In 2015, a record 10 students from St. Edward’s were named winners of Fulbright awards, a highly selective scholarship and grant program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. That also placed the university in the No. 1 spot as the nation’s top producer of U.S. Fulbright Students in the category of master’s-granting institutions, ahead of Villanova, Santa Clara, Drake and Elon universities, among others. Harvard, Pitzer and Princeton Theological Seminary also placed first in their respective categories.
Nine of the St. Edward’s scholars are now teaching English abroad, and one is conducting research in Australia. Their passions are as varied as their destinations: poetry, public health, environmental education, antibiotic resistance. South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Germany. Here, nine of the winners explain their path to the Fulbright and, perhaps unintentionally, what sets them apart as scholars.
Cali Chidester ’15
Major: Environmental Science and Policy
When I was younger, I was inspired by a book called Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn, which has an environmental focus. My interest in policy started when I did Eco-Lead Costa Rica, a St. Edward’s University program that involves spending a semester learning about environmental science and policy and then traveling to Costa Rica in the summer to conduct a research project. I liked that a whole country was able to have an environmental focus and make that a priority in a way the United States doesn’t.
Several experiences have taken me to new environments, including Capstone in Chile and a Service Break Experience in Montreal. I also lived in the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho on a research station as part of Semester in the Wild, a program through the University of Idaho. I took courses on river ecology and wilderness management, where I learned about the tension that comes from people’s conflicting ideas of what a wilderness area should be. Some people want public access to be a priority, and then you have environmental groups that are worried the number of visitors is degrading the area.
When I interned at the Wild Basin Creative Research Center during the fall of my senior year, I worked on estimating the total deer population using wildlife cameras. The pictures showed more bobcats and coyotes than deer, so we guessed that the deer might like the gardens at the houses nearby and use Wild Basin to travel between them. I also helped with a graduate student’s project counting blue jays, which are a predator for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
I went on two trips to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, one to the Dominican Republic and one to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I like the simple lifestyle of waking up, doing work that feels meaningful and physically exhausting, coming back home, and being around people I care about.
I’m a zip line and challenge course eco-guide at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours outside Austin. Our zip lines follow the creek, which is lined by bald cypress trees that turn terrific orange and red colors in the fall and lose their leaves in winter. The property had a fire in 2011 that burned the back half of the course, so it’s interesting to watch the changing ecology as you progress along the zip lines.
Jenna Jaco ’15
Major: English Writing and Rhetoric
Destination: South Korea
Every form of writing is from and of a certain place, and my senior thesis ended up being an experiment in how I could capture place in my poetry. It was called Red World, which is an inversion of the concept of the Green World in Shakespeare criticism. The Green World is a dreamlike, liminal world where the rules don’t really apply, like the fairy world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream — an otherworldly, mystical place. When I was writing the 22 poems for my thesis, I realized that the weird, surreal feeling in my poems was embodied in the heat of midday in Texas, like 3 p.m. in the summer, so I chose Red World for the title of my manuscript.
On the other end of the spectrum from poetry, I’m interested in technical writing. They both try to articulate difficult things, just in very different ways. I hope to get a job in technical writing and through using the skills I’d learn in that field, be able to contribute to the global literary community. I’m really interested in encouraging people to read more outside their own culture and generally understand people better.
When I started as copy chief at Hilltop Views, our student newspaper, there wasn’t a set of instructions for how to coordinate all the copy editors and make sure everything is in top shape for print. It was a fun puzzle to figure out the logistics of who copyedits when and how, when I should look at the copy, and what the headline should be — getting the workflow right.
As editor-in-chief of Sorin Oak Review, I had to figure out a lot, too. I had to determine the voting system for submissions, organize meetings, collect and read submissions, compile and distribute them to everyone who needed to read them, and tabulate the votes. Every step was on me. And it was interesting seeing how it took shape and was different from issues in years past, when I’d worked on it as a poetry editor. It’s like a creative and literary yearbook for the school.
If I find an interesting container, I want to flip it on its end and make it into a diorama. I have a lot of art history textbooks and prints, so I cut up paintings to make the backdrop. The dioramas aren’t habitats or little winter villages to scale — they’re surreal, like different worlds made with whatever I have lying around, and usually a strange creature in the middle.
