Bears Earn Fulbright Awards and Other Prestigious Honors

Bears Earn Fulbright Awards and Other Prestigious Honors

It has become a regular occurrence for multiple Baylor students to earn Fulbright honors in a single academic year, which might cause readers to think such honors are commonplace. However, the Fulbright Award is one of the most competitive and prestigious honors in higher education. More than 55 Bears have earned such recognition since 2001 and that underscores the value of a Baylor education. This year, five Bears—Sofia Sonner, John Ryan Isaacson, Amanda Ward Braswell, Alexa Larsen, and Rebecca Voth—received awards from the Fulbright Program by early June. In addition, other significant honors were attained by Christina Gaw, Goldwater Scholarship; Carter Anne Jones, Boren Scholarship; and Hannah Byrd, MENAR Fellowship. 



Amanda Ward Braswell, BSN ’17, of Carrollton, Texas, received a Fulbright grant to India. Braswell, who works in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at Medical City Hospital, Dallas—will live in Bengaluru, India on the Bangalore Baptist Hospital campus. “The No. 1 cause of death in India is non-communicable disease, such as cardiovascular disease, and this is something that can be prevented if people have the knowledge about modifying certain aspects of their diet, for example,” Braswell said. “My project will study the perception of food, dietary habits and the accessibility of food and find the link to cardiovascular disease with the goal of bridging the knowledge gap.”


John Ryan Isaacson, BA ’18, from Muleshoe, Texas, received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Germany. Fulbright ETAs are placed in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to local English teachers while also serving as cultural ambassadors. Isaacson, who majored in international studies and was an Honors Scholar with distinction, completed a Rotary exchange student program after high school and before enrolling at Baylor. “I really loved my time in Germany, so I thought the Fulbright was a fantastic way to help me get back there. Germany is an epicenter of food, culture, history and beautiful cities and towns and country,” Isaacson said. He plans to attend law school and one day work for the U.S. Department of State.


Alexa Larsen, BS ’18, who majored in neuroscience and was an Honors Scholar with distinction, received a Fulbright Student Program award to the United Kingdom in global health. Larsen from Hawthorn Woods, Illinois, will pursue a master of science in global health at the University of Southampton and conduct research as part of a project concentrating on interventions to prevent early motherhood. She plans to attend medical school and become a primary care physician, possibly in pediatrics, family medicine or obstetrics/gynecology, while also participating in global health work and medical service abroad.


Sofia Sonner, BS ’18, from South Pasadena, California, also received a Fulbright ETA, and she will travel to Taiwan. Sonner, who was a biology major through the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC), will serve as a Fulbright ETA in Kinmen, a small island closer to mainland China than to mainland Taiwan. She chose the area because of its connection to the Pacific Ocean. “Since I plan to teach about the Pacific Ocean in an aquarium setting at the primary and secondary level, the ETA to Taiwan will improve my teaching abilities and provide invaluable perspective on Taiwan’s remarkable biodiversity to share as an educator,” Sonner said.


Rebecca Voth, BA ’18, received a Fulbright ETA to Mexico. Voth, an Honors Scholar with distinction, was a University Scholar who studied political science, international studies, philosophy and Spanish. From Rowlett, Texas, Voth worked in the Dominican Republic at a summer camp teaching English. “The legal system can be like a foreign language, especially to those who lack access to the justice system,” she said. “And an attorney acts like a teacher, guiding clients through a complex process and opening up a new world of possibilities for them,” she said. Voth plans to enroll at Pepperdine School of Law.



Christina Gaw, a senior biochemistry and anthropology major, received a two-year Barry Goldwater Scholarship, one of the oldest and most prestigious national awards for undergraduate researchers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship Program seeks to identify and support college undergraduates who show exceptional promise of becoming the next generation of research leaders in critical STEM fields.

Gaw has excelled in researching vacuum ultraviolet spectrometry and mass spectrometry in determining which chemicals are present in complex biomedical and environmental samples. She co-authored manuscripts and conference presentations, including the proceedings of American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) and for two DNA sequencing-related bacteriophage annotations for GenBank submissions and Genome Announcement. Gaw is in the Baylor2 Medical Track Program, a combined eight-year baccalaureate/MD program which selects up to six incoming Baylor students annually to receive provisional acceptance into Baylor College of Medicine. 



Carter Anne Jones, a senior majoring in international studies and Russian, was awarded the prestigious David L. Boren Scholarship to study in Indonesia for the 2018-2019 academic year. Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide funding opportunities for undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to national interests. Boren Scholars wish to work in the federal national security arena. 

Jones will study Indonesian through the Indonesian Flagship Language Initiative, which provides for intensive language study and cultural immersion. Jones, who spent the spring semester studying abroad in Voronezh, Russia, will complete a summer program at the University of Wisconsin before beginning a year of study at the State University of Malang (UM), Indonesia. She also interned in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert, and for the U.S. Department of State.



Hannah Byrd, BA ’18, was awarded a Middle East and North Africa Regional (MENAR) Fellowship, an international program that fosters a new generation of leaders in service, politics and policy who have experience with the challenges the region faces and the potential it holds. She is the first Baylor graduate to earn the prestigious post-graduate fellowship.

As a MENAR Fellow, Byrd will teach English to children ages 2-14 with Club Anglais in La Marsa, Tunisia. At Baylor she majored in Arabic and Middle East Studies/International Studies through BIC. Byrd, who has published in a research journal, mentored middle school girls and interned with the U.S. Department of State, plans to pursue opportunities for research focused on advancing human rights internationally and specifically in the Middle East. 


Baylor students who seek a rich and extraordinary undergraduate education are supported by faculty affiliated with Scholarship Programs, Awards, Research, Knowledge (SPARK), which is housed in the Office of Undergraduate Studies in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences. Students mentored by SPARK professors apply for prestigious scholarships, fellowships, internships and research experiences at the national and international level, including the Fulbright, Truman, Gates Cambridge, Boren and Rhodes, and for other notable awards, such as the Goldwater, Pickering, Humanity in Action, Critical Language Scholarship and National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).