Since 2001, 52 Baylor students have been singled out for honors by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries.
The five most recent Baylor undergraduate students to be selected by the prestigious Fulbright Program learned the good news toward the end of the spring 2017 semester. Their interests and achievements powerfully reflect the transformational education they received at Baylor.
A senior biology major from Lewisville, Texas, Jade Connor learned in March that she had been selected to receive a Fulbright study grant, which will enable her to pursue a master’s degree in governance and leadership in European public health at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
“I am extremely honored and excited to be named a Fulbright Scholar,” Connor said. “This program does not simply teach students about public health but gives them the tools to make decisions about a variety of public health disciplines and implement programs that can transcend geographic borders and demographic differences.”
After earning her master’s degree, Connor will return to the United States and attend Harvard Medical School with an ultimate goal of improving the lives of dementia patients, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease.
“The Netherlands has many innovative national programs for citizens with dementia, and I believe that I can learn a great deal from the Dutch approach to care for patients with dementia through public health measures,” Connor said. “In my career, I hope to effect change outside of my own practice by creating public health programs for these patients that can be implemented among the multitude of ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses and cultures in the United States.”
Connor is a William Hillis Scholar in Biomedical Sciences and a Carr P. Collins Scholar at Baylor. The Hillis Scholars program provides research experiences and enhanced mentoring and learning opportunities for high-achieving undergraduate prehealth students that prepares them for top graduate programs and medical schools. The Collins Scholars program recognizes and rewards students who demonstrate leadership through service.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to spend a year not only diving deep into the subjects of public health and health policy, but also learning from the Dutch people and culture,” Connor said.
Emily Martin saw the door to her future opening up as she read a very special email in mid-April.
“I found out I was selected for the Fulbright on the front porch of Memorial, the dorm in which I have lived since freshman year,” Martin said. “I was about to go to the library to work on my thesis, and I saw I had three new emails. Right there, two emails down, was an email from the Fulbright. ‘I am delighted to inform you...’ I called my mom right away. I don’t think I’ve smiled so wide in my entire life.”
A senior University Scholar from Frisco, Texas, Martin was selected to receive a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, which will allow her to spend the 2017-2018 academic year teaching English in Germany.
The Fulbright had been on Martin’s mind since her freshman year, with possible career plans as a diplomat with a focus on Russian. However, during her sophomore year, she started learning German and went on a semester exchange to the University of Freiburg in southwest Germany.
“Living in Germany for five months, I fell in love with the people and the way of life. I volunteered at a local high school teaching English, and I’m excited to do it again—and to ‘fling my Green and Gold afar,’” she said.
Martin will serve as part of the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program, which places Fulbright Scholars in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to the local English teachers. ETAs help teach English language while serving as cultural ambassadors for the United States. She hasn’t learned to which city she will be assigned, but she has asked for a city in northeast Germany.
“I sure loved the sunny foothills of the Black Forest, but I’m hoping to broaden my experience through living in the more reserved former Eastern Bloc,” she said. After the Fulbright, Martin is considering a high school teacher certification but eventually would like to pursue her PhD to teach German and Russian at the university level.
Recent Baylor graduate Taylor Demons, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in international studies magna cum laude in December 2016, learned in late April that she had been selected to receive a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Taiwan. Demons aspires to a career as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State and serve her Fulbright year in Yilan, Taiwan’s northeastern-most county.
She was first interested in applying for a Fulbright after studying abroad in China and then spending a summer interning for the State Department in the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs. The Office of Taiwanese Affairs is located in the same office area, and she befriended the Taiwanese intern, who had just returned from her Fulbright in Taiwan.
“One of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese history has been the split between the Chinese government and Taiwan,” Demons said. “I’ve always studied everything from a Chinese perspective, and I haven’t really addressed it from a Taiwanese perspective. I think an ETA in Taiwan would be an excellent complement to what I’ve learned thus far. Reading a textbook and getting it straight from the mouth of someone who lives there are different.”
Since graduating a semester early, Demons knew she wanted to maximize her time between undergraduate and graduate school, including an opportunity to go abroad, explore and use her language skills in Mandarin, which is spoken in Taiwan. The Fulbright seemed the logical avenue as she prepares for a Foreign Service career.
Following the Fulbright, Demons plans to attend graduate school with the possible help of a Pickering or Rangel fellowship, both of which require fellows who complete the program to enter the Foreign Service for a minimum of five years.
“Once you finish graduate school and you pass the Foreign Service exam, you’re obligated to five or more years in the State Department, which is my dream career. I hope to stay there forever,” Demons said.
Recent Baylor magna cum laude graduate Katerina Levinson, an Austin native, learned of her Fulbright selection in early May. She will spend the 2017-2018 academic year in Asturias, a northern region of Spain along the Bay of Biscay.
