A record 30 Georgetown University students, including 19 graduating seniors, are set to receive Fulbright scholarships to pursue individual research and English language teaching fellowships around the world this year.
The total number of grant recipients this year tops last year’s 27 and is set to place Georgetown in the top five U.S. institutions to produce Fulbright scholars this year. Fulbright scholars receive federal funding in the form of grants to study abroad after graduation, conduct individual research, pursue master’s degrees or teach English in foreign countries.
Every year, around 100 Georgetown students participate in the yearlong application process. Competition varies on the country selected for foreign study, and the fellowship is not limited to students with certain GPAs, according to Lauren Tuckley, senior associate director of the Office of Fellowships, Awards and Resources.
Created in 1946 by President Harry Truman and Senator J. William Fulbright after World War II, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international education exchange program, according to the Fulbright website.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which oversees exchange programs for students and young professionals, currently awards 1,900 grants in all areas of study and operates programs in more than 140 countries. Fulbright scholars can either conduct research, pursue a master’s degree or teach abroad.
The Georgetown Office of Fellowships, Awards, and Resources oversees Georgetown’s Fulbright application process, connecting second-semester juniors and seniors to faculty volunteers and advisers throughout the yearlong process.
Tuckley said Georgetown consistently performs well in securing Fulbright fellowships.
“The Fulbright is our signature program here in the Office of Fellowships because there is an enormous interest and it’s a really good fit for the typical Georgetown student,” Tuckley said in an interview with The Hoya. “We estimate we will be in the top five [of Fulbright-producing institutions], but we will be in the next few years, number one. That is the goal.”
Tuckley said the Fulbright program’s lack of a minimum GPA requirement is meant to encourage well-rounded applicants with genuine passion for research or teaching in the countries they choose.
“This is not something that’s just looking to find your 4.0s; this is looking for someone with a genuine cultural interest to identify an academic goal either through teaching or through research or through study and to say, ‘This would be a meaningful experience to me and I want to go abroad and make the most of it,’” Tuckley said. “That is the winning formula. Anybody that has an interest in going abroad — bring me anybody; I can find them Fulbright.”
Tuckley and Laura Perille, GOFAR’s associate director, provide students information, advising and connections to faculty advisers beginning in January. They continue to provide interest sessions, study breaks and newsletter updates throughout the spring and summer until the Sept. 1 Georgetown deadline for students to submit their application materials, including personal statements and grant requests.
“One of the substantive things that the office can do for students on an individual advising basis is to help them to identify the goal of what they want to do with their Fulbright year and then help them understand the very nature of the competition so that they can have their academic goals and their cultural exchange goals met, and at the same time identify the most likely competition for that individual to compete in,” Tuckley said.
Haley Florsheim (SFS ’18) won a Fulbright teaching fellowship to teach English in Brazil after completing a Latin American studies certificate and international politics major, for which Florsheim researched and wrote a thesis on legislative progress on preventing violence against women and securing reproductive rights in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
“You know, speaking of academic experiences here at Georgetown — that was by far the most rewarding academic experience that I have had, and it was just absolutely fantastic,” Florsheim said in an interview with The Hoya. “I was lucky enough to work with some really great professors, which made a huge difference, and I think that I owe a lot of that experience to their support and guidance and just their enthusiasm for the program and my personal project.”
Florsheim said her personal background motivated her to attain proficiency in Spanish and Portuguese, leading her to choose Brazil as her focus country.
“As a 6-year-old I had Spanish in my public school, which doesn’t exist anymore due to budget cuts, unfortunately. But that literally shaped my interests in the way that I saw myself in the world just because from an early age, you know, growing up in Wisconsin, you feel sort of far from other countries,” Florsheim said. “When I got to Georgetown, those sort of experiences I guess collectively culminated in my decision to attend Georgetown and to study international politics.”
Sarah Mack (SFS ’18), who won a fellowship to conduct research in Yanji, China, on how Koreans in China express their identity through language, said her personal background played a role in her Fulbright application process as well.
“Before I came to Georgetown I was a high school exchange student in South Korea, and while I was there I became really interested in North Korea,” Mack said in an interview with The Hoya. “I came across professor Victor Cha’s book ‘The Impossible State.’ He became my hero and I was obsessed with and I had to take his class.”
But Mack noted the stronger role her extracurricular involvement played in cementing her academic interests.
“Surprisingly, the big thing that had the biggest impact on my career was actually not that class or that professor or any professor really, but a small group that we have at Georgetown called Georgetown THiNK, or Truth and Human Rights in North Korea,” Mack said. “I’ve been the president of that club for two years, and, like, most of the connections that I have, I met through a club with, like, a really small budget.”
Tuckley said this intersection of personal and academic interests makes the best Fulbright scholars.
“The mission is so important to the scholarship and the award in that it was designed in 1946 after the Second World War with the idea that we would be a better nation if we had individuals with a greater degree of interaction with otherness, with people from other cultures, so that in some ways we become more informed and tolerant individuals,” Tuckley said. “To bring that sensibility back to the United States is what this program is about.”
Mack said she hopes current students are encouraged to apply, regardless of how their Georgetown experiences have gone.
“If at first you don’t succeed, apply, apply again. Just keep applying until you get something. I had a really hard time at Georgetown, especially my first year; I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be here, I felt like kind of stuck and like I was a loser, but I also found my place. I know a lot of freshmen might be in that place right now,” Mack said. “It’s about believing yourself.”