By Ellen Finn
On Feb. 18, the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs named the University of Puget Sound as one of the top producers of Fulbright scholars among Liberal Arts colleges for the 2017–18 year.
According to the Fulbright website, the Fulbright program is an “American scholarship program of competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students and scholars.” Under the program, students are “competitively selected for scholarships to study, conduct research, or exercise their talents abroad. It is one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world.”
Kelli Delaney, the Associate Director of Fellowships and Academic Advising at the University, works with students as they’re figuring out which scholarships they’d like to apply for. She then helps walk them through the long and often tedious process of applying for Fulbright and other scholarships, and assists them with final editing of proposals and papers.
Delaney is delighted that the University was named a top producer of Fulbright scholars among liberal arts schools, and says that the title speaks to the value of a liberal arts education.
“Whatever students apply for, this education helps students to write well, think well, assess themselves and think critically, which is all important for applying [for a scholarship],” Delaney said. “It speaks to how committed we are to each other, to the students’ goals. Faculty and staff are really a part of that.”
Jess Wiken, ‘17, is one of the five Puget Sound students awarded a Fulbright scholarship for the 2017–18 year. For the past six months she’s been conducting a combination quantitative and qualitative study on women’s heart disease prevention in a rural area of India.
In reflection of her time spent at the University, Wiken also pointed to a liberal arts discipline as a launchpad to her success.
“The interdisciplinary liberal arts element of the UPS education was really critical to helping me get to this point. While sometimes it’s easy to question why as a Molecular and Cellular major you need to take an Economics class, it’s so important to not just concentrate on one very specific field but develop multiple interests and also find ways these interests can overlap and intersect to produce something new and profound.”
Wiken first went to India during her junior year, where she studied public health and policy advocacy in New Delhi. This is where she says her passion for public health research in India started to develop.
“Considering UPS doesn’t have a public health department, I’ve spent a lot of time learning from my advisors as I go in how to develop and implement a proper study,” Wiken said.
The Fulbright scholarship offers a wide variety of international research opportunities. Melissa Meharg, ‘17, has taught 5th–10th graders at a public school in Hamburg, Germany through a Fulbright Scholarship for the past six months. Meharg says that Puget Sound afforded her opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and that the various methods classes she took helped prepare her for the joys and challenges of working in a classroom.
“My Fulbright experience has been both extremely challenging and incomparably rewarding,” Meharg said. “The learning curve has been steep — adjusting to a new school system, dealing with numerous communication issues, and defining my role in the classroom without a clear sense of what it should be. But I have loved being a part of the students’ learning process and seeing them progress over time.”
Meharg first considered applying for the Fulbright during her first year at Puget Sound when her German Professor, Kent Hooper, brought it up with her class. Meharg hopes to eventually become a music teacher. As a junior, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Munich, which she said ultimately solidified her decision to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship.
Five members of the class of 2018 made it to the final rounds of the Fulbright’s award process this year. They are still waiting to hear if they will be awarded the Fulbright scholarship for the 2018–19 year.
“I’ve been very impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of the students who are coming in and deciding to apply for this. It’s very heartening,” Delaney said. “I would like people to consider, wherever they are in their trajectory, that this might be something for them, that it may be a possibility and great opportunity.”