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Notre Dame ranked among top Fulbright producers

| Thursday, March 3, 2016

For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame has been on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Fulbright U.S. Student Program Top Producing List. Fourteen students have received Fulbright grants for the 2015-2016 program and have been given chances to pursue their academic passions and inquiries in countries such as Brazil, Senegal, Italy and more.

Mae Kilker, a Medieval Institute graduate student and native of South Bend, is a Fulbright recipient currently studying and conducting research in Sweden.

“My research explores how people from the Medieval Ages understood the physical environment — and not only the way that they experience that, but also how they told stories about it,” Kilker said. “The reason I’m in Sweden is my particular field is looking at Anglo-Saxon England, but the current scholarship is to understand the North Atlantic cultural sphere as a whole because England was settled by Scandinavian-Germanic tribes.”

Kilker said she has always had a passion for the Middle Ages because of its language and poetry, and it was this passion that inspired her to apply for the Fulbright program. She said she hopes that completion of the program will bring her closer to a career in academia.

“In addition to just being able to have a year in Sweden and do my research and connect with scholars in my field, it has actually brought me to other opportunities such as postdocs and publication,” Kilker said.

Mike Westrate, associate program director for the Office of Grants and Fellowships, works in the graduate school to help graduate and undergraduate students distill their research into written form in order to apply for grants and fellowships.

“I have always said that there are two sort of gateway fellowships and that you can use your application materials to apply,” he said. “The first of those is the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the second is the Fulbright Program.”

Westrate, a Fulbright recipient himself, went to Ukraine in 2010 and 2011 for the program. He was the only graduate student to go on the Fulbright that year.

“Having been a Fulbrighter myself, I can tell you that a year of research or study abroad is a life changing experience,” Westrate said. “Furthermore, doing that year abroad as a Fulbrighter is even more rewarding. You get to tap into the world’s largest international network of scholars.”

Westrate said this year Notre Dame has an award rate exactly equal to Harvard, which is the top-producing Fulbright award university in the country.

“Notre Dame students are some of the best students in the world, and when properly assisted they’re also some of the most successful students in the world,” Westrate said. “Other schools have much higher student populations and not only does it say that our students are successful, but that our students apply at a much higher rate.”

He said aside from the academic opportunities that the Fulbright program offers its scholars, the professional and scholarly alumni network is yet another benefit. Westrate said since the mid-1940s, the Fulbright program has brought between 10,000 and 12,000 students to the United States from all over the world.

The instant students decide they might want to apply for a Fulbright, they should meet with the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE), Westrate said.

Kilker said the application process was writing intensive and having ties to the community worked in the applicant’s favor.

“The more you can do ahead of time to create those relationships and create that project idea, the sooner you can hit the ground running,” Kilker said. “Getting help from other people to read your materials and give you feedback makes your applications so much better. Be prepared to write and rewrite, five, six and seven times — it will be better each time.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena