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Seniors receive Fulbright fellowships, grants with help of CUSE

| Friday, May 18, 2018

Fourteen members of the class of 2018 will be heading off this fall to conduct research, attend graduate school or teach English with the aid of national and international fellowships and grants. The majority of those students are Fulbright grant recipients.

Jeffrey Thibert, director of the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE), said Fulbright grants have become increasingly popular over the past few years, with each year’s finalists fueling more applications.

Dominique DeMoe | The Observer

“I think what’s happening is that, as students receive some of these, they then get publicized more and more which then leads more students to hear about them and apply for them, which then leads to more success, which then leads to more publicity,” Thibert said. “We had a couple really good years with Fulbright and now we’ve seen that become a pretty consistent thing because people are hearing about them.”

Fulbright awards take two forms: the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) and the Study/Research Grant, the Fulbright website said. Fulbright ETA finalists live in the country of their choice for one year and teach English at the elementary, high school or university level, while Study/Research Grant finalists conduct research, receive a master’s degree or a combination of the two. Thibert said Notre Dame’s class of 2018 has 11 students who have accepted Fulbright grants.

“Everybody has a plan B set up and what typically happens is people will, if they find out they receive the Fulbright, they will then go back to whatever the plan B was and see if they can defer, so people can defer graduate school admissions, medical school admissions — often employers are willing to defer job starts for a year to do something like the Fulbright,” Thibert said.

Thibert said ETA applicants typically have some experience teaching English, whether in the community or abroad, and study/research applicants have usually conducted research abroad or at Notre Dame. The third category of applicants fall somewhere in the middle.

“Maybe they were abroad for a semester, maybe they just went abroad for a limited amount of time, but they like the idea of having an immersive cultural experience for a year while teaching English or conducting some kind of project,” Thibert said. “In some countries, the English Teaching Assistantship doesn’t require previous English teaching experience … but they do need you to be open to this immersive year abroad.”

Senior Nadia Braun said she knew she was going to apply for the ETA grant by the time she reached her sophomore year. Braun, whose mother taught Russian before she was born, had been considering a Fulbright grant in Russia for years.

“I talked to CUSE and asked what the process was like, and then it sort of is the perfect marriage of my Russian major and education, schooling and society minor,” Braun said. “So I was like, ‘This is really what I want to do.’ CUSE was great, they helped me with the entire application process and really directed me so it worked out.”

Braun’s back-up plan was participating in ’Teach for America,’ a non-profit organization that provides the opportunity to teach in low-income schools, which she deferred for a year. Braun’s interest in higher education and her previous experiences in Russia and English tutoring greatly strengthened her application, Braun and Thibert said. She said she is excited to return to Russia, where she studied abroad and also visited in high school.

“Russia’s been a really big part of my life since I was small, so I’m really excited to go back and have the opportunity to travel more,” Braun said. “I’m excited to meet new people because you’re so invested in the community you’re going to be living in — you’re working at a university, you’re not only teaching, but a lot of the Fulbrighters end up teaching other English classes or running an English Club or volunteering and teaching elementary students, so you really get to be a part of that world and I’m really excited to do that.”

Though she doesn’t know what city she’ll be placed in, Braun said she predicts it will be an area lacking a large amount of English speakers. While other Russian-speaking countries had plenty of opportunities for teaching English at the elementary and high school level, Braun chose Russia because she is guaranteed to be teaching at a university, reflecting her long-term goal to work in higher education.

“Even in high school, looking at different colleges and doing the whole college search thing was really fascinating to me,” Braun said. “Then once I got to college, I realized that a thing I could actually pursue as a career was being involved in that structure. When I started the education, schooling and society minor, I realized how much inequity there is in higher ed and so I really wanted to work to help people who don’t necessarily have the same opportunities that I’ve had to be able to succeed in the higher education system.”

Senior Jeremy Cappello-Lee will be heading to South Korea to begin his two year master’s degree program at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, South Korea through the Fulbright Study/Research grant. His program focuses on global affairs with an emphasis on Korean studies, Cappello-Lee said.

This particular program, since it’s a graduate program, offered a way to transition from my major being philosophy here to a more business-focused and applied course of study,” he said. “I’ll be taking courses in economics, management, politics, so it’s a way of transitioning into diplomacy, international trade — those types of sectors afterwards.”

Cappello-Lee, who is half Korean, coupled his major in philosophy with Asian studies and said he believes the Asia region, which is already receiving a lot of attention, will only continue to grow more influential on the world stage.