Levinson, who was a University Scholar in Baylor’s Honors College, was first interested in applying for a Fulbright after studying abroad in Madrid in 2015.
“I fell in love with Spanish art, literature and history while I was there and even decided to write my thesis on the Spanish novel on Don Quixote after studying it in a class there,” Levinson said. “I always had the feeling in the back of my mind that I would be back one day.”
Levinson’s future plans include gaining experience teaching at a classical school and later earning a PhD in classical education before ultimately starting a classical school for underprivileged children, possibly in Latin America.
“When I heard from several friends by word-of-mouth about the Fulbright ETA, I thought it would be the perfect fit to return to Spain. I decided to apply so that I could continue to be immersed in and learn more about Spanish culture and perfect my Spanish.”
Levinson praised several Baylor faculty members for their encouragement, spiritual counsel, wisdom and direction for the future.
“Dr. Eric Holleyman, one of my most impactful mentors, helped give me an overall vision for my life,” Levinson said. “Dr. Ralph Wood and Dr. Barry Harvey taught me to pursue truth through literature. Dr. Mike Thomas helped me to become passionate about Don Quixote and served as my honors thesis director. Dr. Paul Larson and Dr. Alex McNair encouraged me in my study of Spanish literature and the Spanish language. Dr. Wesley Null showed me that teaching is one of the greatest vocations.”
Luke Pederson, a rising junior University Scholar in the Honors College, was awarded a spot with a Fulbright Summer Institute.
“I checked my email one morning while I was in my room, saw the email from Fulbright,” Pederson said. “I told my brother, who is my roommate, ‘Hey, Gabe, I got the Fulbright.”
Originally from Orlando, Florida, Pederson will study at the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham University in England. The Fulbright Summer Institute is one of the most prestigious and selective summer programs operating worldwide.
Pederson learned of the Fulbright Summer Institute from Tim Campbell, who participated in the Fulbright-Scotland Institute in the summer of 2015 and shared his experiences with the Ampersand Society, a small group of high-achieving Baylor students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I looked on the Fulbright website and found one that involved archaeology and medieval history, and I decided to apply.”
Highlights of the institute will include conducting archaeological laboratory work, attending classes at Durham University and excavating the Roman fort and town at Binchester. Since 2009, an international team has been excavating this archaeological site, which includes the best-preserved Roman bathhouse in the United Kingdom.
“The program focuses on studying the late Roman Empire through the Middle Ages,” Pederson said. “For the first two weeks, we will be participating in archaeological excavations and making visits to sites around Durham, including Hadrian’s Wall. For the last two weeks, we will focus on medieval history and visit sites around the United Kingdom.”
At Baylor, Pederson is studying classics, Great Texts and history with a focus on the medieval world. He is an active member of Baylor’s chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, a classics honor society, and has been very involved in the Honors Residential College, where he has coordinated intramurals and helped plan social events. This fall, he will serve as a community leader in the Outdoor Adventure Living-Learning Community.
Outstanding students like Connor, Martin, Demons, Levinson and Pederson receive indispensable guidance and support in achieving their dreams of obtaining such honors as Fulbright awards from a small but important program housed within the Office of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Known as SPARK—Scholarship Programs, Awards, Research, Knowledge—the program supports Baylor students who seek an enriched undergraduate education.
“SPARK brings faculty together to work closely with students who seek an extraordinary undergraduate education and who possess high aspirations for their next steps after Baylor,” Elizabeth Vardaman, associate dean for engaged learning in the College of Arts and Sciences, said.
Vardaman said the students mentored by SPARK professors and other faculty members often decide to apply for a competitive award—
a scholarship, fellowship, internship, research experience—at the national or international level, awards such as the Fulbright, Truman, Gates Cambridge, Boren, and Rhodes. While many of these awards support study and research at the graduate level, other notable awards fund student research and study at the undergraduate level.
When students decide to compete for such honors, SPARK professors provide a wide range of guidance. Having first introduced students to an array of resources on the SPARK website (baylor.edu/scholarships), the professors in the Engaged Learning Office then explain the importance of selecting courses that buttress the students’ aspirations. They also point out eligibility requirements and selection criteria, encouraging students to work with experts in their majors and in the Jones Library to maximize their understanding of various countries and opportunities. SPARK experts also counsel students as they polish their application documents and decide who to ask to write their letters of recommendation.
“As faculty members, we are honored to serve students on the journey toward presenting themselves competitively for these wonderful awards,” Vardaman said. “In the process, we see amazing aspects of Baylor at its finest because the students are inspired to pursue excellence in our classrooms, they grow and mature in their goals to serve the world, then they submit persuasive documents to these competitions, and the faculty write detailed and convincing letters of support. Any or all of the nationally competitive scholarship schemes, in my view, would be wise to choose these fine Baylor nominees.”