Caitlin Maples ’15
I started college as a Photocommunications major, but then I took Literature and Philosophy, which was co-taught by (the late) Associate Professor of German Harald Becker and Professor of Philosophy Mark Cherry, my first semester. Both of them gave me the confidence to go beyond what I thought I was capable of. I first wanted to learn German when Dr. Becker was talking about how hard it is to translate Kafka because his phrasing is so specific to the German language, and I liked Kafka, so I decided to learn German. And Dr. Cherry encouraged me to take my first History of Philosophy class, where I learned about the idea of an intellectual geography — being able to trace where people got their ideas and what influenced them.
Philosophy won’t give you all the answers, but it will give you the tools you need to try to find them. If you’re going to major in philosophy, that’s something you have to realize. You have to look at each philosopher critically, not expecting one to contain all the answers, and allow yourself to see the merits and the drawbacks of each.
For my senior Honors thesis, I translated Jürgen Habermas, who’s a contemporary German philosopher and sociologist. When I was in Koblenz, Germany, for study abroad, I studied with one of his students. Habermas is so recent that his work hasn’t gone through multiple translations, and I think there are areas where translators could have done better. They make him appear more snarky than he actually does in German.
You don’t really know what it’s like to be an American until you live somewhere else. For example, I had to figure out why we value freedom of speech so much here. Germans tend to emphasize privacy over freedom.
In my valedictory address, I quoted one of my favorite points made in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. The advice he gives to young people is phenomenal. He says that at this point in life, you have a lot of uncertainty and all these questions that haven’t been answered. Maybe you expected them to be answered at this point, but they’re not — and that’s OK. You can actually enjoy the fact that you have unanswered questions. The first time I read that book, it was my freshman year, and I was sitting under Sorin Oak. I was so dazed that I had to take a walk and almost started crying. I read it again at the end of my senior year, and it made a lot more sense.
Katie Protano ’15
Major: Global Studies
My first semester at St. Edward’s, I took Global Issues Seminar taught by Kay Firth-Butterfield (Burrough). I realized that simply by being born in the United States, I was more likely to be guaranteed certain rights and freedoms than people of other nations. I decided that I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of those who don’t have the same rights as me.
I served as president of our Amnesty International chapter and was a 2014 fellow with the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. In this position, I helped create the statewide para-transit survey and wrote guidelines for how legislators should interact with people with disabilities during the legislative session.
I’ve been to Germany five times, starting with a three-week program in high school, and including an intensive German course at the Goethe-Institut in Berlin last summer. I hope my Fulbright experience will help me understand the complexities of the German-American relationship. Each country’s education system teaches a version of history that frames it in a positive light and portrays its partners and enemies in particular ways. By experiencing this phenomenon in a German classroom, I hope to better understand stereotypes so I can encourage my students to think more critically about their nation’s position on the geopolitical spectrum and their relationship to the rest of the world.
I was placed with a fantastic host family in Germany last summer. During my last week there, I finally met my host-brother when he visited from Vietnam, where he lives and works. That fall, I reached out to him to see if he had contacts in Berlin so I could locate there after graduation. Instead, he offered me a six-month contract in Hanoi with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, a German political organization.
In Vietnam, my focus is on projects related to sustainable social and environmental development, particularly in the realms of climate change, social security and workers’ rights. I have written press releases for our website, organized events and translated between German and English. I also developed a presentation for my boss to give at an international conference in Hanoi on the impending adoption of the sustainable development goals and its affect on the Greater Mekong region.
Samantha Mendoza ’15
Major: English Writing and Rhetoric
I love writing, investigating, researching and finding out more about the world, and journalism is a great way to blend that curiosity with my writing skills. Through my international experiences, I realized there are so many assumptions about developing countries. International journalism is a great way to bridge that gap and provide accurate, human stories about those places.
I went to Bangalore, India, to work at an orphanage for two weeks with a Campus Ministry International Immersion, and it changed my life. It showed me that engaging with people and immersing yourself in a different culture can help you grow as a person and establish relationships. My English Teaching Assistantship will be in Chennai, which is only three hours from Bangalore, so I’m hoping to go back and see the boys I met at the orphanage.
