IOWA CITY — Tickets from Iowa to South Korea, Sri Lanka, Russia, Morocco, Argentina and many other international destinations are being booked — or soon will be — after high-achieving students across the state recently received the news they’ve won Fulbright awards.
The University of Iowa and Coe College, in fact, are reporting record Fulbright numbers for one year — 16 for Iowa and seven for Coe. The new UI record tops by one its previous record — set last year. Coe reports 20 Fulbright recipients in the past five years.
Fulbright numbers for Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa were not immediately available.
The U.S. Fulbright Student Program is the flagship international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, allowing students to conduct research, attend graduate school and embark on creative projects or service endeavors abroad. In essence, the program is all about mutual understanding — American students imparting knowledge and service in an international community, while also gleaning new perspectives and insight into different cultures and ways of life.
Such an opportunity ties closely with the missions of many Iowa colleges and universities, including Coe and UI, which recently unveiled a new strategic plan and vision focused, in part, on creating “new chapters of exploration, discovery, creation, and engagement” on a global scale.
“Ours is a narrative of resilience that extends out from the heartland toward the future, inspired by a commitment to our state, nation and global community,” according to the new UI vision. “Together we unlock human potential and prepare citizens for the future.”
Fulbright scholars from Iowa colleges and universities go a long way in serving as ambassadors for the state and nation — building bonds, establishing relationships and changing individual lives. They also put their respective schools on the international higher education map, so to speak, bolstering the institutions’ reputations and student expectations.
Meet a few of this year’s Fulbright scholars.
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One year has passed since Kaché Claytor graduated from UI with a degree in journalism and mass communication and Spanish. But shortly after earning her diploma, Claytor, 22, of Des Moines, began the lengthy and time-consuming process of applying for a Fulbright grant.
The September morning her application was due, Claytor woke up early and rewrote her personal statement. She was motivated by her sister’s critique that it “doesn’t sound like you” and by a memory of teaching an Afro-Peruvian woman to write her name for the first time.
“My sister was like, ‘It may be too late, but that’s what you should have written about,’ ” Claytor said. “And I was like, ‘You know what, you’re right.’ ”
Fast forward to March when Claytor got the Fulbright news. Overwhelmed, she called her mom, and the two cried with joy together over the phone.
With her Fulbright English teaching assistant award, Claytor is going to travel to Colombia to teach English, lead writing workshops and study the African diaspora in Latin America and how race is defined in different cultures.
Following a long-held passion to help others through health care, Samantha Westphal, 22, in a few days, is to earn her UI degree in human physiology in hopes of eventually pursuing a master’s degree in public health and someday working for an enterprise like the World Health Organization.
Collaborating with Fulbright on international education and service seemed a “perfect opportunity” to launch her dream career. And Westphal will get that chance next March when she travels to Argentina to serve as a teaching assistant at teacher-training colleges and universities.
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For her community-engagement project, Westphal plans to launch student health clubs geared toward exercise, nutrition or even stress management — depending on the demand.
“I actually cried,” Westphal said about the moment over spring break she learned of her Fulbright fate. “I just kind of stopped. I couldn’t really talk. I just started crying. That was a really happy day.”
Through his Fulbright English teaching assistant award to Mexico, Victor Diaz aims to help students learn English, in part, by creating “original works of theater and literature.” His goal, according to UI News Services, is to enable students to “express and share their cultures in a creative atmosphere.”
“When one learns a language, they are also learning about the many cultures that thrive within that language,” he said in a UI question-and-answer session.
The Fulbright experience, Diaz said, will provide him classroom experience toward his pursuit of a master’s degree from a Mexican university and a doctorate from a U.S. institution. For future students considering applying to the Fulbright program, Diaz suggests, “Merge your passions and aspirations and genuinely express yourself in your statements.”
“This will shine through more than what you’ve accomplished,” he said. “They want someone who can bring more than just grammar into the classroom.”
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