Shortly after Prairie High School graduate Collin Powell set foot on the Iowa State University campus five years ago, an academic adviser counseled the honors student to consider applying for a Fulbright Award.
The high-achieving teen with a global mind-set, passion for improving others’ lives and propensity for travel seemed a natural fit for the program — aimed at improving intercultural relations and diplomacy between the United States and other countries through competitive fellowships for students and scholars interested in studying, learning, teaching or serving abroad.
But Powell — a double major in interior design and German, who spent time studying abroad in Rome, Berlin and Frankfurt — was too busy to apply. So when he began his pursuit of an ISU master’s degree in interior design, a counselor didn’t present Fulbright as an option.
“She pulled me in and said, ‘You’re applying, and the deadline is in 10 days,’ ” Powell, 23, told The Gazette.
He followed orders and submitted his application for a Fulbright Community-based Combined Award, which required a research proposal. Although aspects of that process took Powell out of his comfort zone, much of the program mission aligned with his interests and character.
“I had taken German in high school and traveled abroad in high school, and that’s when I started thinking about myself and my life in a global context,” Powell said, inserting his gratitude for having been raised in a place like Iowa.
“I am very attached to Iowa and think it’s a great place to grow up,” he said. “I’ve taken lessons from Iowa, and being able to compare and contrast cultures is something I really value.”
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Although Powell said he hoped for good news out of the Fulbright application, he knew it was highly competitive and was actually having a rough day when he learned of his acceptance via email — sending his mood on the roller coaster from depressed to elated.
“It was a tough mental switch, but a good one,” he said.
As his award for the next academic year is based in Austria, Powell will live in Vienna, where he will conduct research related to public housing while also teaching English. In concert with his Iowa State studies on how people find shelter and a concept of home, the interior design major — with an interest in urbanism — will research the Viennese public housing model and its effectiveness in serving a diverse population that includes migrants.
He leaves for the program in September and could extend his stay and continue teaching — or return and more quickly begin applying his education in architectural design, housing policies and community outreach across this country and in others.
“I want to apply what I’ve learned in school to the real world,” he said. “Research needs practice.”
Iowa State and the University of Iowa frequently are among the country’s top producers of both Fulbright students and scholars. The student awards are for recent graduates and graduate students, while the scholar program is for faculty members and professionals.
For the 2018-19 term, Iowa State reported five scholars and the University of Iowa reported two. Regarding this year’s crop of Fulbright students, UI reported 11 out of 35 applicants, according to the Fulbright website. ISU didn’t make the list for top student awards.
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