Last summer, I spent six weeks in Uganda and Rwanda studying peace and conflict, international development, and philanthropy. We were taught to rethink every assumption we’d ever had about development or how to work for social change. Often people do things with good intentions but without the appropriate knowledge about the culture they are entering. You can’t just look at reconciliation through a theological lens; you have to look at it through political, economic and development lenses as well. I left the program thinking that a lot of things we were studying seemed like great things to do but were actually very problematic. But the program also empowered me to go back to a context that I really fell in love with and immerse myself in a culture to learn more and create change later.
When I was in Rwanda, we read a book about the genocide called We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. He was in Rwanda in the absolute climax of the violence. He takes an issue that was of unbelievable importance, but that a lot of Americans didn’t fully understand, and humanizes it by telling the Rwandans’ stories. It was powerful to see that something so important could be done in a way that was also beautifully written. That’s the kind of reporting I want to do.
As president of the Student Government Association, I worked with Victoria Ochoa ’16, the university’s first Truman Scholar, to implement “It’s On Us,” which is a national campaign to end sexual assault on college campuses. It’s really opened a dialogue about things that are important to our campus community and our nation.
Rebekah Morton ’15
Major: English Writing and Rhetoric
Destination: South Korea
I’ve done fiction and poetry, mainly really short prose, like prose-poetry. I recently finished a collection of six pieces of very short fiction. I’ve had a few publications in literary journals, including the Burrow Press Review and Map Literary. While I was at St. Edward’s, I was the editor-in-chief for Arete, our academic journal, for two years, and I was the prose editor for Sorin Oak Review, our literary journal.
LettersAt3amPress, where I work as editor-at large, is a small, relatively new book publisher based in Lubbock and co-founded by Michael Ventura, who used to write for the Austin Chronicle, and Jazmin Aminian, another writer. I had met Michael at the Texas Book Festival, which is how I ended up getting the job. I edit all their manuscripts, which at this point is a few novels and a book of poetry. It’s taught me about the writing life and the habit and discipline of writing. You have to have the same discipline, professionalism and dedication if you’re editing a whole novel. The main skill is breaking big tasks into a bunch of small tasks.
Traveling and broadening your worldview are important parts of writing, so last summer I spent six weeks in Chile. Part of the time, I was in Viña del Mar, working on my Capstone and as a professor’s assistant, tutoring at a girls’ school, and staying with a family. Then, using funding from a Summer Academic Excellence Award, I went to Santiago and lived in a hostel for a few weeks and wrote. I also read a lot of [Chilean poet] Pablo Neruda’s work and visited two of his old houses, which are museums now.
I had read Don Quixote in Spanish before college, and when I reread it recently, I was amazed by its ability to walk the line between the real and the unreal. It makes you question the structures and the constructs in your own life — the things you subscribe to just for stability — and it makes you much more critical of your surroundings.
A lot of my writing is influenced by growing up in Texas near the U.S.–Mexico border, and I think I’ll be able to transfer that into Korea, where they’re really influenced by the border between North and South Korea. It’s obviously a different context, but in both places, people are being constricted by a border that’s both an intellectual construct and very real. Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by Don Quixote, with its blending of the unreal and the real. There’s a contemporary Korean writer named Young-ha Kim whose work I consider influential. He wrote a book called I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, which is about how people who live in South Korea have been shaped by those borders.
Danielle Rivera ’14
Major: English Writing and Rhetoric
I plan to go to medical school, which is why I took all the science classes for a pre-med emphasis, and study public health because of my interest in global medicine. A big factor when medicine fails is lack of communication and the ability to get information out properly, so effective communication, including writing, is important.
Most of my experience abroad has been related to medicine and health. I’ve done medical missions and leadership trips in Mexico, Laos, Panama and China with Operation Smile (OS), an organization I got involved with beginning in high school that corrects cleft palates in children in developing areas. I founded the St. Edward’s chapter of OS my freshman year, and I was a member of the national college council for OS, which included planning a leadership conference in China for 800 student members from all over the world. Understanding other cultures is important for being a compassionate, open-minded doctor and for grasping how medicine is handled differently around the world.
The summer before my senior year, I taught fourth-graders and pre-kindergarten students at a girls’ school in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. It serves a high-risk population — many of the girls had HIV or had been abused or raped. The organization I worked with, Shining Hope for Communities, not only runs the school but also provides a health clinic, clean water, an emergency shelter and latrines that are safe to use at night (since women are at risk of being assaulted when they use slum toilets after dark). It was a very challenging experience but also an environment that was full of love.
