the finalists started the application process this time last year. They spent hours revising their essays and seeking support from mentors and advisers.
The Beacon sat down with each finalist to learn more about their upcoming trip and their journey to becoming Fulbright recipients.
Lucas Cummings - ‘18
Lucas Cummings is a marketing major and will be teaching English and conducting research for his Entrepreneur Scholars (e-scholars) project in Malaysia. His e-scholars project focuses on integrating educational lessons into playgrounds as an alternative method of teaching and learning.
Cummings said that his e-scholars project has allowed him to travel to Europe and across the United States to meet with professionals who study alternative learning methods. Through this, he has gained a better understanding of different types of learning which he hopes will help him in Malaysia.
“My big college project through e-scholars has been focusing on alternative education by building playgrounds essentially that incorporate educational lessons,” he said. “It’s hands-on learning. It’s kind of like a universal language.”
Cummings believes that learning through experiences is something that he can share with his students even though they do not speak the same language. He hopes to build a playground in Malaysia to conduct research and expand his business venture.
Although he never thought of himself as a Fulbright candidate, Cummings said that the application experience has taught him to try new things and not set limits on what he can or cannot do.
“I think just going out on a limb and taking a chance and not really having huge expectations has shown a lot of fruit for me,” he said. “I think your experiences can say a lot about who you are, not necessarily your GPA.”
Christina Francisco - ‘18
Christina Francisco, a German major, will travel to Germany to teach English. She received a diversity placement, meaning most of her students will be immigrants and refugees.
Francisco has wanted to apply for Fulbright since her freshman year. Studying abroad in Salzburg and interning at a nonprofit in Germany reinforced her desire to apply for the program as it showed her the importance and power of language.
At her internship last summer, Francisco worked with immigrant and refugees in the counseling center, helping them translate, understand and fill out forms, and deal with payments.
“I want to help in that process for students to be prepared for this multilingual society,” Francisco said.
She felt like she was behind the other interns because they all knew two or three languages. As a result, her internship was an impactful experience that taught her a lot about other cultures and helped her grow and prepare for the Fulbright program.
“How I’ve matured over the last four years is deeply rooted in all my international experiences,” Francisco said.
The Fulbright scholar hopes to use her time abroad to find what she is passionate about. She said being chosen for the Fulbright program has been an overwhelming but positive experience. She is especially grateful for the advisers and mentors that have helped her the last four years and gotten her to this place in her life.
Claire Kearney - ‘18
Claire Kearney is a biochemistry major and will be conducting research in Germany with the Technical University of Munich. She will be working in a lab researching cancer vaccines.
Kearney has conducted research with professors on campus throughout her four years at UP, and she spent the summer after her sophomore year researching at OHSU. Although she knows very little German, she believes that her research experiences have prepared her for the Fulbright program.
“I definitely want to get the experience of being out of the country because I’ve never actually been outside of the U.S. before,” Kearney said. “Something interesting about the Fulbright grant is they don’t just want people that will be good researchers, they want cultural ambassadors so people that will represent their country and their country’s values and personality.”
Kearney hopes to use her time abroad to reaffirm that this area of research is what she wants to do with her future. She plans on pursuing a doctorate program studying chemoimmunotherapy which she said is finding ways to use the immune system to fight cancer.
“It’s a really valuable research experience,” Kearney said. “This is a field that I’m hoping to go into. The kind of very niche field of biochemistry mixed with immunology mixed with cancer biology.”
Sitara Nath - ‘18
Sitara Nath, ASUP president and a philosophy and political science double major, will spend the year teaching English in Malaysia.
“I was hoping to do a program that wasn’t just me being in a different country but involved some kind of aspect of learning on my part,” Nath said. “I thought Fulbright would be a great opportunity just because cross-cultural work is something I’m so passionate about. It’s something that I’ve really grown up loving and embracing so I thought it would be a good way to channel all the different aspects of my identity and what I love.”
For Nath, this experience will be especially impactful because she has gone to Malaysia many times and has family that lives there. Growing up, she learned the value of being immersed in different cultures.
Malaysia is a country with a strong Muslim influence. Nath went to mosques growing up and her family was involved with the Muslim community which helped her understand different religious and cultural backgrounds.
International migration is also very important to Nath and her family because her parents were East African citizens, migrated to India and then to the United States. Now, Nath said that she has family all across the globe and this has made her want to get out of the country and learn about new cultures.
During her time at UP, Nath has constantly strived to contribute to the community. She said that she sometimes worries she is not doing enough, but being awarded the Fulbright grant has helped her overcome that.
“For me, it means that there are people beyond UP who think I have potential to do something good in the world and that’s a really affirming thing to know as someone who is graduating,” Nath said.
Ian Saner - ‘18
Ian Saner, a pre-med biology and German double major, received a community based combined grant. He will begin working in Austria where he will teach English, take classes at the University of Vienna and volunteer with a medical clinic.
Saner applied for the Fulbright program as a way to gain valuable experience that he could use on applications for medical school. He wants to be a surgeon and he knew that he needed to have a strong resume to be considered a worthy candidate.
“I thought this graduate program where I’m immersed in another culture helping underserved communities would make for good essays, good life experiences and make me seem like a more competitive applicant to medical schools,” Samer said. “I just love languages and cultures...I’ve been studying this language for the past four years, fell in love with it and I just want to be able to use it in a way that’s applicable and real life.”
Saner is excited to learn more about himself through the experience and explore different paths. He hopes to immerse himself in the Austrian culture and practice his German. He has wanted to travel and study abroad for a long time but hasn’t had the opportunity until now.
“It was completely surreal because I applied for two other study abroad programs in the past four years that I’ve been here,” Saner said. “I got declined by both of them so my chances of going to Europe on some kind of scholarship or being able to do something meaningful were kind of getting slim and this was my last chance. It was awesome to see it all come together.”
Madison Pfeifer is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.