“My interest stemmed after high school, when I took a sort of gap year in South Korea and I studied the language there and traveled and volunteered and stuff,” Cappello-Lee said. “That kind of sparked my interest in the region and then I continued that thread at Notre Dame and combined it with a focus in China — so China, Korea, U.S. relations.“

CUSE was extremely helpful, he said, in creating a grant proposal that was relevant, personal and convincing within two pages, integrating both his past experiences and future goals.

“CUSE is a great asset and I can’t stress enough how helpful they have been in my application process. They really make a seemingly daunting process much more manageable,” Cappello-Lee said.

Like Braun, Cappello-Lee said he was excited about returning to the cities he visited in the year before college.

“Having had these four years of university, I think I’ve grown as a person and I’m really excited to see how that’s changed my perspective on Seoul,” Cappello-Lee said.

While many grants take students abroad for their studies, a number of them also focus on continuing education in the United States. Senior Michael Foley was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics, but ultimately declined the grant in favor of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSFGRF), which funds students for three years of research in a STEM field.

“The idea is just that you can ignore any other financial strains you may have and just be purely funded and not have to answer to a single advisor either,” Foley said. “You have the freedom to kind of work with whoever you want and not be financially tied to a single person.”

Foley said since the money comes from the government and does not have specific requirements, he will have the freedom to study whatever he is most interested in without the pressure of an outside source of funding that expects a certain result.

“It’s a little hard to develop your scientific abilities if you’re only doing what someone else is telling you to do,” Foley said. “If you don’t have the freedom to explore your own ideas it’s a little bit more restrictive. A lot of times mentors are really good about that, but sometimes you may get a mentor that isn’t so great so if you can say, ‘I have my own funding,’ that’s a really big thing and CUSE seems to really understand that.”

Foley hopes to eventually become a professor and continue to conduct research after receiving his doctorate from Harvard, but he said he could also transition his skills into a career in the technology sector. His experiences doing undergraduate research and his previous work with CUSE have opened him up to the possibilities in academia, he said.

“I’ve always loved space, and I didn’t realize I could research it as a career until I got here,” Foley said. “I came in expecting to study physics and computer science and just be interested in space but go and work at a tech company or something, but I jumped into research my freshman year and I absolutely loved it — it showed me that there were actually opportunities to study something I love.” 

Foley also received the Goldwater Scholarship during his junior year and the application process and the award itself served as a step toward subsequent awards, Thibert said.

“It’s sort of meant to recognize outstanding student researchers who are on track to becoming outstanding faculty researchers typically, so I think that was a pretty big stepping stone for him to some of these other fellowships,” Thibert said.

The application to both the Gates Scholarship and NSFGRF were time consuming, Foley said, but necessary to his future success.

“I think it ultimately made me a lot more clear in the things I’d like to pursue in grad school, not so much academically but how I’d like to use the knowledge and the skills I’m gaining to teach others, to help other people figure out what they want to do,” Foley said. “It was a very informative process.”

This learning, Thibert said, is one of the main focuses of CUSE. With hundreds of Notre Dame students and alumni applying for grants every year, CUSE has to be prepared for the majority to be rejected.

“I don’t know if I would say it’s the biggest challenge, but it’s the thing that I see as our number one task, which is to ensure that whether or not a student receives a fellowship they’re applying for, they get value from the application process,” Thibert said. “It’s of course worth trying to apply to the great opportunities, but I think it’s really important that as advisors, we make sure that they are really getting something of value from the process.”

While getting the word out about grants and fellowships continues to be CUSE’s greatest challenge, Thibert said, he has seen the number of applicants and recipients grow year after year. He said an emerging global perspective was one of the greatest factors in this increase.

“Every year, I think I see students becoming more and more internationally engaged and I think the University has put a real priority on internationalization and I think that I really see that impact,” Thibert said. “The students are more in-tune with what is going on around the world, more and more students seem to be studying abroad and more and more students are interested in having these experiences that allow them to engage globally.”

Thibert said he hopes to see even more students apply and dreads that students might regret missing an opportunity. Success builds on success, he said, which is evident in the ever-increasing number of Fulbright applicants.

“I hope students would see what some of these graduating seniors have been able to achieve during their time here and recognize that they too might be able to achieve some of these same things,” Thibert said. “There is this sort of culture of fellowships developing here where I think people are talking about these things, people do know about them. I would like to see that culture expand a little.”

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