My thesis on using preventative healthcare to reduce emergency room costs was inspired by an article Atul Gawande wrote about reversing the trend of growing healthcare costs by focusing on preventive care. Theoretically, a lot of our primary care in the United States is focused on preventive care, but in reality, people aren’t as proactive as they should be about their own health. I got interested in what Texas hospitals were doing to emphasize prevention and healthy behaviors. Then I started volunteering at a St. David’s hospital in Austin, so I interviewed people there about it.
Working at St. David’s Healthcare was a really different dynamic from my Operation Smile experiences in hospitals, because I was working with an older population, there was more regulation and, for once, there was no language barrier. I made checkout packets and paged nurses when patients needed them, but a lot of what I did was just giving my time to patients who needed someone to pay attention to them.
Jana Soares ’15
Broadly speaking, my Fulbright research project at the University of Technology in Sydney is about antibiotic resistance. I’ll be researching antimicrobial strategies to combat P. aeruginosa infection using the nematode model C. elegans, which builds on my previous research experiences. The scientist I’ll be working with is the director of an imaging facility with high-powered microscopes, and I thought it would be incredible to learn how to use those.
The summer after my freshman year, I was doing research with Associate Professor of Biology Peter King. We were looking at atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries, or cardiovascular disease — using macrophage cells as a model organism. I had to learn a lot of lab skills, like cell culture, which is basically growing cells on nutrient media in flasks. For the first two weeks, we were waiting for the cells to grow, and there was not a lot of lab-based work, so I started using that time to study the literature and learning how to read scientific journal articles.
Going into my junior year, I had acquired more laboratory skills and was conducting research with Associate Professor of Biology Trish Baynham. I was working with a model organism called C. elegans. They’re these little nematode worms that are about a millimeter in length, so I had to learn how they reproduce and how to get enough of them to run experiments. I was using C. elegans and treated them with probiotics to see if that can inhibit salmonella infection.
The summer before my senior year, I was an undergraduate summer trainee at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. I had two separate projects, one working with nematodes again, and the other looking at biofilm formation.
They say research never goes as planned, and sometimes you have a lot of negative results before you get a positive result. This past summer in Houston, there were steps I wanted to take in the project, but I wasn’t getting the results that would let me do that. When you’re met with that problem, you have to figure out how to trouble shoot and think of other ways to solve the problem. Something will click eventually, or you can talk to your mentor or someone else in the lab. I’ve learned that science is a collaborative and creative process. You can’t do scientific research in isolation, and when faced with challenges, there are always opportunities for avenues of new discovery and questions you can ask to solve them.
Hannah Thornby ’15
Major: English Writing and Rhetoric with a Journalism specialization
Going into my sophomore year, I was going to be a copy editor at Hilltop Views, but I told Assistant Professor of Journalism Jena Heath, “Even though I’m just going to be a sophomore, I think I can be the online editor in chief.” And she took a chance on me. I did that for two years, and it’s given me so much confidence and put me in a leadership position. It’s rewarding to help people figure out their voice and what they want to say.
My last job was at the Austin American-Statesman as a content producer for the newspaper’s digital products. I did a lot of media roundups, taking a really big national issue and trying to put it into bite-size pieces for readers. I’ve also worked for Emmis Communications’ radio stations and the online magazine CultureMap.
I’d had five internships by the end of my junior year, and I needed a summer where I was doing something different. So I hiked the 800-kilometer El Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. I needed to discover myself in a new setting: not as a student, a sister or a daughter, but as a pilgrim.
I studied in Angers, France, and also tutored French students in English literature there. As someone who moved to college from Portland, Oregon, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of how you get to know a place and stop feeling like a stranger. At first I was homesick, but then I started walking or running around town until I knew every part of Angers. Exploring a place by getting your own two feet on it has always been important to me.
One of the reason I like journalism is that at the root of it, stories are about making a connection with the community. The more stories you hear, the more human you feel, and the more connected you are to everyone around you. Working for the Austin media is my equivalent of through-hiking the city.
Additional Fulbright Scholars:
Sergio Glajar ’15
Major: English Teaching Assistantship,
Kelly Kate Crossland ’15, William Haynes ’15 and Eriann Panado ’15 were all finalists for awards as well.
Robyn Ross is a freelance writer.
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